The attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo on the night of September 11, 2012, and the spread of violent protests to many countries in the Middle East have sparked unprecedented criticism in the Arab press of Arab and Islamic society and its way of dealing with the current crisis. Many articles claimed that violent protests harm the Prophet Muhammad and his way and are contrary to Islam's moral standards, and that it would have been better to show the moderate and tolerant face of Islam by responding through artistic and cultural expression.
Several columnists expressed fear that Arab society is sinking into ever-increasing extremism, and argued that Arabs and Muslims should distance themselves from violence and terrorism, which are the source of the West's suspicion of Islam. They stated that today's Arab and Islamic society contributes nothing to human civilization and is to blame for its own state.
It should also be mentioned that Arab leaders, Muslim scholars, and other officials issued harsh condemnations of the attack in Benghazi, and emphasized that using violence to protest the controversial film is forbidden and contrary to Islam and to the way of the Prophet. For example, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi declared that the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi was contrary to Islam and that "for Allah, the sanctity of life is greater than the sanctity of the Ka'ba."
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its officials, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the Egyptian prime minister, officials in Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, and even Salafi elements all called to avoid violence and harming embassies and diplomats, claiming that it is contrary to Islam; some even issued fatwas forbidding it. The violence was also condemned by the head of the International Union of Muslims Scholars (IUMS), Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, as well as by the leaders of the Gulf states and the Mufti of Saudi Arabia.
Violence, Embassy Attacks, Murder Of Ambassador Harm Islam And Its Values
In an article that was posted on several Libyan websites, columnist Walid 'Abd Al-Raziq 'Amir apologized to the Prophet Muhammad for the Libyans' attack on the embassy, saying: "For the sake of the Messenger of Allah [Muhammad], Benghazi, and [all of] Libya, the rebels and the government will not rest until we find those who offended the Prophet's sira... [which instructs us] to protect human life. Forgive us, Messenger of Allah. You taught us to be patient and peaceful. I never read in your biographies that [your] honorable Companions in Madina ever gathered to burn the flag of [their enemies], the Kuraish [tribe] or the Byzantines... What happened [in Benghazi] does not reflect the moral standards of Islam...
Hassan Haidar, a columnist for the London daily Al-Hayat, wrote: "No one can even entertain the notion that this movie should be defended or that its creators should be praised. In fact, it must be unequivocally condemned and rejected... However, the protests [in the Arab world] were wildly different from what a protest should look like, regardless of pretext. What happened [in Benghazi and Cairo] was the act of a mob, nothing more. It has nothing to do with the practices of proper Islam, and no religion or law... permits it..."
The Qatari daily Al-Raya harshly condemned the attack on the American consulate in Libya and the murder of the American diplomats, who were "killed by a reckless minority that cannot represent Islam or the Islamic shari'a." The article said further: "The tragic events at the American consulate in Benghazi... are condemnable according to all laws, religions, and faiths, and are unacceptable to any sane individual... No one can deny the severity of the crime committed against the Muslims by [the makers of the movie]...but it is unimaginable that the response to this crime should be the murder of peaceful people who had no part in what happened... Muslims offended by [the movie] insulting their religion and prophet... should restrain themselves and deal with the matter in nonviolent ways and in an intelligent and calculated manner..."
Many articles condemned the choice of violence and called to substitute it with artistic and cultural expression through books, lectures, and films that would display the tolerant side of Islam and Islamic society. For example, Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Barr, known as the Mufti of the MB, who is also a member of the Office of the MB General Guide, claimed in an article on the MB's official website that it is a duty to defend the Prophet Muhammad by continuing civilized activity, without harming facilities or people. Al-Barr suggested several courses of action, including a global campaign in all languages to familiarize people with Muhammad and display his greatness and contribution to humanity; promoting artistic and cultural activity that properly display his character; and introducing instruction on Muhammad's life in school curricula.
