The Syrian city of Hama was the scene of a massacre in 1982 when President Hafez Assad, father of Bashar Assad, razed the city to  crush Muslim Brotherhood led  rebellion. Over 20,000 people were killed over the period of just few weeks.  Assad's troops pounded Hama with artillery fire and with the city in ruins, his bulldozers moved in and flattened the rebellious neighborhoods. 

 







   




























































































 

Freedom, Mohammed & Arab Spring


On September the 7 of 2012, CNN run a story about an 8 year old Syrian girl named Rena, who was shot in the face by the Syrian army sniper while playing in her mother’s lap in their ground floor apartment. Her relatives rushed her to the hospital through the sniper ally risking their own lives in the process. First hospital they reached could not treat the child because they had no medical supplies left. She then was moved to another hospital where doctors tried to save her live. In the video you can see her on the hospital bed gesturing with her hands pleading for help. That hart-wrenching scene would make  even the most cynical viewer cringe. The little girl died next day, adding another number to the grim statistics of Syrian daily carnage.

The video is readily available on YouTube for anyone who wants to see it. Be warned that it’s not easy to watch. Since the story got a descent coverage that day I was expecting that there will be some protests against the al-Assad regime by the fellow Arabs as they speak often and a lot about dignity and injustices. But I did not hear anything else about it with exception of few bloggers discussing the episode on line. I suppose the story got buried in the cacophony of other news hitting the airwaves every other minute and it was not high enough on the fellow Muslims injustice scale.

Muslims protest film Innocence of muslims I recollected the story only few days later, on September 11, after learning that American ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi, Libya along with another diplomat and two State Department security officers, when a mob stormed the U.S. Consulate and set it ablaze. It happened while in neighboring Egypt the demonstrators climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and pulled down the American flag to protest a film they say is insulting to the prophet Mohammad. Some protesters tore the flag up and showed off pieces to television cameras. Others replaced the American flag with the black flag that resembles one used by Al-Qaida.

We have seen quite a few of these type of demonstrations in the past in the aftermath of publishing of the Dutch cartoons, Koran burnings in Florida and few other episodes. This time it was a movie called "Innocence of Muslims", which was produced by couple of Coptic Christians living in California and then uploaded to YouTube back in July of 2012. The news channels reported that it was a just a 14 minute movie excerpt and they were not even sure if the full version of the movie existed.

I decided to take a look at it as it is still was readily available on the YouTube. After viewing the film I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, because I have never seen anything more idiotic in my life, as Mohammed who looked more like a Viking then an Arab and his blue-eyed cohorts were running around in making stupid faces. Moreover, looks like two different actors were speaking for Mohammed as one would begin the sentence and the other would end it.

Cry, because I could not believe that this so-called film, made in someone’s garage, can be the reason for the multiple deaths, many injuries and destroyed properties. If there is any kind of message in this clip it gets completely lost because it looks too silly to be taken seriously by any rational person. It’s like looking for a deep meaning in the Three Stooges film and I do not mean to insult the Stooges with this comparison.

Almost a week later these demonstrations spread to over 20 countries, the latest ones flaring up in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran. In Lebanon, Hassan Nasralla, the leader of Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah and de-facto ruler of the country, called for demonstrations where his followers happily chanted “Death to America”. In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei exclaimed that U.S. should “acquit themselves of such a heavy crime not in words but in deeds”.

I feel bad that U.S. haters could not find more credible figures to state their case then Nasrallah and Khamanei. No doubt they used this episode to defer the attention from scanting IAEA report issued just few days earlier which severely criticized Iran’s non-compliance with their uranium enrichment program. Both gentlemen are full time supporters of murderous Assad regime with plenty of blood on their own hands.

New Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi needed a call from president Obama to finally order a better protection for American embassy. Apparently he was walking a tight rope between pleasing the extremist from his own Muslim Brotherhood movement and even more extremist Salafist party and doing what is right.

After being silent for few days, Mr. Morsi finally admitted that Egypt has an obligation to protect foreign embassies but at the same breath he condemned the film and asked U.S. to prosecute the producers. President Morsi has lived in America for few years. He received his PhD in engineering from University of Southern California and for three years worked as assistant professor in California State University. I can’t’ believe that he does not know that one of the most basic tenants of U.S. democracy is freedom of speech which also encompasses a right to make a bad movie.

He should also know that with advent of technology and the Internet any fool with a camera can make a movie and upload it to YouTube from anywhere in the world. It takes even less talent for someone looking to make a political statement to set Koran on fire.

In United States even burning the American flag is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment and President Obama has no more control over that or making of Innocence of Muslims movie then Mohammed Morsi has a control over eradicating the radical extremism coming out of his country. If we follow his logic then U.S. should have blamed Egypt for Mohammed Atta’s and Ayman Zawahiri’s actions on 9/11, both Egyptian citizens.

