The video that sparked violence in Benghazi, Libya (where four people were killed including the U.S. ambassador) and then in Egypt and Yemen and many other countries, is disgusting and a public reaction in Muslim countries could have been anticipated, though perhaps not the extreme violence that did occur. The violence erupted when the U.S. was commemorating 9/11.
I’d like to share my views on the recent events as a human rights advocate who has used/is using video for human rights change – particularly recently in North Africa and the Middle East; as an African; and as a Christian.
The violence in the region has now spread in more than 14 countries, and for me, is heartbreaking. I grew up in a community in central Africa that had several hundred Muslims, and through my work here at WITNESS, I have visited many countries in the Middle East and have analyzed the dynamics in the region including the Arab Spring that culminated in political changes in many countries in the region.
Both Islam and my own religion, Christianity, preach love, tolerance, forgiveness and many other good virtues. I know the Muslim community quite well: Islam doesn’t preach violence, it doesn’t support violence. The producer/director of the anti-Muslim video, who is apparently a Coptic Christian, does not represent Christians’ views, nor American views, he represents his own views, which, in my judgement, are those of an extremist.
As a human rights activist, I know the importance of video in advancing the good virtues that are also the traditional values of both religions: peace, respect for any human being, and justice. Many videos have made impact in advancing justice through courts (serving as evidence), raising awareness, and influencing key decision-makers in instances where human rights should be protected. And in many cases, thanks to the Internet these videos can be accessed instantly.
The video above was co-produced by SAF, our partner organization in Yemen and WITNESS, to share stories of Akhdam women – a social group in the country that faces discrimination, violence and abuse because of their darker skin and African descent.
What is happening in the Muslim world doesn’t represent the majority of Muslims or the values of Islam specifically. The recent events reveal an anti-American sentiment that I thought was declining. Before the recent violence, when I traveled to the Middle East, I heard positive stories about the U.S. During last week’s violence in Libya, I saw many Libyans on news reports, including government representatives, come forward to denounce the violence as it was perpetrated by a small group of people who do not represent the majority of Libyans.
The Arab Spring led to democratic changes in North Africa and the Middle East – for example, the most recent round of elections in Egypt were the first to be held democratically in over 50 years. Also, earlier this month Libyans elected, democratically for the first time, a new president.
However, recent events also reveal that the region has a long way to go as these changes are being implemented. The Libyan government is trying to broaden its authority and implement the rule of law throughout the country while there are many factions that remain loyal to Gaddafi and who are still fighting against the government. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to change the Mubarak system that led the country for over 30 years and implement an Islamic system and at the same time try to address the demands from the population.
The newly-elected leaders and those still in power, need to work effectively to protect democratic values, justice and human rights and deal with the populism, protect peace and security for all and guarantee basic human rights for all. Violence should not be the answer – peaceful ways should be promoted.