Fear Of Extremism Taking Over Arab, Muslim Society
Some writers expressed a deep concern about the rise of extremist elements in Arab society which enthrall the masses. Arab intellectual Dr. Khaled Al-Hroub, a professor at Cambridge University who routinely publishes articles in the Arab media, warned against extremism sweeping across Arab society, which, he said, is losing all its values: "...The most important and frightening aspect of what we see today in the streets of Arab and Islamic cities is the disaster of extremism that is flooding our societies and cultures, as well as our behavior, [alongside] the rapid disappearance of all respectable values and civilized behavior. This is, in fact, a total atrophy of thought among wide sectors [of society] as a result of the culture of religious zealotry that was imposed on people for over 50 years, and which brought forth what we witness [today]...
"Our societies are turning towards ever-increasing religious extremism... The intelligent people and the shapers of public opinion in the countries [that have experienced Arab spring uprisings] need to focus [on this] and consider extremism as the biggest enemy threatening these societies and their future, [an enemy] more dangerous than all external enemies..."
Al-Hayat columnist Hassan Haidar also warned about the growing power of the extremist forces in Arab society since the Arab spring revolutions: "The most dangerous thing is that the extremists, exploiting the Arab spring revolutions, are trying to impose themselves as the force that shapes the new regimes in their countries. They are prepared to take up arms and [act] violently to strengthen their position, while threatening not only 'infidel foreigners,' but also moderate Muslim citizens and Christian minorities. The fear is that their extremism and rejection of the other will cause a majority of the people [in their countries] to regret the change they supported.
"Throughout the past decade, Muslims have made tremendous efforts to cleanse Islam of the terrorist image that some tried to pin on it after Al-Qaeda's crimes in 2001. It is the responsibility of the new regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia to change the terrifying image [of Muslims] created by the behavior of extremists; to stop those trying to spread acts of extremism and intimidation before they get worse; and to prove that they belong to the tolerant middle way of Islam."
Arab And Muslim Society Is To Blame For Its State, Must Reform Itself
Other columnists claimed that Arab and Muslim society is to blame for its state, and called on it to correct its flaws. One of the harshest articles was written by 'Imad Al-Din Hussein, a columnist for the independent Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq. Hussein attacked Arabs and Muslims who curse the West, while they themselves are immersed in delusions and preoccupied with trivialities: "We curse the West day and night, and criticize its [moral] disintegration and shamelessness, while relying on it for everything – from sewing needles to rockets. It is both funny and sad that we call to boycott Western goods, as though we could punish it while still relying on it. We import, mostly from the West, cars, trains, planes... refrigerators, and washing machines... We import most of what we eat... as well as all kinds of technology and weapons... Even our curricula are partially imported. And we steal ideas [from Western] movies and [artistic] works. We are a nation that contributes nothing to human civilization in the current era. We import the culture of the West, which we call infidel and curse from morning until night. We have become a burden on [other] nations...
"Had we truly implemented the essence of the directives of Islam and all [other] religions, we would have been at the forefront of the nations [today]. The world will respect us when we return to be people who take part in human civilization, instead of [being] parasites who are spread out over the map of the advanced world, feeding off its production and later attacking it from morning until night. Only when we eat what we sow [ourselves], drive [vehicles] that we produce, and consume what we make – [only] then will we be [independent] of the world... When we become civilized and obey true Islam, then everyone will respect us...
"The West is not an oasis of idealism. It also contains exploitation in many areas. But at least it is not sunk in delusions [and preoccupied with] trivialities and external appearances, as we are... Therefore, supporting Islam and the prophet of the Muslims should be done through work, production, values, and culture, not by storming embassies and murdering diplomats..."
'Ali Al-Sharimi, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Watan, called on Arab and Islamic society to address its flaws, among them terrorism and extremism, in order to improve its relations with the West: "...Imagine a large tank carrying various advanced weapon systems, driven by the prophet 'Issa bin Maryam [i.e., Jesus], carrying the Christian symbol, the cross, on his shoulder and towing a wagon laden with treasures [he has robbed], rolling through Middle Eastern countries. Yes, this is an extreme picture that is very insulting to the messiah prophet [Jesus].
"The question is, how would Christian society respond [to this image]? What would its discourse [in response to such an offense] be like? [The image] would likely evoke cold and mocking responses. The Christian intellectual would smile and launch a scathing criticism within Christian society, in an attempt to extensively examine this faith and its validity. So why do our societies [respond with] exaggerated commotion?
