“You can’t freak out on everything broadcast”
American officials have said they believe an Arabic talk show last Saturday showing parts of an anti-Muslim video made in the United States was the spark for the initial violence against US missions in Libya and Egypt – but that no special security precautions were taken in the light of its broadcast.
An Egyptian TV network, al-Nas, broadcast what its presenters described as extracts from an English-language film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad, which, it said, had been uploaded on the YouTube website by “migrant Coptics”, a reference to exiled members of a Christian sect with a large minority presence among Egypt’s Muslim majority.
The clips broadcast on al-Nas were taken from a short film available on the internet. It is called Innocence of Muslims and portrays the prophet – played by what appears to be a young American actor – as a womaniser, thug and child molester.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous, and caricatures or other characterisations have provoked violent protests.
“The number of potentially inflammatory things that are said or broadcast every week [is so large] … that warning about all of them would be useless,” said Paul Pillar, former leading US intelligence analyst for the Middle East and south Asia. It was “impossible to predict” the kind of violent reaction that occurred in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, he said.
One US official said: “You can’t freak out on everything that’s broadcast.”
US officials believe that al-Nas’s broadcast of the show hosted by Sheikh Khalid Abdallah was the flashpoint for the unrest.
Egyptian political scientist Omar Ashour said Mr Abdallah was a controversial host of a show that specialised in criticising liberals, often inviting firebrand commentators to mock secular Egyptians. His show tends to be popular with Salafis, but not with followers of the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood that dominates Egypt’s government.
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