“They Hate Us for Our Religious Freedom”

As anti-American (and anti-Western) protest continue to spread across the Muslim world, the White House continues to claim the protests are all a response to the film, The Innocence of Muslims. Yesterday, Jay Carney said,

I think it’s important to note with regards to that protest

that there are protests taking place in different countries across the world that are responding to the movie that has circulated on the Internet. As Secretary Clinton said today, the United States government had nothing to do with this movie. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. America has a history of religious tolerance and respect for religious beliefs that goes back to our nation’s founding. We are stronger because we are the home to people of all religions, including millions of Muslims, and we reject the denigration of religion.

We also believe that there is no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence.

[snip]

I would note that, again, the protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie. They are not directly in reaction to any policy of the United States or the government of the United States or the people of the United States.

And he said something substantially similar in a gaggle a short time ago.

There are two problems with that.

First, the evidence in Libya that the attack, at least, was planned in advance with insider help. The Telegraph provides more details on the compromised safe houses and some of the sensitive documents taken from the Consulate.

Then there are more specific contexts, such as President Hadi’s continued efforts to consolidate power in Yemen, as Iona Craig lays out. Plus, there is more opposition to US policy in Yemen than in some other countries in the region.

I’ve even seen credible questions about the role of increasing food costs–the same kind of pressure that contributed to the Arab Spring last year.

But ultimately, too, there’s the question of why in several countries local guards have apparently allowed protestors to access the targeted compounds. While that could be a response to the movie, there also seems to be a factionalism involved.

All that’s not to say this always reflects a widespread opposition to US policies in all the countries involved, especially Libya.

But it’s to say that the White House wants this to be about a response to a movie, rather than a more nuanced response to some of the challenges that remain in our relations to the Middle East, including some justifiable opposition to our policies, either present or past.

I can understand doing that to get through the immediate moment of protests. But if the White House continues to ignore these underlying issues after the riots die down, it will be a big problem.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. BSbafflesbrains says:

    It must be difficult for the WH to create and follow a consistent Foreign Policy when the MIC has their own agenda that is only profit oriented. To paraphrase Hobbes “Life is nasty, brutish, and shortsighted” when profit motives trump everything.

  2. JTMinIA says:

    In other words, the White House and the MSM continue to drone on about everything except for drones.

    edit: which I find amusing, since the excessive use of drones is one of the very few campaign promises that Obama has kept

  3. emptywheel says:

    @JTMinIA: It’s not just drones. I was wondering, wrt the Tunis and Egyptian protests (tho you could say the same for most of them) how much less riled people would be if the US were facilitating the return of the money looted by the former dictators.

  4. Duncan Hare says:

    I would note that, again, the protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie. They are not directly in reaction to any policy of the United States or the government of the United States or the people of the United States.

    Two questions:

    1. What else could he have said?
    2. Can you show us proof of these assertions?

    Unforgiving support for Israel, lack of perception of the US as an honest broker, unnecessary wars on Muslims (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and others), drones strikes, support for hard line rulers.

    No none of these are reasons that would stoke anger, no none at all.

    I wonder if Mr Carney and his bosses at the O’White House have reflected on the fable of “The Straw That Broke the Camels Back”?

  5. joanneleon says:

    Oh for … sake, somebody send this poll, Pew Global Attitudes project, to Jay Carney please.

    There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

    [ … ]

    Roughly nine-in-ten in France (92%) and Germany (89%) would like to see him re-elected, as would large majorities in Britain (73%), Spain (71%), Italy (69%) and the Czech Republic (67%). Most Brazilians (72%) and Japanese (66%) agree. But in the Middle East there is little enthusiasm for a second term – majorities in Egypt (76%), Jordan (73%) and Lebanon (62%) oppose Obama’s re-election.

