This weekend, movie audiences in the Middle East took in the news that the Producer of “Innocence of Muslims”, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, had ben arrested by agents of the Federal government in the US, reportedly over tax offences. Some began to wonder out loud – was Obama coming round to their ‘side’?
By involving the Feds in the arrest of this man whose film trailer became the provocation for a chaotic Muslim backlash that directed its film-outrage at innocent American targets , it was clear that the government cared to been seen to be meting out punishment to the man that set-off a new ‘wave’ of Muslim hatred against the US. They got this easily dubious character on the count of violating his probation for bank fraud conviction dated 2010.
Just a day earlier, Obama raised the burning Muslim-US question at his UN address as a last-ditch attempt to put the demons of the USA-made video to rest, as far as he could quell any residual global Muslim anger. He took pains to leave most Muslims outside of the ‘angry’ and ‘violent vengeful mob’ umbrella, where others may have been ready to consign them. So a "cruel and disgusting" video that understandably offended many Muslims did not reflect U.S. values, said the President of a country known for the Public Displays of Religiosity of its political leadership. Obama managed to do this while balancing the need not to inflame Muslim opinion  against the need to protect the US First Amendment (the article in the US Constitution which prevents government from limiting speech).
First Amendment or otherwise, however, Obama also knew that he would have to do more to placate religious Muslims, particularly in those countries which have just come out of popular revolutions. Particularly now, public opinion would become an increasingly important factor in the relations between states. Given the importance of the price of oil and other financing arrangements to the US economy at this otherwise difficult time, throwing more ashes in Arab eyes was not a good move.
What marks an important departure from previous practice, or US policy vis-a-vis Islam , is the way that somebody guilty of a form of “hate crime” against Muslims was finally brought to justice. As reports in the American media and from human rights organizations make clear, the climate in America since 9/11 was one where those accused of violating the sensitivities, or otherwise, of American Muslims , were a given a cloak of impunity, with law-enforcement authorities across the country reluctant to press charges against those who may have shared some of the collective responsibility for the attack on New York. A report  carried in Veterans Today lists a number of incidents where Muslims were attacked with little or no recourse to the law.
This will indeed be a tough time for Obama. The Arab Spring originally brought with it a sense of optimism that Arab-American relations would be improved with the populations of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other things coming around to the “American Way” of government. It was not long, however, before the protesters disavowed misty-eyed Americans of the their illusions, showing that in fact much of the anger sparking off the rebellions was born of US influence and collusion with dictatorial regimes. Later on, Islamist political parties made huge electoral inroads in Tunisia and Egypt in particular.
These events brought to light a number of the inherent difficulties of the democratic system in its broadest form. Does the tyranny of the mob really stand in place of the tyranny of the dictator? Does the right to freedom of speech also grant the implicit right to offend? Or does the right to freedom of belief also protect those beliefs from unfair, excessive persecution?
With US forces bogged down in a number of conflagrations in Muslim-majority countries, and those countries' being more and more sensitive to their populations' feelings; with the US Muslim population itself growing relative to others; and, with the need to assure White, Christian Americans that Apple Pie and the right to bear arms is not under threat, any government in Washington is going to have a tough time getting its priorities straight. It could also not have come at a worse time, with Obama facing the Ayn Rand-inspired Mitt Romney in only a matter of weeks.
More to the point, perhaps, none of these issues are resolved. Fundamentalist Christian Pastor Terry Jones still has the right to burn the Qaran and inflame passion when he feels like it, and it is unlikely that Muslims will look to it any more charitably. In the meantime, movie-goers will at least be spared the spectacle of another Nakoula Nakoula epic.
By Dina Dabbous
What do you think? Feel free to have your say on the US and its way with Islam, on the back of the whole anti-Prophet film saga. Is the US about to care more for Muslim public opinion? Perhaps, more so than liberal Europe who are happy to allow freedom of speech to trump all?