home
RSS
September 13th, 2012
11:23 AM ET

My Take: A deadly link between Islamic and anti-Islamic extremists

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

What should we make of the attacks on the U.S. consulates in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens?

It depends on who you mean by “we.”

From the perspective of those who stormed the embassies, taking down the American flag in Egypt and replacing it with a black flag reading, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger,” theirs was an act of justice on behalf of the One True Faith.

The Americans had it coming, according to this view, because Americans are on the wrong side in the clash of civilizations between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim world. And the creation of an anti-Islamic video (ironically entitled "Innocence of Muslims") by a producer thought to be an American provided the catalyst (or excuse) for the protests.

Why Muslims are sensitive about portraying the Prophet Mohammed

Most Americans operate by a different “we.” From our perspective, the assault was an unjust and cowardly attack on (among other things) the rule of law, the institution of diplomacy and the right of free speech.

Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur gave voice to this perspective when he said on Twitter, “I condemn these barbaric attacks in the strongest possible terms. This is an attack on America, Libya and free people everywhere.”

“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

In a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005, later published as "This Is Water," novelist David Foster Wallace urged student to scrutinize the “natural, basic self-centeredness” that puts “me” at the center of the world.

This unconscious “default setting” fosters the sort of “blind certainty” that manifests as arrogant atheism and fundamentalism alike, Wallace said. And the point of education is to shake us out of that “default setting” - to begin to see things from the perspectives of others.

 Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

Wallace focused in his speech on the individual “I.” But his critique can be applied as well to another “default setting” (this one more cultural than natural): our tendency to understand the world from the perspective of “we."

According to those who stormed the embassies, "Innocence of Muslims" was not made by an individual (whoever the shadowy "Sam Bacile" may - or may not - be). It was made by an American.

Moreover, according to this groupthink, Americans as a group are responsible for the sins of individual Americans, so it makes perfect sense to strike out at embassy personnel who issued a statement before the protests turned deadly, condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims, as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Meanwhile, the shadowy figures who produced and distributed "Innocence of Muslims" are imprisoned in some groupthink of their own, which gathers all the world’s Muslims under the category of an evil Islamic empire. Their film doesn’t just depict Mohammed as a con man, philanderer, and pedophile. It portrays his followers as dupes.

Unfortunately, the events of recent days have done nothing to jar the alleged producer out of this default setting. When questioned about his film in the aftermath of the Libyan and Egyptian attacks, a man identifying himself as "Sam Bacile" reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer.”

You don’t need a Kenyon college degree to see how this vicious cycle of provocation and violence is fueled, and you don’t need to be a moral relativist to see that it takes two sides to keep it running.

I am an American who is justly proud of the First Amendment and its protections of freedom of speech and religion. And I believe that killing your opponents in the name of God or nation is a far greater offense than offending them with an ignorant movie.

Nonetheless, the root problem on display here is in my view what Wallace denounced as “blind certainty.”

Our world is not divided first and foremost along religious or national lines, into Muslims and Christians and Hindus or Israelis and Americans and Egyptians.

Neither is it divided into secularists and people of faith - the New Atheists and partisans of old-time religion.

The real “red line” in the modern world divides the certain from the uncertain. And in the tragic events of recent days, those who produced and distributed this hateful movie stand on the same side of this line as the killers of innocents in Libya and Egypt.

Both groups are possessed by the unholy spirit of “blind certainty,” unacquainted with both the complexity and contradictions of life on Earth and the “cloud of unknowing” that hovers over every major religion.

The great religious thinkers in Judaism, Christianity and Islam always knew enough to know that they did not know everything.

They knew the difference between the eternal decrees of the God of Abraham and the all-too-flawed thoughts of ordinary people. They knew, in short, that they are not God, who alone is charged with creating and destroying the world and discriminating along the way between the real and the illusory.

