NBC News, along with leading US newspaper, insist that Egyptians should be grateful to the US for having ‘freed’ them US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude
By Glenn Greenwald
One prominent strain shaping American reaction to the protests in the Muslim world is bafflement, and even anger, that those Muslims are not more grateful to the US. After all, goes this thinking, the US bestowed them with the gifts of freedom and democracy – the very rights they are now exercising – so how could they possibly be anything other than thankful? Under this worldview, it is especially confounding that the US, their savior and freedom-provider, would be the target of their rage.
On Wednesday, USA Today published an article with the headline “After attacks in Egypt and Libya, USA Today asks: Why?” The paper appeared to tell its readers that it was the US that freed the Egyptian people from tyranny: “Attacks in Libya that left four US diplomats dead – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – and a mob invasion of the US Embassy in Cairo, in which the US flag was torn to shreds, have left many to wonder: How can people the USA helped free from murderous dictators treat it in such a way?”
Did you know that the “USA helped free” Egyptians from their murderous dictator? On Thursday night, NBC News published a nine-minute report on Brian Williams’ “Rock Center” program featuring its foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, reporting on the demonstrations in Cairo, which sounded exactly the same theme. Standing in front of protesting Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Engel informed viewers that this was all so very baffling because it was taking place “in Cairo, where the US turned its back on its old friend Hosni Mubarak”, and then added: “It is somewhat ironic with American diplomats inside the embassy who helped to give these demonstrators, these protesters, a voice, and allowed them to actually carry out these anti-American clashes that we’re seeing right now.”
That it was the US who freed Egyptians and “allowed them” the right to protest would undoubtedly come as a great surprise to many Egyptians. That is the case even beyond the decades of arming, funding and general support from the US for their hated dictator (to his credit, Engel including a snippet of an interview with Tariq Ramadan pointing out that the US long supported the region’s dictators).
Beyond the long-term US support for Mubarak, Egyptians would likely find it difficult to reconcile Engel’s claim that the US freed them with the “made in USA” logos on the tear gas cannisters used against them by Mubarak’s security forces; or with Hillary Clinton’s touching 2009 declaration that “I really consider President and Mrs Mubarak to be friends of my family”; or with Obama’s support for Mubarak up until the very last minute when his downfall became inevitable; or with the fact that the Obama administration plan was to engineer the ascension of the loathed, US-loyal torturer Omar Suleiman as Mubarak’s replacement in the name of “stability”.
Given the history of the US in Egypt, both long-term and very recent, it takes an extraordinary degree of self-delusion and propaganda to depict Egyptian anger toward the US as “ironic” on the ground that it was the US who freed them and “allowed” them the right to protest. But that is precisely the theme being propagated by most US media outlets.
Even in Libya, where it’s certainly true that many Libyans are happy about the Nato intervention, this bafflement is misplaced. It’s always the case that some portion of the populace of an invaded nation will be happy about even the most unjustified invasions: that the Kurds are thrilled by the Iraq war is a fact still cited by Iraq war advocates as proof of the war’s justness and wisdom.
But it’s also the case that such invasions produce extreme anger, as well: among the families of those killed by the invading forces, or who suffer from the resulting lawlessness and instability. Combine that with the fact that it was repeatedly noted that US involvement in Libya meant that anti-US extremists, including al-Qaida, were being armed and empowered by the US, it is far from mystifying, as Secretary Clinton insisted, that some people in Libya are deeply hostile to the US and want to do it harm.
In the same report, Engel also spent several moments explaining that the primary reason these Muslims have such animosity toward the US is because their heads have been filled for years with crazy conspiracy theories about how the US and Israel are responsible for their woes. These conspiracies, he said, were fed to them by their dictators to distract attention from their own corruption.
Let’s leave aside the irony of the American media decrying crazy “conspiracy theories” in other countries, when it is the US that attacked another country based on nonexistent weapons and fabricated secret alliances with al-Qaida. One should acknowledge that there is some truth to Engel’s claim that the region’s tyrants fueled citizen rage toward the US and Israel as a means of distracting from their own failings and corruption.
