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Perceived sacrilege triggers violent backlash

Radical Islamists have killed four US diplomats in Libya during protests over an American film about the Prophet Muhammad. There were also anti-American protests in Cairo.

A year after bloody protests over the burning of the Koran, a film about the Prophet Muhammad has once again caused uproar among Muslims. This time, an attack on the US consulate in the Libyan port city of Benghazi on Tuesday (11.09.2012) led to the deaths of the US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats.

There were anti-American protests in Cairo as well. On the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, radical Islamists sprayed the name of the former al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, killed by US troops in 2011, on a wall by the embassy and tore down the US flag.

Violence condemned

People shout slogans and light flares in front of the U.S. embassy REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

There were also demonstrations in Cairo

The cause of all this violence was an extract from a film about the Prophet Muhammad shown on the Internet. The film shows him as a fool, womanizer and child abuser. According to the Wall Street Journal, the film's director is a US citizen who also holds Israeli nationality.

According to Muslim tradition, any portrayal of Allah or of Muhammad is forbidden, and many Muslims feel the film is a provocation. But Hamed Abdel-Samad, a political scientist and writer who sits on the German Islam Conference, sees another reason for the unrest.

"It's not just how the prophet is insulted," he told DW. "It's also who's insulting him. If people read in the paper that the prophet had been insulted in China or Japan, they wouldn't be so angry as they are in this case, when the film comes from the US."

Christopher Stevens talks to Council member for Misrata Dr. Suleiman Fortia Photo:Ben Curtis, File/AP/dapd

Christopher Stevens (center) supported the Libyan revolution

Warning of further unrest

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the extract has been available on the Internet since July. Nobody took much notice until Terry Jones, the well-known anti-Koran Christian preacher, recently promoted the film. In March last year, Jones' public burning of the Koran outside his church in Florida led to violent protests among Muslims. Seven UN workers were killed in Afghanistan.

Now, following the violence in Benghazi and Cairo, terrorism experts are warning that there could be more violence, especially in countries with militant Islamist rebel groups.

But Abdel-Samad thinks it would be wrong to start treating Muslim and religious topics "with velvet gloves." That would be counterproductive.

Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo Photo:Mohammed Abu Zaid/AP/dapd)

The US was the target: a film from China would have upset fewer

"I believe that freedom of opinion and artistic freedom are important," he said, "and there's no doubt about that. Muslims have to learn over time that the Prophet Muhammad does not just belong to them, but he's part of the history of humanity. Not everyone sees the prophet the way a faithful Muslim sees him."

The German government on Wednesday condemned the attacks on the US missions in Libya and Egypt "in the strongest terms."

"Such violence against diplomatic missions should never be an element in political disputes or in political action," said government spokesman Steffen Seifert. US President Barack Obama also condemned the attacks, saying those who died stood for freedom and justice as well as for partnership with countries and peoples throughout the world - values to which the US was committed.

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