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Violent response to Muhammad film escalates

14 September 2012


Fury: an Egyptian protester throws a tear gas canister towards riot police, yesterday, during the third consecutive day of clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo

Fury: an Egyptian protester throws a tear gas canister towards riot police, yesterday, during the third consecutive day of clashes near the U.S. emb...

THE killings on Tuesday night of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three members of his staff, at their consulate in Benghazi, have been widely condemned by Church leaders - as has the provocative film which is sparking angry protests in a number of Islamic states. In many of the latter, while the response to the film has been hostile, condemnation of the Benghazi killings has been more circumspect.

The US National Council of Churches, referring to the deaths of the Libya staff, denounced "this mindless violence as a travesty and mindless rejection of the historic precepts of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which are based on God's love and a peaceful regard for all God's people". The Council said that it reiterated a statement made after the 9/11 bombings in 2001: "We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all of our religious traditions."

A Vatican statement said that "profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions is an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The serious consequences of unjustified offence and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in their turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence."

A subsequent Vatican statement specifically denounced the Benghazi killings, and said that nothing could "justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence".

The upheaval surrounding the film is certain to complicate, if not overshadow, Pope Benedict's visit to Lebanon, which begins today. The Vatican says that the Pope will carry "a message of dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions".

The film that triggered the widespread protest was made under obscure circumstances in the United States, leading to allegations that a member of the Coptic community in America was a leading figure in the venture. The film, made available on YouTube, contains scenes that portray the Prophet Muhammad in ways that could be interpreted as gratuitously offensive and provocative to Muslims. While the US government had no hand in its production or distribution, the prevailing public perception in Islamic states is that the Obama administration is to blame for its existence, thus the focus of protesters on US diplomatic missions.

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo disassociated itself from the film, saying that, "its release at this specific time is part of a malicious campaign targeting defamation of religions and aiming to divide the people, most notably the Egyptian people".

Within the Middle East and North Africa, condemnation of the killings of the US ambassador and his staff have been portrayed almost as a natural consequence of the making and showing of the film. The first reaction from the Libya authorities in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack was to condemn the film, rather than the killings. It was only later that the President of Libya's ruling General National Congress, Muhammed al-Megaryef, offered an apology "to the American people and to the government" for the attack on the US diplomatic mission, describing it as an "act of cowardice".

There have also been attempts by angry crowds to storm the US Embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Once again, President Muhammed Mursi, in his first official reaction, denounced the film first and the violence after that: "I condemn and oppose all who... insult our Prophet. [But] it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad. I call on everyone to take that into consideration, to not violate Egyptian law . . . to not assault embassies."

On Wednesday, President Obama said that the United States condemned "in the strongest terms" the "outrageous and shocking attack" in Libya. He said: "We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats.I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world.And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.

"Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts."


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