US Could Have Avoided Embassy Attacks

Wednesday, 10 Oct 2012 09:42 AM

By Tawfik Hamid

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Mass Muslim protests spread throughout the Arab world in the wake of the release of the incendiary anti-Islamic film "Innocence of Muslims." U.S. Embassies in Afghanistan, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, and some European countries were attacked by angry crowds shouting anti-U.S. slogans and burning U.S. flags.
 
The mob reaction initially started in Cairo and was then followed by attacks on U.S. embassies in other parts of the world.
 
This extremely angry reaction should lead us to question how the U.S. should have immediately responded following the release of the movie to decrease the likelihood of such a violent reaction.
 
The key to this was early and effective intervention to prevent the transformation of anger into violence.
 
The following are a few examples of what the U.S. could have done:
 
Initial Statements
 
The earliest statements of the U.S. embassy in Cairo should have been better calculated. Changing the apparent U.S. position of denouncing insults to Islam (exemplified by President Obama’s denunciation of Terry John’s Koran burning) to embracing the Muhammad movie would most certainly have made things worse.

Similarly, condemning the movie as the embassy had already done in its early tweets would have been seen by radicals as a sign of weakness and might have encouraged even more violent reaction against the U.S.
 
In such a Catch-22, the best approach would have been to issue a very short comment simply saying that the United States has no relation to this film. The longer the statement and the more apologetic it appears, the more Muslims would suspect that the U.S. was indeed behind the movie, and is now trying to fix its error.

The impact of the U.S. embassy reaction in Cairo spread quickly. In the internet era information in one Muslim country spreads to the whole of the Muslim world in a very short period of time.
 
Had the embassy immediately pointed out the absurdity of blaming the U.S. for the film by noting that in fact the producer was an Egyptian — and would we therefore blame Egypt for the film? — it might have ameliorated this very tense situation. Drawing a similarity in this case may have encouraged people to stop and think — and might have even helped prevent the rapid descent into mob mentality.
 
Timely High-Level Political Intervention
 
Previous experience with the Muslim world shows clear evidence that the reaction to such religious issues can turn barbaric by some mobs. The U.S. government should have called Mr. Morsi immediately to clearly hold him responsible for protecting the embassy. Perhaps at least the embassy in Cairo would have been safe.

This call should have been made the moment the film was linked to the U.S. — not after the embassy had already been attacked. The timing of such a call is crucial in such situations.
 
Effective Use of Social Media
 
Social media is widely used in the Muslim world, and. information spreads extremely quickly. And because many people meet together in the mosque for one or more of the five daily Muslim prayers, mosques act as both a conduit and a magnifying system for information derived from social media.
 
After a link between the film and the U.S. was created in an Egyptian TV program, social media played a vital role in spreading this inflammatory message. Social media monitoring with timely and effective counter-messaging could have changed the course of events.

Such counter-messaging, which would need to avoid the appearance of government propaganda, could have included such facts as that the United States has more than 2,000 mosques and Islamic schools.
 
 Also, messaging should have included the use of Koranic verses (specifically, for example, Al-An'am [6:164], Al-Isra [17:15], Fatir [35:18], Az-Zumar [39:7]) to emphasize the principle that you cannot hold someone (such as the American people) accountable for the mistakes of someone else (such as the producer of the Muhammad movie). This, too, could have helped to reduce tensions.
 
Effective Use of Arab Americans
 
Having Arab Americans speaking on Pakistani TV — instead of President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton — would have yielded much better results. Top U.S. officials speaking in this situation only seemed to confirm the Islamists’ propaganda that the U.S. government was in fact responsible for the movie.

In Muslim culture, people do not typically apologize for things that they have not done. It just begs the question: Why would the president and secretary of state apologize if they were not guilty?
 
Arab Americans speaking positively about the U.S. in the TV ad would relate more to people in the Muslim world and could have shifted the responsibility of creating the Muhammad movie to the individual level rather than making it look as if is the government was actually responsible.
 
To conclude, an immediate and effective intervention after the Muhammad film became widespread could have prevented a lot of violence. This does not in any way intend to hold the U.S. responsible for the violence of the Muslim world, or to underestimate the more important role that Muslim leaders need to play in order to prevent their people from reacting so barbarically.
 
The Muslim world needs to realize that unless fundamental changes are made to how Islam is being taught in its mainstream books, their religion will continue to be criticized. Muslim scholars should also learn that they need to stop insulting other faiths and beliefs before asking others not to insult Islam.
 
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
 


 
 
 

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