Spoiler alert

Tunisian protestors burn a U.S. flag during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad, near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

Violence should never, under any circumstances, replace peaceful demonstrations as a protest measure, but after a number of similar reactions in recent years to depictions of Prophet Mohammad far less offensive, it should no longer be a surprise.

That a film depicting the Prophet in such a hateful way, when any image is considered blasphemous by Islam, attracted 100 donors, and was allowed to be made is perhaps at first shocking. But with freedom of speech in the U.S. respected as it is, the situation is hard to be avoided. However the after-effects of such a film’s release must be mitigated.

The Israeli filmmaker, living in California, is now in hiding, but with a consultant on the film saying Wednesday, “We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen,” it seems the director must have, to some degree, courted this attention and furor.

After the publication of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses,” the Danish cartoons back in 2005, Theo van Gogh’s film and the calls for a “Burn a Koran Day” by Florida preacher Terry Jones in 2010, a student of primary school age would correctly predict the reactions to this abhorrent film, which depicts Mohammad as a womanizer who condoned the sexual abuse of children.

More efforts must urgently be made to contain the spread of such hateful media. After the murder of the U.S. ambassador, the first since 1979, and the news that the U.S. is now to send a Marine anti-terrorist team to Libya, it appears precautionary, rather than reactionary, measures must be taken.

In 2010, Jones was pressured to call off his Quran-burning mission after U.S. authorities realized a move would endanger the lives of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar pressure may have been applied to Sam Bacile when he was filming the “Innocence of Muslims,” the release of a trailer for which sparked these latest protests, and a project which appears little more than anti-Islamic propaganda, deliberately created to inspire such violent reactions.

While the violent outbursts were the work of a small group of religious extremists, the authorities in the United States must also bear some responsibility for what happened, and for the ability of the attackers to breach embassy security in both countries.

It is also vital to view the events in Libya and in Egypt within a context, one in which people’s wider anger, religious fervor or boredom – or a combination of all three – has been manipulated by a fifth column to further its own interests. Legitimate disgust over a derogatory and deliberately provocative depiction of their religious founder has been seized upon by individuals in an effort to sow unrest and instability, and to promote their own interests.

If we are to learn anything from these tragic events, it is that greater religious understanding is needed now more than ever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 13, 2012, on page 7.




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