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Commentary: Film is extreme hate speech; both sides need to reign in extremists

CAIRO - Of course I mourn the loss of our ambassador to Libya and the other State Department employees who lost their lives there. I abhor violence of all kinds, so I do not think it is an appropriate response to the film trailer that defames the prophet Mohamed.

I think the whole case of the attack in Libya needs more investigation, as it seems unlikely the timing of the attack in Libya was a coincidence, and perhaps not a reaction to the film’s content.

However, the film itself needs more investigation. Who made it and for what purposes? The film did and will continue to stimulate lot of anger, not just in Egypt, but throughout Muslim populations. 

I respect the U.S. First Amendment and freedom of speech rights very much; however, this film constitutes, in my view, incitement to violence, which is illegal under U.S. law. It is an extreme form of hate speech, as its content is malicious. Its filmmakers must have intended for it to spark violence. It is the equivalent of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater,” which is not protected speech.

Who would even think of portraying any religion’s prophet as a buffoon, preaching fictional texts, engaging in sex, and condoning pedophilia and killing of women and children in warfare? These images of the prophet Mohamed occur in the first five minutes of the trailer. It is beyond reprehensible. I think it is defamation of the religion.

I wish each country would look at its own religious extremists, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, and investigate them carefully, as many believe in violence to achieve fanatical religious views. Look at the log in one’s own eye, before pointing the finger at the speck in the other’s eye.

The religious extremists in one faith engage in ideological warfare with extremists of other religions, escalate tensions, and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. The extremist Christian groups in the East and in the West continue to fan the flames of hatred of Islam. There is an unholy ideological alliance between Egyptian Coptic extremists and some U.S. evangelical Christian extremists, feeding each other’s hatred of Islam and supporting the faulty “war on terrorism” paradigm.

The “problem” is not Islam. The problem is all forms of religious extremism.

Muslim extremists inappropriately call for jihad, Jewish extremists attack Muslims and Christians. Christian extremists fuel misunderstandings of Islam and attacks against Muslims. All these groups share hatred of others, a love of violence, literal interpretation of their holy books, misinterpretations of their own religions, and the use of a wide range of extreme tactics.

In Egypt, I have not seen an increase in anti-American sentiment in recent months. I did see anti-American sentiments grow during and since the revolution, with encouragement from the Mubarak government and, thereafter, from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which encouraged the view on television that Americans were behind the 25 January Revolution.

However, that has stopped since the election of President Morsy, and I think it unlikely the Morsy government will encourage such attitudes. I can still walk safely anywhere in Cairo, even at night, and when someone occasionally asks where I am from, they will typically respond positively. The people on the ground like Americans, regarding us as honest and friendly. They don’t like U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

People here have some genuine grievances against U.S. policy in this region. But overall, Egyptians respect President Obama, while being critical of U.S. policies. Egyptians tend to differentiate between actions of a government and the individual citizens.

I can imagine U.S. citizens in front of their TVs, wondering aloud, “Why do they hate us?” and imaging that we are innocent. “They” don’t hate us, but hate U.S. policies in the Middle East. We should look into that and find out why. There are ample reasons.

Anti-Islam propaganda such as the film trailer does profoundly offend Muslims here, as it offends me. (I am a Christian, a Quaker). Americans need a lot of education about other cultures and religions and need to grow in respect for religious differences. Mainstream Jewish and Christian groups should denounce the film and similar misrepresentations of religions, as well as denounce their extremist co-religionists. Mainstream Muslims have repeatedly denounced the violence of their extremists, as not appropriate behavior for Muslims.

The film, and “war on terrorism” propaganda efforts like it, can make life in the Middle East unsafe for U.S. citizens living abroad.

Kathy Kamphoefner holds a PhD in communication studies from Northwestern University, specializing in intercultural communication and Middle East studies.  She teaches U.S. university students and leads community-based learning in a study-abroad program in Cairo, Egypt. She grew up in St. Louis, attending Lutheran High School South and McKinley High School.