The killers in Libya have forgotten that. So have the not-so-innocent producers and distributors of "Innocence of Islam."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Belief • Egypt • Islam • Libya • Middle East • Violence

soundoff (395 Responses)
  1. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    for middle eastern models and bang bang visit my links. 8==> (_!_)

    September 14, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  2. AvdBerg

    The latest outrage by Muslims has nothing to do with a small film but rather the unrest and attacks on US Embassies is a culmination of the rising tensions and deep-rooted hatred amongst civilizations in a divided world (Matthew 12:25,26). For a better understanding of the history of Islam and the Middle East we invite you to read the articles ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’, ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 14, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation?? Everyone knows whoever wrote that was high as a kite. Evidently it was St. John the Opium Addict.

      September 14, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  3. jknbt

    why can't we all just get along???

    September 14, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • just wondering

      a long what?

      September 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven

    September 14, 2012 at 5:12 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 14, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  5. Altee11

    Thank you Steven Prothero

    September 14, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  6. atomD21

    Fundamentalism is a very dangerous thing, be it Christian, Jew, Muslim or any other form. To say you have the complete monopoly on truth and all the answers is not only wrong, but elevates your group to a feeling of a godlike position in the world and creates teachings that all those who disagree are subject to whatever your group decides is justice. This is why I am exceedingly grateful, as a Christian, that we do not live in a Christian Nation, as some would say we do. Theocracy is a terrible thing that does nothing but bring pain and suffering, even to those on the same side as the government. The sooner the world is rid of countries ruled by religious leaders the better off we will all be...

    September 14, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • AL

      Amen. Well said AtomD21

      September 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  7. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    Stevie P. is still clueless about the effects of religion in today's world. And to think he gets paid for being an expert/professor of said subject. One more time:

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon?

    And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror like those of 9/11//2012?

    The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.

    Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere..................................
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    September 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Primewonk

      If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

      September 14, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  8. hogwash Dao

    this is the path that extreme devotion to monotheism will lead to. 🙁

    September 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  9. Iqbal Sweat Khan

    Hmmm, you can't yell "Fire" in a theater when there isn't one.

    And yet you CAN, if you are a member of Westboro Baptist Cult, yell such fallacies at strangers' funerals as, "GOD HATES YOU!" which, translated, means "I HATE YOU!" and "GOD HATES AMERICA!" which, translated, means "I HATE AMERICA!" and "GOD HATES F@GS!" which, translated, means "I HATE F@GS!" So it is perfectly OK to spew BLATANT HATE SPEECH as long as it projects your own personal hate onto a make-believe "god?"

    And yet it is not OK to make a derogatory movie about Mohammed and his alleged "god" Allah and their pathetic followers? Why? Are Muslims special? WHY? What makes them have "more rights" than anyone else? Just because they have a tendency to be childish and bomb #h|+ when they get offended?! Oh well, then let's all just resort to violence when we get offended, shall we? That'll really improve society for sure and we'll all get more rights! (MOST EMPHATIC, SARDONIC SARCASM INTENDED IN THE LAST 2 SENTENCES! NO! I AM NOT CONDONING VIOLENCE!!!!)

    September 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Iqbal Khan

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62xHNvvGsFU&feature=related

    September 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Iqbal Khan

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8R6-vkqmAE&feature=related

    September 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      FOR CAUSE OF THIS CONFLICT AND OTHERS PLEASE VISIT http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      the link has lot of new 8==> (_!_) turn off your virus protection. Enjoy the middle eastern models and bang bang!!

      September 14, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  12. Iqbal Khan

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article29472.htm#idc-cover

    September 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  13. AvdBerg

    The unrest and attacks on US Embassies is a culmination of the rising tensions and deep-rooted hatred amongst civilizations in a divided world (Matthew 12:25,26). For a better understanding of the history of Islam and the Middle East we invite you to read the articles ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’, ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Any alleged "predictions" offered by the bible are no less va-gue and universally applicable, and no more accurate than any horoscope in any newspaper any time any where. That's the whole problem with bible (or quran, etc.) thumpers! They think they're "on to something real" just because some craftily worded, va-gue passages seem to va-guely apply to modern circu-mstances. Now, if they had predicted actual names of future personages of importance or actual Dow Jones Industrial averages on given future dates, that would have been something to behold!

