By Ilya Kharlamov
The release of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film has sparked mass protests all across the Middle East and North Africa as well as in Western Europe and Asia.
The film cost the US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three more diplomatic officials their lives. In some countries protests are getting even stronger with the access to the film already banned in many countries. In view of this, NATO has suspended some joint operations with Afghan security forces after a series of attacks against the western troops and amid violence sparked by the anti-Islam video.
Muslims believe that the US-made film defames Islam and insults everyone who belongs to this religion. Spontaneous anti-Western protests took place in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Tunisia and some other countries, including Europe. Pakistan`s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered to block access to YouTube where there is a link to the notorious movie. Some other leaders have followed in Ashraf`s footsteps. The Afghan authorities banned the access to the film the other day. This, however, was too late: the genie was already out of the bottle. Along with anti-US protests in Kabul and some other districts of Afghanistan there has grown a number of attacks targeting the troops of the western coalition. Extremist groups say this is their revenge for the film. Not only have US citizens been facing aggression in recent days: Germany’s embassy in Sudan was stormed in the anti-film protests.
Expert for the Centre of Arabic Studies Boris Dolgov thinks that anti-Western protests will grow even stronger.
“Mass anti-US protests are spreading further across the Muslim world. And this was easy to predict. If somebody thinks that this reaction is excessive I would like to recall the Arab Spring protests which brought some Islamist political factions to the forefront. The scale of ongoing protests can be explained by the participation of these very pro-Islamist forces.”
Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC ) has suggested adopting an international blasphemy law. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the OIC, called upon the international community to “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.” He added that the OIC has been pushing for the law over the past ten years. The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups the world’s major Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical churches, spoke against the initiative which they believe could result in the rise of religious clashes.
Russian Muslims have condemned the film. Earlier this week Russian Federation Council members Ruslan Gatarov urged the Prosecutor General`s Office to inspect the film for signs of extremism and make a decision on whether to ban the access to the movie on the web. In some Russian regions the access to the film has been temporarily blocked. Professor at the Kazan-based Federal University Renat Bekkin thinks that this is the only way to fight Islamophobia.
“Muslims in Russia should think about finding a civilized way to shape public opinion. Sooner or later, Islamophobia, like antisemitism, will be recognized illegal. Some international organizations have already placed the issue on the agenda.”
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah Shia Muslim group, has demanded adoption of a UN resolution which would ban encroachment on world religions. The sheikh appeared in the streets of Beirut for the first time in four years to take part in an anti-US meeting. He said that Innocence of Muslims was more dangerous than setting the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on fire in 1969 or The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
Meanwhile, the international forces in Afghanistan have suspended joint military operations with the local army and police. The reason is numerous cases of shooting western servicemen by their Afghan comrades and terrorist acts that local law enforcers are suspected of assisting. Two days before the NATO leadership’s decision, an Afghani wearing a police uniform shot down two British soldiers in the Helmand province. On the same day, another Afghan policeman killed four US servicemen in the Zabul province.
The world media has already started to forecast early withdrawal of the western troops from Afghanistan in this connection. However, Deputy Director of the Institute of the US and Canada Pavel Zolotaryov does not see any reasons for radical changes in the schedule.
“All this was easy to predict, things could not be different. It looks like Americans are feeling what we felt about our cooperation with Afghan government troops. Those troops did not always act as our allies. In any case, the preparation for withdrawal is in full swing and the recently made decision is unlikely to further accelerate this withdrawal.”
At the same time, it is obvious that the weakening of official armed forces in Afghanistan will result in stirring up radical organisations’ activities.
It would seem that the public outcry caused by the appearance of the film Innocence of Muslims should restrain the ardour of those who do not show due respect for one of the world’s major religions. However, this does not happen. On the contrary, France has become a new source for Muslim discontent. The Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper, published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad on the 19th of September. After this, the French authorities had to close schools, diplomatic missions and cultural centres in some Muslim countries for one day, for fear for the safety of their citizens. At the same time, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared that France guarantees its citizens the right to the freedom of self-expression and those who do not like the cartoons can appeal to court.
What about the maker of the film which has provoked a storm of anger in the Islamic world? Nothing is known about him. We only know that this man’s family have left their house in California allegedly to join the head of the family who escaped earlier. Incidentally, in addition to enraging millions of Muslims, this man has also angered the film crew who say that they were left to play a blindfold game, without knowing the producer’s true intentions