Beyond The Bubble

By Danny Zhang

Over the past two weeks, anti-Western protests have engulfed the Middle East following the circulation of a highly controversial video that mocked the Prophet Mohammed and the religion of Islam.

The video was produced and posted on YouTube under the alias “Sam Bacile” July of this year. It did not gain significant attention in the Middle East until an Arab-dubbed version of the film was distributed to Egyptian media outlets in early September. Since then, furious mobs have taken to the streets from Libya to Pakistan, burning American flags and targeting U.S. diplomatic missions.

On Sept. 11, one of these mobs attacked an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other consulate staff. The group reportedly responsible for the killings, Ansar al-Sharia, has been linked to al-Qaeda.

President Barack Obama strongly condemned the attack, and held a moment of silence for the fallen American personnel at the White House. The government also opted to bolster the security presence at American diplomatic sites around the globe and began its own investigation into the terrorist attack.

Attacks on diplomatic compounds also took place in Egypt, where protestors tore down the American flag at the U.S. Embassy. In Tunisia, protestors destroyed an American school in the capital. Mobs also descended upon U.S. diplomatic installations in Yemen, Kuwait and Iran.

Last Friday, a day of prayer for Muslims, more than a dozen people died in clashes between protestors and police in Pakistan. Over the weekend, the Pakistani Minister for Railways, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, offered $100,000 to anyone who kills the producer of the video.

People also took to the streets in Nigeria, Sudan, Bangladesh and Muslim-dominated regions of India. President Obama was burned in effigy in Afghanistan while police faced off against protestors in Jakarta, Indonesia. Protestors also burned flags in front of the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia. Even in Toronto, Canada, home to a large Muslim immigrant population, organized protests marched on the U.S. consulate.

Many protestors called on the U.S. government to take action against producers of the film. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the film in unequivocal terms and distanced the U.S. government from its anti-Islam sentiments. Governments of Muslim nations have expressed anger regarding the film’s content but have denounced the violent nature of the protests.

The man who supposedly led the production of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula — though he has sworn no responsibility for the content — claims to be connected to the Egyptian Copts, a part of the Christian minority in Egypt.

A new wave of protests was also set off last week, after a French magazine published cartoons satirizing Prophet Mohammed. To protect its diplomatic staff, France shut down 20 of its embassies immediately after the cartoons were published. The cartoons also sparked a contentious debate about freedom of expression in France, where tensions have been rising between the Catholic majority and the growing Muslim populace for almost two decades.