Anti-American riots spread

A violent backlash against a U.S.-made film that mocked the Prophet Mohammed continued to sweep across the Muslim world.

What happened

A violent backlash against a U.S.-made amateur film that mocked the Prophet Mohammed continued to sweep across the Muslim world this week, with furious demonstrations taking place in at least 20 countries, including Tunisia, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, two protesters died in clashes with police as thousands of people took to the streets to vent their fury at a California man’s 14-minute YouTube video, Innocence of Muslims—which portrays Mohammed as a womanizer, murderer, and child-abuser. In Lebanon, one demonstrator was killed as hundreds of rioters went on a rampage, torching a Hardee’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That wave of riots began on Sept. 11, when Egyptian Islamists seized on Innocence of Muslims-—produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic Christian and convicted fraud who lives in Los Angeles—and breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Soon after, an armed mob stormed the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif said that 50 people had been arrested in connection with the violence, which he called a “pre-calculated, pre-planned attack” by militants linked to al Qaida. But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she had seen no evidence to support that conclusion, saying instead that the attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the film.

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What the editorials said

Don’t blame these attacks on a low-budget video, said The Wall Street Journal. A “far greater provocation to violence is the appearance of U.S. weakness” that President Obama and Rice displayed after the attack in Benghazi. By denouncing the film and the American who made it—rather than vociferously condemning the militants who murdered Stevens—this administration “only invites radicals to use more such excuses to kill more Americans.”

Obama did condemn the violence, said The Washington Post. By also condemning the pointlessly offensive film, Obama didn’t show “weakness”; he undermined the radical Islamists’ “attempts to portray U.S. society and government as anti-Muslim.” It’s vital for the U.S. to sustain its ties to moderate Islamic leaders, like Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi, and not force them to side with militants with an excessive show of belligerence. “The future of the Arab world is up for grabs; the U.S. should be doing everything it can to tilt it toward freedom.”

What the columnists said

These attacks are just another reminder of our “deteriorating position in the broader Middle East,” said Rich Lowry in Obama thought the region would “enfold us in its warm embrace” so long as we got tough with Israel, pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and supported the Muslim Brotherhood in North Africa. But all we have to show after four years of appeasement is a revolution in Egypt that removed one of our closest Arab allies, an Iraq that’s “sliding into the orbit of Tehran,” and a Pakistan that hates us more than ever.

A more aggressive foreign policy won’t frighten the militants into silence, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Under President George W. Bush, there were violent raids on American embassies in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, and Turkey. “Those are not proof that Bush was weak or even wrong in his foreign policy. They are proof that the president of the United States is not the Lord of the Universe.” It’s Obama’s aggression, not his supposed weakness, that inflames Muslims, said Robert Wright in His drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, “and are famously unpopular in the Muslim world.”

Going forward, America must walk a very fine line, said Michael Cohen in The Arab world is now in the midst of a “seismic shift” from autocracy to self-rule, and as we’ve learned in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, “our ability to affect outcomes” thousands of miles away “is, at best, limited.” If we want any influence, we must proceed strategically and carefully—supporting civil society and pro-democracy groups, while understanding that “too much meddling and intervention can result in blowback.”

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