But to act as though Muslim anger toward the US and Israel is primarily the by-product of crazy conspiracy theories is itself a crazy conspiracy theory. It’s in the world of reality, not conspiracy, where the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children. Listening to Engel, one would never know about tiny little matters like the bombing of Gaza and Lebanon, the almost five-decade long oppression of Palestinians, the widely hated, child-killing drone campaign, or the attack on Iraq.
And it’s in the world of reality, not conspiracy, where the US really has continuously interfered in their countries’ governance by propping up and supporting their dictators. Intense Muslim animosity toward the US, including in Egypt, long pre-dates this film, and the reasons aren’t hard to discern. That’s precisely why the US supported tyranny in these countries for so long: to ensure that the citizens’ views, so contrary to US policy, would be suppressed and rendered irrelevant.
It doesn’t take a propagandized populace to be angry at the US for such actions. It takes a propagandized populace to be shocked at that anger and to view it with bafflement and resentment on the ground that they should, instead, be grateful because we “freed” them.
But to see why exactly such a propagandized populace exists in the US and has been led to believe such myth and conspiracies, simply read that USA Today article or watch the NBC News report on these protests as they convince Americans that gratitude, rather than resentment, should be the sentiment people in that region feel toward the US.
Nakoula, a California man convicted of bank fraud, is under investigation for possible probation violations [Reuters]
|After a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad triggered mass protests in Muslim-majority countries across North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has been transformed from a shadowy ex-convict into an international man of mystery.|
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested today that American mothers “sleep around with just about anybody” when he attacked the United States for defending free speech while PKR warned governments against exploiting Muslim anger to restrict freedoms as protests continued to spread across the Muslim world over a controversial film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
Malaysia’s outspoken former prime minister said the West’s idea of freedom of expression as being a part of human rights was one that may not be accepted in the cultures of Asians or Muslims worldwide.
In contrast, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali said in a separate statement that “dictatorial regimes” should not exploit the anger of Muslims to curtail freedoms.
“Those who blame freedoms for the production of the film are leaders who are anti-democratic and anti-freedom of the people, and are exploiting the anger of the people to reduce democratic space for political purposes,” he said.
Dr Mahathir (picture) was unrelenting, however, in his attack against the US which has officially condemned the film.
“It would seem that the liberal West believes that free speech is licence to curse and insult other people without limit. I think Western values have gone crazy,” the now-retired Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog today.
“How would one feel if someone comes up to you and calls you ‘a bastard, the offspring of sex between your mother and some man who is not your legally wedded father’?”
“The Americans would feel nothing because in their society this is normal. Their mothers sleep around with just about anybody,” said the controversial political veteran.
Such a practice would be considered a norm in an American society, he said, adding that apart from American mothers, fathers behave much the same way.
“It is an expression of the equality of the sexes,” he said.
Dr Mahathir was railing against US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he said had appeared to defend the maker of the film when the latter was quoted in the media as saying, “We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be.”
US embassies worldwide have been placed on high alert following protests against the controversial video, which have even led to the death of a US ambassador and three other Americans last week during a protest at its consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Protests have spread to other countries across the Muslim world, and have also reached Malaysian shores, uniting Muslims here from across the political divide in their bid to express their unhappiness at the US for the film.
The youth wing of Malaysia’s largest Muslim party Umno will be organising a mass protest after Friday prayers this week, while last week’s global protests were also joined by Islamist party PAS.
In a statement here, PAS’s ally PKR said the film was likely made with the deliberate intention to destroy world peace and spread “Islamophobia” among the non-Muslims of the world.
“PKR urges the US to take full and immediate responsibility to condemn this criminal act and take proactive measures to maintain world peace and destroy this false perception against the Muslims,” said the party’s deputy president Azmin Ali today.
But noting that the anti-American anger in the Muslim world has continued unabated for days now, even resulting in protests leading to deaths, the lawmaker said he hoped there would not be any exploitation of Muslim anger over the matter.
The crudely made 13-minute English-language film, shot in California and circulated on the internet under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims”, mocks the Prophet Mohammad.
