The United States embassy of Egypt is under siege. According to Fox News, "Mainly ultraconservative Islamist protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt's capital Tuesday and brought down the flag, replacing it with a black flag with an Islamic inscription to protest a video attacking Islam's prophet, Muhammad. Hundreds of protesters marched to the embassy in downtown Cairo …. Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, went into the courtyard and took down the flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart. The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith on it, 'There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.' The flag, similar to the banner used by al-Qaida, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region…. By evening, the protest grew with thousands standing outside the embassy, chanting 'Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die.' A group of women in black veils and robes that left only their eyes exposed chanted, 'Worshippers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Muhammad alone.'"
Some clarifications for context: Islam's black flag with the shehada and sword inscription is not an al-Qaeda banner but rather Islam's most ancient banner, popularized by the Abbasid caliphs in the 800s. In other words, these protesters were not imitating al-Qaeda; rather they—and al-Qaeda—are imitating Islam's heritage, replete with jihad against the infidel. Same with the phrase "worshippers of the cross"—Islam's ancient appellation for the hated Christians.
The reason behind this latest rampage is Muslim outrage over the appearance of a film deemed offensive about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Apparently it depicts him inciting jihads, deceiving people, and exercising his libido—not unlike what is recorded in Islam's own authoritative biographies and hadiths of the prophet. It is not exactly clear who made the video, though Egyptian expatriates and Copts are being accused, possibly in conjunction with Pastor Terry Jones. In other words, the reason for this latest bit of Muslim outrage is once again the issue of free speech—in the same camp of Danish Muhammad cartoons, burned Korans, and any number of other freedoms of expression exercised by non-Muslims, and even Muslims.
The U.S.'s formal response to this terror campaign against its embassy and the desecration of the American flag has, once again, been to lay the blame on free speech. In a statement, the U.S. said, "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals [film makers] to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
Interestingly, while very concerned about the "religious feelings of Muslims," the U.S. embassy in Egypt had nothing to say about the fact that, right before it was attacked, a Christian man in Egypt stood on trial for "insulting" Islam—even as a throng of Muslims besieged the court-house, interrupting the hearing and calling for the man's death. Apparently appeasing thin skins is more important than speaking up for those whose lives are at stake—not just Christian Egyptians, but now U.S. employees—over issues of freedom.
Left unsaid and unknown in any Western media is the fact that the U.S. embassy has long been under threat, but for different reasons. Earlier, the Egyptian paper El Fagr reported that Jihadi groups in Egypt, including Islamic Jihad, the Sunni Group, and Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya had issued a statement threatening to burn the U.S. embassy in Cairo to the ground unless all the Islamic jihadis currently imprisonment and in detention centers in the U.S. including Guantanamo Bay were released: "The group, which consists of many members from al-Qaeda, called [especially] for the quick release of the jihadi [mujahid] sheikh, Omar Abdul Rahman [the "Blind Sheikh"], whom they described as a scholar and jihadi who sacrificed his life for the Egyptian Umma, who was ignored by the Mubarak regime, and [President] Morsi is refusing to intervene on his behalf and release him, despite promising that he would. The Islamic Group has threatened to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo with those in it, and taking hostage those who remain [alive], unless the Blind Sheikh is immediately released."
Despite all this—despite longstanding threats to the U.S. embassy, followed by a real attack, culminating with the destruction of the American flag—Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department's Spokesperson, speaking in response to this latest attack, said that "none of this suggests that there are hostile feelings for the U.S. in Egypt."
In fact, none of this is surprising—neither the attack on the U.S. embassy, nor the U.S. government's head-in-the-sand response, with strong words reserved only for those non-Muslims exercising their free speech rights. This event also explains the situation in a way that even a child can understand: the more you appease—as the Obama administration has been doing with the Islamic world in ways unprecedented—the more contempt you earn from those you appease, and the more demands will be made of you. Thus, today, far from being respected as a super-power, the U.S. is increasingly seen as a subdued, contemptuous dhimmi—who must say "how high?" whenever Muslims command "jump!"
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.