The violent reaction by Muslims in part of the Islamic world to the anti-Islam film that was produced in the United States is staggering and unjustified but is not surprising. It happened before and it happen again if similar criticism and insults to Islam and Muslims occur.
If there were only peaceful demonstrations, no one could oppose them because it is part of democracy. But using violence damaged Muslims and democracy, especially in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. The Taliban claimed killing two American marines as revenge against the film. Three people were killed in Tunisia because of clashes between protesters and the police, and some were injured in Egypt. In Libya, the US ambassador was killed with three American diplomats, but it is thought that this incident was planned before and had no direct link to the film.
There were attacks on American embassies in several Muslim countries, such as Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia. Many of the demonstrators did not watch the film but were mobilised by TV channels, websites and word of mouth.
There is no justification to kill innocent souls and damage buildings. As US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, the film is despicable, but this not an excuse to kill others.
The problem lies with the notion of using force in Islam. There is an urgent need to revise this notion in order to avoid this happening again in the future. Some Muslims used violence as a reaction to the Danish cartoons and to Pope Benedict's speech that were considered insulting to Islam. Farag Fouda, a renowned liberal thinker, was killed because of his overt criticism of Islam and the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie because of his book, The Satanic Verses, has not been revoked.
We now witness the same scenario repeat itself. I remember debating the Pope Benedict speech with a Muslim Brotherhood leader on television few years ago. I was astonished to listen to him saying that only one person was killed in Somalia because of the Pope’s speech that was considered as insulting to Islam and Muslims. My comment at that time was that Islam did not need to be defended by Muslims through violence but rather through debate and convincing others.
In addition, Mohamed Emara, the well-known Islamic thinker, said recently that Islam has been under attack from the West and the focus should be on those attacks more than what happened in some Muslim countries. He did not condemn those violent actions and this is understood by some circles in the Muslim world as a blessing to defend Islam through force.
In Islam there are some verses in the Quran and Hadith that highlight using force as a way to stop evil and there are different interpretations of those verses. For example, one hadith says: "Whoever, among you, sees something abominable should rectify it with his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue; and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of Faith." For some, this is justification for the use of force.
Muslim scholars and leaders must be blunt and clear about using force to defend any verbal attack on Islam and Muslims. Without a brave step by concerned Muslim institutions, such as Al-Azhar, the International Association of Muslim Scholars and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to issue a clear message saying that any insult to Islam and Muslims should be challenged by debate and not violence, the cycle will repeat. And not just once, but again and again.