Clips of the film posted on the internet since July have been attributed to a man by the name of Sam Bacile, which two people linked to the film have said was likely an alias.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnations from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.
Reuters news agency has reported that a California man convicted of bank fraud was taken in for questioning on Saturday by officers investigating possible probation violations stemming from the making of the video clip.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, voluntarily left his home in the early hours of Saturday morning for the meeting at a sheriff’s station in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos.
Nakoula, who has denied involvement in the film in a phone call to his Coptic Christian bishop, was ushered out of his home and into a waiting car by several sheriff’s deputies, his face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.
If free speech laws in the United States are to be altered, the Supreme Court would need to face public pressure [AFP]
|The tragic events of the past week have reminded us that freedom of speech can have deadly consequences. In the United States, many journalists, jurists, and academics believe that we must robustly defend freedom for the thought that we hate. This view is obviously not shared in most Muslim countries. But the current American stance on free speech is also not popular in other established liberal democracies, nor has it always been the prevailing wisdom in the United States. It is time to rethink the rationale behind America’s radical free speech absolutism that protects the promotion of hatred.
Reacting to the slaughter of American representatives in Libya, Secretary of State Clinton asserted, “There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable.” That is true. Yet pivoting toward an emphasis on violence downplays the fact that the United States stands virtually alone on the world stage in permitting speech that deliberately provokes hatred along racial, ethnic, or religious lines.
Even Denmark, known for its commitment to wide open public discourse, has a longstanding law that forbids “threatening, insulting, or degrading” speech that targets people because of their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation. Denmark declined to prosecute the journalists and illustrators whose 2005 portrayal of Muhammad led to major international protests and violence. But in the same breath, its Director of Public Prosecutions emphasised that it was simply untrue that religious groups had to be ready to put up with “insults, mockery, and ridicule”, as suggested by theJyllands-Posten editor. As evidence of its standards, Denmark removed the broadcast license from a radio station whose announcer called for exterminating fanatical Muslims and pursued criminal charges against a politician who compared Muslims to a cancer on society that had to be cut out. Countries like Denmark have managed to maintain a firm commitment to freedom of expression while enforcing provisions against the most destructive forms of hate speech.
The United States itself has also restricted hate speech. The First Amendment of the Constitution seems categorical when it asserts, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” This injunction only applied to state and local laws starting in the 1920s, however, and even after that point, local, state, and federal authorities often disagreed over what types of inflammatory expressions were subject to restriction. Most significantly, in its 1952 Beauharnais decision, the Supreme Court upheld an Illinois state conviction of a man who publicly decried the “the aggressions… rapes, robberies, knives, guns and marijuana of the negro”. It is not a given that the United States Constitution protects aggressive racist speech.
The free speech stance that Americans now take for granted was a product of the Civil Rights era. At that time, a progressive Supreme Court sided with blacks against Southern jurisdictions that attempted to use speech restrictive laws to curb protest.
Americans now find themselves entangled in a system that was the product of a particular era and that no longer necessarily reflects its citizens’ values. According to First Amendment Center surveys from 1997 through 2008, a majority of those polled believe that people should not be allowed to say things in public that might offend racial groups.
Freedom of speech is a core liberal democratic value. It must be upheld even when words cause offence. And no amount of violence should intimidate the United States into changing its laws. But it is vital to recognise that America is a dramatic outlier when it comes to the freedom to express inflammatory, hatemongering, racist speech. In this regard, we are different from virtually every other liberal democracy; we are different from what we used to be; and we are different from what many Americans want us to be.
It will take a bold Supreme Court to change the current interpretation of the First Amendment. But Supreme Courts respond to public pressure. It is worth having a national debate about whether we want to protect aggressive speech designed to exacerbate tensions across racial, ethnic, and religious lines. It turns out that preserving the freedom for these thoughts that we hate may not be an American value after all.
But questions remain about Nakoula’s exact role in the production of the film, and rumours continue to circulate about the video’s dissemination.
