Christians in countries rocked by violent demonstrations over a film deemed offensive to Islam are concerned that Muslim anger could turn against them, as a Bible is burned at a protest in Egypt, and Christians face harassment and threats.
The backlash to a YouTube trailer of the US-made film, Innocence of Muslims, has hit around 20 countries, with protestors primarily targeting US embassies. Many of the flashpoints are places where Christians are a vulnerable minority and already under intense pressure from radical Muslims. Christians in these counties tend to be associated with the West because of their faith and are therefore liable to be targets for those seeking vengeance against the US.
There are particular concerns for Christians in Egypt after a Coptic Christian living in the US was said to be a key figure behind the film. Innocence of Muslims, which portrays Muhammad as fraudulent and depraved,was directed by the US-based Israeli film maker Sam Bacile, but the exact involvement of other named parties is not clear. Allegations that Copts had helped to finance the film have also inflamed tensions.
Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said:
Islamists’ use of this idea that Copts were behind it was apparently effective in drumming up support for those attacks.
During a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Cairo last Tuesday (11 September), Muslim cleric Abu Islam tore and burned a Bible in front of thousands of Muslim protestors, threatening, “Next time I will urinate on it.”
Christian groups in Egypt have been quick to denounce the film amid fears that Muslims will vent their anger against Christians. They have even staged their own peaceful demonstrations against Innocence of Muslims as well as joining a Muslim sit-in protest.
One Christian man, Monier Hanna, said he saw two Christian women in Helwan being harassed over the film by Muslim men last week: “They were telling the women they are responsible for the film.”
A Christian journalist in the country, Caroline Kamel, wrote in an Egyptian newspaper on Friday (14 September) that she and her family had come under attack at a bus station in Cairo and another city as a result of Innocence of Muslims.
Threats have been made against Christians in Sudan, which has seen some of the most violent protests. Muslims descended on the German and US Embassies in Khartoum on Friday following a call by a prominent cleric on state radio for them to do so.
Islamic violence against the film began on 11 September with attacks on the US embassy in Cairo and US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Protests spread to other Arab countries, including attacks on US embassies in Tunisia and Yemen, before going global, as imams urged their congregations during Friday prayers to defend their faith. On Saturday (15 September), two US marines were killed in a Taliban assault on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Violent clashes have broken out elsewhere in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Protests have taken place in London, other European capitals and Sydney, Australia.
“Very dangerous” repercussions
The reaction to Innocence of Muslims is reminiscent of the violent backlash to the Danish cartoons in 2005. But the world has changed significantly since then, with a greatly emboldened Islam emerging from the Arab Spring, making these protests all the more dangerous.
In an apparent bid to prevent further attacks on US embassies and consulates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the film ahead of Friday prayers last week. Describing it as “disgusting and reprehensible”, she said, “The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”
But the demonstrations have continued, and the whole episode could have lasting global ramifications.
Ahmed Khalil, a senior leader in Egypt’s Salafist al-Nour party, which has been heavily involved in the protests, called for the US government to ban broadcast of the film and issue an official apology for its content. He said that the actions of “certain US citizens” who produced the film could jeopardise Washington’s relations with the entire Muslim world.
And on Monday (17 September), the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said the US faces “very dangerous” repercussions if it allows the full video to be released. He described it as the “worst attack ever on Islam” and said the world did not understand the “breadth of the humiliation” caused.
Ongoing enmity between Muslim-majority lands and the US would put Christians in the former countries at increased and sustained risk at a time when they are already in an extremely vulnerable position.
Source: Barnabas Aid