In Pakistan tens of thousands took to the streets in several cities under the banner of newly made up holiday called “Love the Prophet Day”. Demonstrators tried to break into couple of foreign embassies and when they were turned back by the local police they burned down couple of banks, bunch of movie theaters, Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and some other properties. I suppose they went after anything that even remotely resembled American culture.

Muslims insult other religions and nationalities all the time and a lot those insults do not come from obscure film makers or pastors without followers but from the government officials, religious leaders, university professors and media. In some Muslim countries hatred of Jews and Christians is a thriving industry and anti-western brainwashing is part of the daily life.

You do not think that thousands of suicide bombers who spread death and destruction around the world over the last decade came out of nowhere? No, for them the fertile ground were very countries where we see so called “spontaneous violence” today and where anti-Western hatred has been nurtured for decades. 

Over the last couple of years we have witnessed an awakening of the Arab populace demanding freedom, dignity and equal access to opportunities. That process was called an Arab spring and Western countries were only happy to support Arab aspirations both politically and financially. We have witnessed the fall of decades long dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya which were replaced by somewhat democratically elected governments.

But lately it seems that we are not on the same page with these fledgling democracies. And if I may say so, it looks like we actually had an easier time dealing with deposed dictators. Where did we go wrong? It was the Arabs themselves who brought about the change in their countries but our support, political, military and financial, cannot be underestimated. It could have easily been the situation we are witnessing today in Syria. While the West is not looking for gratitude it’s only fare to ask from new democracies not to burn our embassies.

We keep apologizing over something we have no control over only to see more demonstrations and more violence. We keep repeating that U.S. government had nothing to do with the film and every time major news channel shows the mob burning American flags and screaming “death to America” they never forget to say that it’s only a tiny minority of Muslims that is engaged in this sort of behavior. Well, where is the majority then?

The answer is that the majority is silent because they ether share the radical views of the street mob or simply are terrified to be seen sympathetic to America or even worst being soft on Israel. So much so, that newly elected president of Egypt almost never uses word “Israel” as if it were a taboo.

There was a time in recent history when a tiny minority called the “brown shirts” almost took the world to the point of no return. It took 5 years and over 50 million lives to stop that madness. We need to be very mindful of that as history has a very cruel way of repeating itself.

Supporting freedom is very noble but it may not be a bad idea going forward that Arab revolutionaries and their Western supporters first agree on what this freedom really means. It may very well be that the concept of freedom and democracy Arabs are fighting for is very different from ours. Back In 1979 the Iranians were ecstatic about the downfall of Shah Resa Pahlavi just as Egyptians were happy when President Mubarak stepped down in 2011. But if you think of Iran today, freedom is not the first thing that comes to mind. Today’s Iran is the most radical country in the world on the verge of building a nuclear bomb.

While it’s very difficult to figure out what our current Middle East policy is in light of the Arab spring, what is not difficult is having a conviction in your own ideals just like Muslims show to have of theirs. Instead of being apologetic, our leaders need to use every opportunity they are given, when speaking publicly in the Middle Eastern forums, to explain to them our values and keep repeating them again and again so maybe some of it will eventually sink in. At worst they will know that there are certain things we will not bend on no matter the consequences.

At the end these violent outbursts will hurt Muslims the most. Many Arab countries have struggling economies that require major developments and a lot of foreign investment. Global prices for basic food items are moving ever higher with no respite in site. That, in turn, is also fueling the anger and frustration on the Arab street.  The economic downturn in Europe and U.S. already limits their abilities for investment into the developing countries. To make things even worse the images of out of control rioting mobs do not exactly make visiting or investing into these countries more appealing.

Just as these demonstrations rage across the Muslim world, the U.N. envoy for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, in prepared remarks told the following to the Security Council: "My staff and other United Nations colleagues have documented Syrian government attacks on schools, children denied access to hospitals, girls and boys suffering and dying in bombardments of their neighborhoods, and also being subject to torture, including sexual violence, sometimes for weeks," 

 This report did not get more than a casual mention the news media and certainly did not create any major commotion on the Arab street. No demonstrations in front of Syrian embassies. Nobody burned Russian, Iranian or Chinese flags for supporting the al-Assad regime and continually supplying him with the weapons that are killing innocent Syrian children like Rena. So far the 18-month conflict took 26000 lives and if it continues at this pace it will soon reach six digits.

The sad truth is that Syrian children will keep dying and no one Arab or Muslim country will fight the Assad regime to stop the violence. Arabs, Europeans and everybody else look to the West to see what America is doing. None of them will get involved without U.S. being an active participant.

Many Syrians are saying that if the atrocities committed by Syrian regime on the daily bases could inspire even a portion of the outrage Muslims show over the Mohammed movie we would probably see the much quicker resolution of the conflict. If only the Arab street would hear that. Or maybe watching the video of the dying child right after silly movie would help the Muslims see what is really important. Unfortunately for now it’s just a wishful thinking.