"The more sophisticated and reasonable a society is, the more normal and measured are its responses [to such offenses]... It is true that there is a rise of rightwing extremism in the West, but the solution does not lie in slogans and protests, but rather in correcting our reality on all levels, and dealing with the internal conflicts and terrorism within our Muslim [society].
"We are still those who respond in the most emotional manner, [with] noise and shouting... How can we convince the Western citizen that this religion [Islam] is respectable, when all he sees is extremism and terrorism? We cannot convince [the West] that our proud words about the principles of our honorable faith [are true] unless they are implemented in practice... We can never convince the West that those who blow themselves up do not represent Islam when it sees [suicide bombings] justified on some of our satellite TV channels, and from the pulpits of our mosques..."
Egyptian Columnist: "We Demand That The World Respect Our Feelings, Yet We Do Not Respect The Feelings Of Others"
In response to the intention of Muslims to promote a U.N. Resolution that outlaws religious defamation, Bassem Yousuf, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq, wrote that the Muslims cannot expect the world to pass laws pertaining only to them. They must take into consideration that, once the resolution passes, "any sheikh who says the Christian scriptures are false, or who curses the Jews in his sermon, calling them 'the descendents of apes and pigs,' will be accused of defaming religions. Any Friday sermon that Christians [living in Muslim countries] hear over the mosque loudspeakers will be judged according to this law... When you say 'religion,' it means the belief of any human being, even if you think it silly, from idol-worship to sanctifying cows. Every man thinks his own religion is divine and that yours is not. In the U.S. alone, there are over 4,500 denominations and belief [systems], and, in some neighborhoods, you can find a mosque, a church, a Buddhist temple and a Jewish synagogue [side by side]. In Berlin, you might see a man handing out [copies of] the Koran, and right beside him a man inviting [passersby] to learn about Scientology. Do you think that a Christian could hand out copies of the New Testament, or that a Buddhist could preach his religion, in one of our city centers? In the U.S., there are ads on busses [calling to join] Islam, with a telephone number and a website where one can inquire about this religion. What do you reckon would happen [in a Sunni country] to a bus carrying an ad for a religion other than Sunni Islam?
"We demand that the world respect our feelings, yet we do not respect the feelings of others. We scream blue murder when they outlaw the niqab in some European country or prevent [Muslims] from building minarets in another [European] country – even though these countries continue to allow freedom of religion, as manifest in the building of mosques and in the preaching [activity] that takes place in their courtyards. Yet, in our countries, we do not allow others to publicly preach their beliefs. Maybe we should examine ourselves before [criticizing] others.
"Another point: Some mention the example of [the law against] Holocaust denial, and demand to pass a similar law defending religions. Gentlemen, the U.S. does not have a law against denying the Holocaust. You can deny it as much as you want, but you must deal with the media campaign that [is likely to] be launched against you. For politicians and media persons, this would be professional suicide. But nobody can sue you or imprison you [for denying the Holocaust]. An exception is what happened in France with Roger Garaudy. There, a law [against Holocaust denial] was passed after the Zionist lobby invested decades of intense efforts and planning [to achieve this result]. But we, the biggest effort we make is to burn flags or storm embassies. That is not the way to make the word respect us."
 Ikhwanonline.com, Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), September 13, 2012; Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 14, 15, 2012; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 15, 2012.
 Ikhwanonline.com, September 15, 2012; gulfinthemedia.com, September 13, 14, 2012; Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 14, 16, 2012.
 Al-Sira is a collective term referring to traditional biographies of the Prophet Muhammad that describe his life and his customs.
 Almanaralink.com, September 13, 2012.
 Al-Hayat (London), September 13, 2012.
 Al-Raya (Qatar), September 13, 2012.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 15, 2012; September 20, 2012. Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 14, 2012.
 Ikhwanonline.com, September 15, 2012.
 Al-Dustour (Jordan), September 17, 2012.
 Al-Hayat (London), September 13, 2012.
 Al-Shurouq (Egypt), September 14, 2012.