      September 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • manbearpig

      GZK-
      But if they tried to outright predict anything specific they'd be proven wrong. Ambiguity – that's the key!

      AvdBerg-
      You know how often over the course of the last 2000 years someone has seen signs of the "end of days"? Yet surely you got it right. Surely.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation??? Everyone knows whoever wrote that junk was high as a kite. My goodness. St. John the Divine Opium addict evidently.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • nope

      @mama...
      nope

      September 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Yep

      @nope
      Yep. If'n ya read Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" alongside John the Revelator's "Revelations" you undoubtedly notice a striking similarity in style, due to the ingestion of certain opiates. Face the facts, you obtuse !@#$

      September 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • truth be told

      If you know anything about Hebrew writing ie the Dead Sea Scrolls you will notice Revelation to be accurately aligned with that type of writing. You are comparing apples to watermelon moron.

      September 14, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "truth be told", but all of your assertions thus far have been without foundation.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Laurence Ringo

    Wow.I'm firmly convinced,and have been for a long time,that the obvious key to this situation for Muslims is education.From my readings and analysis of Islam,Muhammad viewed himself simply as a man and a messenger simply conveying a message he was presumably given,nothing more.Since that time he has been elevated in the Islamic theological lexicon to the point of deification,even though he died in 632 a.d.like any other human being.I find this development strange and baffling;when did Muhammad become the Islamic Jesus? Actually,that's not entirely accurate;In my wildest imagination I can't envision Christians exploding into such a frenzied blood-lust,and Jesus is blasphemed on a regular basis around the world,even in Islam.(At least from a Christian prespective.) At any rate the Islamic scholars,teachers,philosophers,et.al.,have seriously dropped the ball on this issue,and continue to do so.But,unfortunately,you can't re-bottle this particular genie,so...here we are.God help us!

    September 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Education is detrimental to religious belief. Why do you think American christians homeschool so much? They do it so they can control what their children do or do not learn about. Why do you think they discount evolution and encourage their religious beliefs (creationism) to be taught as fact in public schools? Education is the bane of all religions.

      September 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Momof3

      Muhammed was probably evelated to the position he now holds within the Islamic faith the same way the Jewish man Yeshua was elevated to Jesus Christ by the Christians. It's all in WHO starts the church/faith, and what power they need to exert over their followers.

      September 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  15. Dirac consequences

    I don't know if anyone knows this, but do Islamic and anti-Islamic extremists come into being at the same time and eventually annihilate each other?

    September 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  16. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    "Chad" is also known as "Rachel" on the Belief Blog. "He" just loves to post "in drag." So there's even more wrong with "him."

    September 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Chadwatch, a public service

      It's especially entertaining to see The Chad congratulate himself with his alter egos (or, in the case of Chad, perhaps "altar-egos?").

      Chad: blah blah Punctuated Equilibrium blah blah God of Abraham blah blah
      Rachel: Excellent points, Chad! (emoticon)

      September 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    September 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Could you get it to change my kid's dirty diaper, please.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • nope

      @the college...
      nope

      September 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • snopes says

      nope to nope

      September 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      So then prayer doesn't really change anything, seems a baby diaper would be easy.. world peace, not so easy.

      September 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • truth be told

      Atheists have murdered more people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries and have caused wars resulting in hundreds of millions of casualties. How is that for world peace?

      September 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • old ben

      Not that again, you ding bat. Some ruthless rulers murder many, but never in the name of atheism. Some of them denounced religion but it was necessary for one reason or another to meet their objectives. Others, such as Hitler, a Christian, considered themselves righteous. But regardless, it is silly to ascribe the characteristics of a few of the world's worst nutballs to anything, religious or not. Religions, on the other hand, at various times in history, have had adopted murder and all kinds of disenfranchisement "in the name of" themselves. Christianity is by far, no exception.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • old ben

      to be clear, my reply was specifically directed to "truth be told"

      September 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • truth be told

      You show ignorance about history, hitler was an atheist.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Hitler was not an atheist, no matter how disingenuous you choose to be.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • truth be told

      ALL atheist leaders have been murderers, a commonality among them having no moral restraint and being their own final authority, atheistic traits. They kill because they are atheists not in the name of.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • truth be told

      @midwestrail
      you did not know hitler.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Let me guess – you went to high school with him ?

