Film Protests Strengthen Extremists’ Hand

by Nathaniel Greenberg

Photo Credit: International Business Times

The Innocence of Muslims is not the first, nor will it be the last offensive depiction of Islam. Just today the French journal Charlie Hebdo released its new edition with an image of Mohamed in a wheel-chair being pushed by a farcical looking Hassidic Jew. Happy Rosh Hashanah! Most in the Muslim world are onto these games and understand that marketing gimmicks, like offending Muslims, help sell magazines and generate page views. But the lasting effects will likely be to strengthen the hands of conservative extremists.

For the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the recent protests only served to upset the resumption of order they ran on. That, along with Obama’s phone call and a prevailing cool-headedness by the Nur (Salafi) Party leadership (c.f Nur Party Spokesman Rejects Assault on US Embassy), led to a relatively quick resolution.

In Tunisia, the protests have been more violent and enduring. A school was destroyed, several people were killed, and dozens were wounded when protesters clashed with security forces. The protests may also have a direct impact the future constitution in Tunisia. The current draft includes a controversial Article that bans any denigration of the “sacred.” Some in the West, like Human Rights Watch, see this as a violation of free-speech. Ennahda, any their large constituency, see it as a kind of civil code comparable to laws in Germany that limit Holocaust denial. The protests will strengthen the conservative party’s hand.

The most devastating effect of the recent protests was of course in Libya. Not only did it result in the loss of life and the killing of the first American envoy in some thirty odd years, but it exposed the dangerous state of the country in the absence of a strong central military force. It is too early to say how the protests might impact the ongoing conflict in Syria, though it is reasonable to assume that the Syrian regime will easily be able to employ the widespread anti-American sentiment (particularly in Lebanon where distribution of the video has been widespread) towards his more general denunciation of the rebel cause. If he is successful to that end, Assad is likely to gain support. Conversely, the Syrian opposition may use the demonstrations as a way to expose the dangers of secularism, further enhancing the ideological appeal of their mission.