    Look at that chart for opposition to drone strikes. 89% disapprove of drone strikes in Egypt. 72% in Tunisia. 81% in Turkey. 85% in Jordan. And they are not even the countries where the drone strikes are happening. Imagine the disapproval rate in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

    (Hat tip to don bacon over at dday’s FDL news blog for the link.)

  6. joanneleon says:

    In Libya they are shooting at the drones. Of course the news has been full of stories about how Obama is sending warships and troops for a couple of days now, so that would be a factor.

    Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over film
    It also emerged that Libya had closed its air space over Benghazi airport temporarily because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over the city, after President Barack Obama vowed to bring the ambassador’s killers to justice.

    The closure of the airport prompted speculation that the United States was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against the militants who were involved in the attack.

    A Libyan official said the spy planes flew over the embassy compound and the city, taking photos and inspecting locations of radical militant groups who are believed to have planned and staged the attack on the U.S. consulate.

  7. greg brown says:

    Calling murder and arson “protests” seems an abuse of language. If these were protests, we would have heard language detailing what the protestors were protesting that we might understand what these actors were protesting and decide if their position(s) deserve our support. Words are what make protests, protests.

    Violence adds only to the evil in the world. The murder of innocents seems an all too common response in the Middle East when people believe something is wrong and is frequently carried out without justification, i.e. without explanation (then, who can justify the murder of innocents?)

    Who would defend the idea: I’ve been insulted; I’ve been wronged and I’m going to murder someone, maybe more than one, doesn’t matter if they were involved; I am entitled to kill someone when I am angry?

    And, of course, murder by drone involves the killing of innocents and is criminally evil and should be deplored and protested. It should stop immediately as should the even more incomprehensible murders of innocents for perceived insults of others.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: Obama informed Congress he was sending outfitted Marines to both Yemen and Libya. I suspect the fear is real that real war could break out in both places.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @BSbafflesbrains: If they down one, I wouldnt’ be surprise if they treat it like a war prize they the Iranians did.

    Only they ‘d hold off on releasing the video until after they had handed it over to the Chinese for cash.

  10. rosalind says:

    been meaning to ask this. reuters reported the other day that:

    “General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Jones to withdraw his support of the film during a phone call Wednesday, Reuters reported.”

    isn’t a sitting General calling a U.S. citizen directly to request a certain behavior modification uhm, unusual? and a very scary line for the military to cross in this Country?

    http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-09-12/news/os-terry-jones-movie-embassy-bombing-20120912_1_florida-pastor-islam-protests

  11. Steven Walcott says:

    Did anyone see the article in the Guardian last weekend where a bunch of folks were killed by a drone? Yemeni government denied it, CIA denied it and the families threatened to bring the bodies to the capitol and lay them out publicly.

    I guess you deny this evil because when it blows up in your face you can say you don’t know what they’re talking about.

  12. please says:

    @greg brown:

    Greg…oh Greg.

    I won’t try to breakdown some nuance around the word “protest” but I will highlight a few things.

    …”we would have heard language detailing what the protestors were protesting that we might understand what these actors were protesting and decide if their position(s) deserve our support.”

    I think anyone who takes seriously the issues at hand here would more than gladly show how for years “we” simply haven’t been listening. Or rather we have and decided might equals right.

    I do agree though,violence is never the answer and we should all collectively strive for that. Not because its an ideal because it is at the very heart of what it means to be human. But I know I can safely say that because I don’t have to worry overnight about being blown to bits by an errant strike. Violence is no excuse but I do have a measure of empathy to understand that the reactions don’t occur in a vacuum but are part of a system that have stoked fears, anger, hunger, poverty, etc.

    “The murder of innocents seems an all too common response in the Middle East when people believe something is wrong…” You might simply be responding directly the the topic on hand (Middle East) but surely, simply by a number count, you can’t expect anyone to believe that anyone holds that belief more strongly than in the West (I’m using west liberally here).

    “Who would defend the idea: I’ve been insulted; I’ve been wronged and I’m going to murder someone, maybe more than one, doesn’t matter if they were involved; I am entitled to kill someone when I am angry?”

