Anger over an anti-Islamic film spread across the middle east on Friday, inflaming a region already in turmoil. The German embassy in Sudan was damaged by protesters before security forces could drive them out. A protester was killed in Lebanon after attacks on restaurants. Palestinian protesters in east Jerusalem were stopped by Israeli soldiers before their actions got out of hand. Protests also erupted in Tunisia, Yemen, and Pakistan.
The US government has come out against the anti-Islamic film, but that has made little difference to the protesters. Anti-US sentiment runs high in the region, and conspiracy theories that the US government is anti-Islamic and secretly backs the film are prevalent on the streets of the middle east. Couple these feelings with high unemployment in the region, and you have a mixture akin to a lit match and gasoline. The authoritarian regimes that once held down protests in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are now gone, washed away in the Arab Spring a year ago.
We are witnessing a clash of cultures. In one corner is freedom of speech and expression backed by the US. In the other corner is the more restrictive Muslim culture that forbids many forms of speech, such as denigrating the profit Muhammad. The very nature of the protests are also very different than those in the west. The Occupy Wall Street movement was a largely peaceful demonstration, while mass protests in the middle east usually escalate into violence very quickly.
The US has to hold its allies in the region accountable for lax security on our embassies and consulates in the region. While our diplomatic holdings have a small level of defense, they can not match up to the massive protests forming against them. It is up to the home nation to defend a foreign embassy. Egypt dropped the ball in this regard, bending to the will of the protesters and allowing the situation to get out of hand. After a stern reprimand from President Obama, President Morsi of Egypt finally brought the situation under control and disperses protesters who were encroaching on the US embassy in Egypt.
The US is far from perfect, but it has delivered a lot of aid to countries like Egypt and Libya. Allowing our embassies to come under attack is unacceptable. The rule of law must be applied, and ambassadors must be treated with respect. None of our diplomats had anything to do with the anti-Islamic film, and to have protesters hold them accountable is unfair and unjust. There are legitimate reasons for citizens of the middle east to protest US activities, but governments across the region have allowed them to believe outright lies. They prefer protesters hating America as opposed to hating their own government. If they want our aid, this practice needs to stop.