Early on Saturday, probation officers briefly interviewed– but did not technically arrest – the Coptic Christian resident of southern California who has been on probation since his conviction for financial crimes.
As part of his release terms, he was forbidden from using computers or the internet for five years. His probation order also warned Nakoula against using false identities.
Nakoula has already admitted uploading the trailer to the internet, which could constitute a violation of the terms of his five-year probation.
It was not immediately clear whether Nakoula was the target merely of a probation violation check, a new criminal investigation – or part of the broader investigation into the deaths of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya possibly related to outrage over the video.
The Innocence of Muslims film, which allegedly cost $100,000 to produce, was reportedly co-ordinated by Joseph Nasrallah Abdelmasih’s Media for Christ nonprofit. It was apparently directed by soft pornographer Alan Roberts, an industry veteran whose prior work was dominated by titles like “Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood”.
Nakoula reportedly managed the film’s logistics, while Roberts directed the acting and set up the cameras.
But reports suggest that Roberts, whose real name is likely Robert Brownwell, may have been duped – along with the cast – into participating in a film that would subsequently be altered to promote objectionable political and religious messages.
Federal authorities confirmed to the AP news agency that Nakoula was indeed connected to the persona of “Sam Bacile”, a man who had initially claimed to the AP that he was the film’s writer and director.
But Bacile turned out to be a false identity, and the AP traced a cellphone number Bacile used to a southern California house where it located and interviewed the real Nakoula.
Bacile first said he was Jewish and Israeli, but Israeli officials said they had no records of such a citizen. Others involved in the film said his statements were contrived, as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was an Egyptian-American Copt with a checkered past.
Nakoula told the AP in an interview on Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced the film. But Nakoula still denied he was Bacile and said he did not direct the film – though he said he “knew” Bacile.
Other articles now suggest, based on accounts from some of the actors, that Nakoula’s 21-year-old son, Abanob Basseley Nakoula, was the man who went by the alias “Sam Bacile” during filming of the “historical war drama period piece” in front of a green screen in Duarte, California.
Federal court papers filed against the elder Nakoula in a 2010 criminal prosecution noted that he had used numerous aliases, including Nicola Bacily, Robert Bacily, Erwin Salameh and around a dozen others.
Other pseudonyms used in the accounts ranged from Ahmed Hamdy to PJ Tobacco.
Nakoula pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
He was released in June 2011, and at least some production on the video was done later that summer.
Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Leigh Williams said Nakoula set up fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and Social Security numbers. Checks from those accounts would be deposited into other bogus accounts from which Nakoula would withdraw money at ATM machines.
Nakoula’s attorney James D Henderson Sr cited poor health in a bid for leniency and home detention, stating his client suffered from Hepatitis C, diabetes that require twice-daily insulin shots, according to a transcript of the sentencing.
Nakoula got involved in the scheme after losing his job in the gas station industry and had been forced to work for a few dollars a weekend at swap meets to try to support his children and an ailing father, Henderson said.
Prior to his bank fraud conviction, Nakoula struggled with a series of financial problems, according to California state tax and bankruptcy records. In June 2006, a $191,000 tax lien was filed against him in the Los Angeles County Recorder of Deeds office. In 1997, a $106,000 lien was filed against him in Orange County.
In addition to the fraud conviction, Nakoula also pleaded guilty in 1997 to possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and was sentenced to a year in jail, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
Nakoula claims to have attended services at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, but the church’s Bishop Serapion initially said none of his priests recognised the fraudster as a congregant.
The bishop later told the AP he confirmed with a priest in Bellflower, California, that Nakoula had once gone to the parish but had not been to services in a long time.
Nakoula swore to the bishop he had nothing to do with the anti-Islam film.
Serapion said only “God knows” if Nakoula was truthful, but the cleric told Nakoula the filmmaker should take full responsibility for the mess he made.
Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor, said whether Nakoula is sent back to jail over potential probation violations linked to the recent film is a subjective decision up to an individual judge.
“Federal judges are gods in their own courtrooms, it varies so much in who they are,” he said, noting such a move would be based on Nakoula’s conduct – and not on the content of the film.