    As I mentioned above, violence isn’t the answer. But I feel that’s ignoring the other half of the story. Not too long ago, former Secretary of State Albright, who claimed the death of more than half a million children was worth it, was given one of America’s highest honors. Clearly the world isn’t so black and white.

  13. Story of O says:

    @greg brown:
    > Who would defend the idea: I’ve been insulted; I’ve been wronged
    > and I’m going to murder someone, maybe more than one, doesn’t
    > matter if they were involved; I am entitled to kill someone when I
    > am angry?

    See United States of America, 9/11, reaction to.

  14. OrionATL says:

    i suspect it is the case that the anti-american “riots” and “mobs” we have seen in middle-eastern countries for years screaming slogans and burning someting – always burning someting – are are almost never formed from spontaneous events. they are both planned and financed – flags to burn cost money and aren’t likely available at the local store.

    the interesting question is always who is doing the planning and financing and what are their motives. in general, i have no trouble imagining that folks who recently lost power in tunisia, libya, and egypt would be happy to do the planning and financing and recruiting. in yemen, anti-gov’t factions might see benefit to their cause.

    a blasphemous religious film would serve just fine as an emotion-arousing topic around which to plan and execute one’s mobs and riots.

    thus i doubt the events we are seeing this week have much at all in common with mass protests that took place in tunisia and egypt in the “arab spring” uprising.

    so the important question here is cui bono?

  15. emptywheel says:

    @Steven Walcott: That one–which I kept intending to post on but never did, but which MadDog chronicled thoroughly in comments–was particularly interesting bc early on their acknowledged an intelligence mistake behind it.

    I’ve long been interested in the cooperation bt Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the US on these strikes, and am convinced that a lot of intelligence “errors” are one of our partners using our toys to accomplish their own objectives that have nothing to do w/protecting American. Given the panic abotu that one, I suspect it is the case too.

  16. OrionATL says:

    it is by no means inconceivable that the “innocence of muslims” film was promoted on the internet in order to influence the american presidential election.

    i wonder if romney’s slightly off timing in criticizing obama’s “response” might not be a clue to his having been alerted aforehand to the likelihood of the events unfolding in egypt that did in fact unfold.

    this would not be the first time unelected republicans have used foreign policy to influence an election – cf, the reagan campaign and the iranian “students” and “revolutionaries” holding american diplomatic personnel hostage.

    given the stakes and their drive for absolute power, and given the tactics modern republicans have used in, e.g., the 2000 presidential election, there is no reason not to suspect them of having knowledge of the plot to deploy the film, if not actually having deployed it themselves.

  17. ryanwc says:

    @greg brown: I suspect you’re a troll who won’t be back anyway, but yes, murder of innocents is all too common in the Middle East. But thousands of those murders have been perpetrated by American troops thrust into difficult situations with unclear or impossible objectives, forced to make horrendous decisions. Several of the posts above yours discussed drones, which have been one of the key methods of murdering innocents.

    In other words, wtf is your point?

  18. P J Evans says:

    @greg brown:
    If these were protests, we would have heard language detailing what the protestors were protesting that we might understand what these actors were protesting and decide if their position(s) deserve our support.

    You seem to think that everyone else should do it the way you want it done.

  19. may says:

    @OrionATL:

    cui bono? indeed.

    the monies enabling political interests seem to be a worldwide problem from superconservative religious to superconservative military to superconservative commerce.

    those with the most are the ones who have the most to lose and have more in common with each other no matter which ideology they espouse that with the rest of us.

    cui bono?

  20. JohnLopresti says:

    Wealth’s chasm; religion, yes; social values; prehistoric wanderer-gatherer transition to democracy can take 3,000 years. But religion is only one concept for ways to organize thought. Then there are the social contract, the degrees of freedom in a diverse society…Mitt wants to elevate the throwback rules. Same scene, different country.

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