A prominent Middle East expert tells Newsmax.TV that while a French magazine had the right to publish crude cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed under Western principles of free speech, the publisher should be “condemned” for stoking a potential tinderbox of Islamist rage.
“The paper ought to be condemned for what they’ve done. There’s no excuse for the reaction that it has set off but if you know you’re going to get that kind of hysterical reaction and you go about seeking to provoke it, then you yourself have to be questioned about your own motives and intentions,” Zogby said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
Zogby, who is the founder and president of the Arab-American Institute and author of the book “Arab Voices,” said that it’s not enough to argue that Western principles of free speech apply.
“Of course you have the right to publish this in a free society, although, France has a much more restricted free speech mandate than the United States of America,” he explained. “But, on the other hand, the question is do you take advantage of that freedom if the purpose is purely to incite and purely to provoke and, therefore, one would say that discretion is the better part of valor in this instance.”
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The satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday with a cover depicting an Orthodox Jew pushing his turbaned figure in a wheelchair. Inside, several caricatures of the prophet showed him naked, threatening to further anger Muslims around the world who are already incensed by a film depicting the prophet as a womanizing buffoon.
The French government, which had urged the magazine not to print the images, responded by announcing a temporary shutdown of embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers. Riot police were deployed to protect the Paris offices of the magazine after it hit the newsstands.
“The Arab world, right now, is going through a period of enormous, dramatic, profound transformation. A youth bulge, a tremendous economic dislocation, massive new migration to cities, the rate of urbanization is profound and the result is you get these societies being torn apart and people being very, very alienated,” observed Zogby. “It’s a situation that you shouldn’t be playing with matches, you know, under those circumstances and that’s what we’ve got.”
He believes the U.S. must “tread rather lightly” under the circumstances and he supported the government’s response to date, including the response to the deaths of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during a 9/11 attack on the Consulate.
While the Obama administration is acting under the assumption that the attack was not planned to mark the 11th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington, Zogby sees it as a “pure terrorist attack, nothing short of that” and he suspects that the initial demonstrations in Egypt were an attempt to embarrass the newly installed government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
“It was a terror attack. It was a terror attack that took advantage of the movie and the demonstrations around the movie,” he said. “They were using it for their political advantage, mimicked in Libya with the addition of a rocket attack on the embassy.”
Noting that the government in Libya is also new, Zogby said that there is no excuse or justification for the slayings of Americans.
“If they’re going to be a government, this is the time for them to act,” he said. “They’ve arrested some people, but justice has to be done in this situation and America has every right to push the Libyan government and, of course, the Egyptian government and others in the region to act decisively. No excuse for the film, but no excuse for bad behavior in response to the film.”
Since the attacks took place, U.S. citizens living abroad have been “traumatized” by the outpouring of rage toward America, according to Zogby, who said the U.S. government has a right to insist that its citizens be protected.
“Governments in the region are our friends — many of them are our friends, some of them want to be our friends,” he said. “They have to behave like friends and we have a right to be tough and a right to insist that people act — you know, the Egyptians want U.S. assistance. We want to give U.S. assistance. But there’s a price. And the price is behave like a friend.”
Zogby noted that such “waves of hysteria” over religious clashes are not new — or limited to the Middle East for that matter.
“Periods where societies are under stress, where there’s huge social dislocation and people are feeling a sense of powerlessness they become victim of the ability of people to provoke them,” he explained. “You have extremists in the West who want to provoke. You have extremists in the East who want to take advantage of the provocation and use it for their political advantage, and you have a recipe for disaster, which is what we’re seeing play out.”
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