Libyan schoolgirls
Libyan schoolgirls run past graffiti reading "We win or die" at a school in Benghazi. © Abdullah Doma - AFP/File
Libyan schoolgirls
Last updated: April 30, 2013

Freedom of speech is America but violence is not Islam

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Libyans have died trying to protect the US embassy - an overshadowed fact by mainstream media - and the protesters themselves have died in clashes with the police, writes Aya Chebbi.

Al-Salamu Alaykum. Peace be upon you. This is how we Muslims greet everyday; every morning, every time we meet.

We’ve been raised on the Islamic teaching that, "If anyone slays a person, it would be as if he slew all humankind: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humankind” .

At some point in January 2011, when the whole world was looking at Tunisia inspired and amazed, I felt happy that the revolution started from my country, where 99 percent of the population are Muslims. It was important to change the image of Islam that had been propagated since 9/11 as a monolithic, stateless and apocalyptic faith. And it was important to prove to the world that we, Arab Muslims, toppled our dictators with non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, and peacefully standing up for our rights and human dignity, which are cornerstones of our values and religion. We had drawn a picture of an Arab Muslim different from that of a terrorist and suicide bomber. 

However, again on 9/11, Americans were murdered by Muslims.   

Recent protests and riots have erupted for a week now, in front of the US embassies in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, Mauritania and obviously we will see more in the coming days. Some of the events escalated to violence and resulted in deaths. Diverse explanations have been made but let's keep in mind that this out of control situation is marked in the countries that are witnessing revolutions, transitions or existing wars and conflicts and not in any of the Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of prophet Muhammad.

Demonstrators' arguments varied between portraying the movie as a conspiracy of the US and its allies to get their hands on Libya and wage a war against Islam. Indeed, the filmmaker said: "The movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie". Regardless of the political affinities through religious means, both sides have to approach deeper insight from this everlasting historic moment.

On the one hand, Muslims have to be aware of three major factors. First, this amateurish video with few actors, fake script, background and sounds, terrible audio and dubbing was uploaded on YouTube on July 2, 2012 but it has been massively circulating on Facebook and aired on Egyptian Islamic channels only on the anniversary of 9/11. Most Americans had not heard or seen the so-called trailer or movie "the Innocence of Muslims" until the death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens simply because the target group is Muslims not Americans; the goal is Muslim provocation not American Islamophobia.

Besides, the first amendment of the US constitution states that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Therefore, freedom of expression is unlimited and abridged and the US cannot condemn the filmmaker because there is no federal law that forbids "religious vilification" or "blasphemy" or "hate speech". One more important factor is that the filmmaker is not even an Israeli-American but a Coptic Egyptian-Christian. Hence, the video was produced neither by an American nor by the US government. 

On the other hand, Americans have to widen their perspective too. It is true that the victims were US citizens but the responsible criminals should be made accountable by their own governments in order to avoid the backlash of another "War on Terror". As people terrorized the streets in the name of Islam, double and triple of their numbers came out calling for peace in Libya, Morocco and other countries. Moreover, Libyans have died trying to protect the US embassy - an overshadowed fact by mainstream media - and the protesters themselves have died in clashes with the police. Accordingly, it is not about an anti-US sentiment but it is about these extremists who pick the verses from the Quran and commit atrocities for the dogma which they call "Jihad".

This brings to mind events in Tunisia just two months ago when a violent protest from Salafists emerged over a painting in an art exhibition that didn't even exist in the exhibition hall. Yet, it circulated on Facebook and outraged the extremists. Similarly, those who take to the street shouting "Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar" may not have seen the video but rather become easy pray for manipulation.

Then, the attacks appear to be pre-planned either by Al Qaeda that had a nostalgic day to celebrate, or armed Qaddafi's loyalists. The rest of the protesters are nothing but criminals and thieves who take advantage of disorder and remind us of the militias of the revolution days in Tunisia.

When people identify themselves with religious fundamentalism, they legitimize the gross act of killing and place value on the other side’s loss. Nevertheless, we are not talking about the sentiments of the vast Muslim majority. It is therefore interesting to identify reactions from Libyans, raising slogans such as "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam" and "Benghazi is against terrorism", as well as Americans tweeting that “no more than that film or cartoon represented the US or most Americans”.

We will soon celebrate the International Day of Peace; but will people come together as they do for violence and war?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.

Aya Chebbi
Aya is an award winning Tunisian blogger, women's advocate and peace activist.
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