Yesterday afternoon, the School of Foreign Service hosted a panel discussion on the controversial anti-Islam video "The Innocence of Muslims." Georgetown professors and students talked about images of Islam in the Western World in light of the protests in several Islamic states. Professors Jonathan Brown, Ph.D., Yvonne Haddad, Ph.D., and John O. Voll, Ph.D. led the discussion, describing their research and first-hand experience in the region to give a sociopolitical context to the escalation of violence and social upheaval "The Innocence of Muslims" inspired in over twenty countries.
Brown opened the discussion by calling attention to what he views as a double standard for Muslims in the Western world. He suggested that Americans have an ingrained perception of Muslim "rage" built upon the accounts of a sensationalist media. Due to the prevalence of anti-Islamic activity and rhetoric in U.S. society, discrimination and hate speech targeted towards Muslims has become a socially acceptable and agitates already tense relations between Muslims and the rest of the U.S. population.
"Every culture or group of cultures has its own red lines. They might be legal red lines, but they are cultural red lines. There are taboos there are things people cannot say in public. In my experience, you just don't speak badly of the Prophet Muhammad. It just does not happen," Brown said.
Brown went on to say that in the United States, hate speech is constitutionally protected as a manifestation of freedom of speech. However, the restrictions the government places on freedom of speech and the restrictions corporations place on freedom of speech do not always line up.
In the case of "The Innocence of Muslims," Brown calls YouTube's refusal to remove the video as hate speech the result of a double standard that continuously marginalizes the Muslim population in the West.
"This movie reached new depths… I find it difficult that the most insulting thing ever made about the Prophet Muhammad in the history of Western civilization, as far as I know, doesn't violate usage [Youtube usage] policy," Brown said.
Following Dr. Brown's comments, Haddad shifted the conversation in a different direction by explaining the demography of the global Coptic Christian population. In Egypt , great political tension exists between the Coptic Christian and the Islamic population. Copts have been marginalized and discriminated against by Egypt's predominantly Muslim population for decades.
However, following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Copts have begun demanding equal programming time on government television programming, the right to convert Muslims to Christianity, a revised school curriculum that includes coptic history, representation in Parliament, and various other measures to prevent the Copts from returning to their former status as second-class citizens.
Haddad said that of the 700,000 Coptics living in the U.S., the group responsible for "The Innocence of Muslims" represented a miniscule minority of Coptic communities. Haddad went on to say that the primary concern of the majority of the Coptic community is not to wage a war on Muslims, but simply to protect themselves from discrimination which has begun to reemerge from the ruins of Mubarack's regime.
Voll closed the discussion with his analysis of the nature of urban unrest in the Middle East. Voll stated that, in terms of age and gender, the proportion of the population most inclined, statically speaking, to inciting civil unrest is males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.
Voll went on to say that the youth component is a major element of Islamic society with males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four making up as much as one-third of the populations of Egypt and Libya. Additionally, in Egypt and Libya, approximately one-third of the population is unemployed. This high unemployment rate combined with the youth of the population have left countries such as Egypt and Libya with huge floating populations of frustrated workers, which has proved to be a recipe for disaster.
"For me, as relatively young, it's deja vu in a way because looking back there is just this manifest failure to learn from experience," Brown said. Brown, Voll and Haddad certainly hope we can learn this time around.