Egyptian secularists and the “Innocence of Muslims” brouhaha

There’s a fascinating piece on the Columbia Journalism Review’s “Behind the News” blog exploring some rather unexpected culprits involved in the “Innocence of Muslims” controversy in Egypt. It documents how, contrary to what many assume, the proverbial charge was not lead by the usual, Islamist suspects, but rather by secular and Coptic Christian media outlets aligned with the Mubarak regime (ones that in some cases have a sordid history of disseminating gross misinformation about the Islamic religious establishment).

It’s very interesting how baldly prominent American media ignored the clear evidence of the initial agitation in Egypt being non-Islamist in origin, presumably because it didn’t fit neatly into their preferred media frame. The MSM are so wedded to the prism of crazy Muslims as at root of all problems in the Middle East that crystal-clear evidence to the contrary simply gets filtered out.

Emad Mekay writes in “The Muhammad movie: look who fanned the flames”:

[A] closer examination shows that the effort to stir people up about the Innocence of Muslims video came not from Islamist press outlets but from an entirely different camp: several secular outlets of the Egyptian media, largely run by Mubarak-regime supporters bent on discrediting the Islamists in the new government. Secular pro-Mubarak supporters lit the match. If we are to understand Egypt and the Middle East properly, that recent history should be reconsidered in that light.

Emphasis added. While I don’t condone the overreactions that happened and while think we all should have just ignored this bizarre and transparent provocation, reading this you see there was much more to this strife within Egypt than meets the eye. Not only did Islamists apparently not instigate the controversy, but some tried to play the film down. Which earned them mockery from secular outlets, which accused the Islamists of failing to protect the Prophet’s honor!

An intriguing role reversal. Here, some prominent Islamists were initially trying to avoid communal strife. Meanwhile, their secular opponents were cynically agitating for popular outrage (feelings that they themselves probably don’t feel in many cases), stoking needless conflict between Muslims and Christians in order to undermine the current, Muslim Brotherhood-led government. Sadly, eventually the latter got their wish and violent demonstrations did break out.

Western media, instead of noticing how the pro-Mubarak media was fueling the frenzy, tended to single out the September 8 broadcast by Khaled Abdallah, a talk show host on Al-Nas, a conservative Islamist TV channel. In fact, Abdallah aired the least offensive scenes of the video—a sequence where the Muhammad character talks to a donkey to convert it to Islam and get the title of “the first animal in Islam.” Abdallah actually leads with a statement warning against religious tension between Muslims and Christians. He also did not draw any link with the US. In fact, he inaccurately said the film was Dutch, not American.

Yet the British Daily Telegraph described Abdallah as “a rabble-rousing tele-Islamist” while The Atlantic roundly accused him of stirring the fury—even though Abdallah’s show aired three days after Youm7’s original story. NPR’s Steve Inskeep, co-host of Morning Edition, also blamed Al-Nas, in a piece in The Atlantic. Bill Keller, the former editor of The New York Times, followed this line in his column:

It’s pretty clear that the protests against that inane video were not spontaneous. Antisecular and anti-American zealots, beginning with a Cairo TV personality whose station is financed by Saudi fundamentalists, seized on the video as a way to mobilize pressure on the start-up governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Keller is certainly right that the protests were deliberately stirred up, but wrong about who first did the stirring.

Great job getting to the bottom on things, MSM!

The whole piece is well worth a read.

 


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