      September 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • truth be told

      @midwestrail
      The issue is you know nothing about hitler

      September 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Neither, apparently, do you. Hitler was not an atheist. You really should try reading something other than right-wing fundamentalist nonsense.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • truth be told

      As it turns out I have an extremely accurate knowledge of history and know as do any who actually knew hitler that hitler was an atheist.

      September 14, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  18. Orin

    Chad is stuck in the chamber line. He can't read the closed for cleaning sign.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Beth

      There's more wrong there than that.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @Beth -you see Chad got his entire education from two sources. His church/preacher and the internet. He was never taught to think for himself or develop his ability to defend his thoughts/beliefs. It's kind of sad, really..

      September 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      collegeadmissionsguru, are you kidding me? Chad has a vast knowledge of paleontology, genetics, archaeology, cosmology, and statistics that surpasses even that of professionals in those fields. Just ask him....

      September 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  19. Chad

    We, the German führer and chancellor, and the British prime minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe.

    "We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German naval agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe. My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British prime minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time ... Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." Neville Chamberline

    appeasement always works!! I mean, if someone has something against, you, clearly it's your fault. You need to examine yourself to see why that person felt compelled to punch you in the face and take your wallet. After all, everyone in the world is peace loving, it's not like some history is replete with examples of lunatics or anything.
    wait..
    what?
    – Chad

    September 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Byron

      Chad, please learn some html and think a bit before you go about trying to use it. Hopefully you didn't mean to put most of your post in italics, maybe just the quote. Or perhaps you wanted to tie your words to Hitler's...

      September 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Chad

      umm.. you mean Chamberline?

      September 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Gus

      You meant, "Chamberlain"?

      September 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Chadwatch

      Chad never knows what he means. His brain doesn't function very well.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Chad

      D'OH
      correct you are.. Neville Chamberlain

      September 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Orin

      He is not Neville Chamberlain.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Hamm

      Chad
      And sometimes people have nobody to blame but themselves for getting mugged. It's just a matter of common sense. Everyone knows that these Muslims are easily riled and can get violent. What this guy did with this movie is like walking into a local sports bar just after their team lost a championship and putting down their team. It's not a brave thing to do, it's a stupid thing to do.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Chad

      @Hamm "And sometimes people have nobody to blame but themselves for getting mugged. It's just a matter of common sense. Everyone knows that these Muslims are easily riled and can get violent..."

      =>right, appeasement always works best..

      September 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Beth

      Chad, I don't think, based on your statements, that you really understand what the term "appeasement" means.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Chad

      @Beth "Chad, I don't think, based on your statements, that you really understand what the term "appeasement" means."

      =>um..
      I think it means this,, what do you think it means?:
      appeasement
      a. An act of appeasing.
      b. The condition of being appeased.
      2. The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Beth

      Chad, post-post copy and paste doesn't help your case. In your own words, please. Even better would be to demonstrate some insight in your posts, which you have so far utterly failed to do.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Sid

      Beth, Chad has lastworditis. He is both stupid and obsessive, a very bad combination.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @Cjhad, what really works is COMMON SENSE.. try some.

      September 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Chad

      ah.. I'm really confused now.

      Believing a word means what the dictionary says is the definition is ... stupid?

      hm...

      If I didnt know better, I would say that your inability to address the data is just forcing you into name calling?

      September 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Dirac consequences

      Regarding God, must we appease or atone?

      September 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      "Regarding God, must we appease or atone?"

      Regarding all gods, we must ignore.

      September 14, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  20. Al

    Stephen Prothero, i am a Muslim, and Egyptian and I can agree with you fully not 99%, thanks for having well educated man on board.

    September 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Orin

      Are you sure that's not 99.6678942%? Absolutely sure?

      September 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.