Cairo (written by Sarah Lynch, Oren Dorell, & David Jackson/USA Today)
Emad El-Tohamy was lifted onto the shoulders of other Egyptian protesters Wednesday outside the U.S. Embassy here and denounced America for allowing a film that depicts the Islam prophet Mohammed in a vulgar, insulting manner.
"I see the U.S. government allowed the Web to spread this link all over the world without limiting freedom, without banning it," said Mohammad Umma, who like many in the crowd believes that because America is a democratic nation it should censor media that insult any religion.
"America tells us they are the country of freedom, democracy and tolerance," Umma said. "We considered America democratic, but now with what happened, we hate America."
Attacks in Libya that left four U.S. diplomats dead -- including Ambassador Christopher Stevens -- and a mob invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, in which the U.S. flag was torn to shreds, have left many to wonder: How can people the USA helped free from murderous dictators treat it in such a way?
"Many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen?" Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? "
The Arab Spring was lauded in the West for bringing in rapid succession the ouster of dictators like Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
Although the revolutions brought democracy, they have also empowered leaders of a stringent brand of political Islam to push for changes not always in line with Western values such as freedom of expression.
And they are using anti-Islamic material from the West to stir up opposition to the West. The latest example is the use of a previously unnoticed film produced in California that depicted Mohammed as a child molester and murderer.
"The growth of democracy in the Middle East is going to bring forward a lot of anti-American sentiment that has been suppressed for a long time by dictators who were seeking friendly relations with America," said Joshua Landis, head of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma.
"There are a lot of people who are very resentful towards the West and believe that the West is anti-Islamic so forth," he said. "I think we are going to see a lot more of this. They are remaking their identities, and America, the West and Islam are at the very center of how different factions are going to position themselves."
"A deliberate attack"
It remains unclear who was behind the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, which came on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. In 2001, members of the Islamist terror group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and killed nearly 3,000 people.
U.S. officials investigating the Benghazi killings believe it was a deliberate attack and not the result of a spontaneous riot.
Two senior administrations officials who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss details of the incident, described a harrowing, hours-long firefight between heavily armed gunmen and U.S. and Libyan security personnel attempting to defend the diplomatic mission.
Stevens, 52, a career diplomat who Clinton said fell in love with the Middle East as a young man when he traveled to Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer, was on a routine visit to the consulate in Benghazi when the compound came under fire.
Within 15 minutes the gunmen were in the compound. Stevens was in the building with Sean Smith, a foreign service officer and Air Force veteran who was on assignment in Benghazi. Smith also was killed.
Stevens was taken later to a Benghazi hospital. It is not clear whether he was dead at the time.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon dispatched a team of Marines to secure the embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Two warships were sent to the region.
"This wasn't a riot. It was a deliberate attack," said a Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The protest in Egypt was a riot, planned by extremist Egyptians known as Salafists, anti-Western clerics and political representatives who used the video ridiculing Mohammed to gain supporters, said Eric Trager, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He said the protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by Jamaa Islamiya, a group the State Department has designated as a terrorist organization. The demonstration was to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
When a movie trailer for Innocence of Muslims, a film made by an unknown producer identified as Sam Bacile, started circulating on YouTube, Nader Bakkar of the Egyptian Salafist Noor Party, a hardline Islamist group that holds about 25% of the parliament seats, called on people to protest.
On Monday, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, Mohamed, posted a message on Twitter urging people to go to the Cairo embassy and "defend the prophet," Trager said.
On Wednesday, Bakkar condemned the killings of the U.S. diplomats.
"This bloody attack is very strange," Bakkar said. "We will never agree to what happened in Libya, and we will never call for any violence against embassies or consulates. "
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm holds 47% of parliament seats and is led by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, announced protests for Friday at Tahrir Square. Morsi has said nothing of the incident.
The attack raises the question: Can the U.S., or for that matter the leaders of fledgling governments in Muslim states, do anything to tamp down the vitriol that ignites such incidents?
"Violence in the country is taking on a more ideological bent as radical Islamist groups suppressed under the old regime begin to reassert themselves," said Richard Cochrane, who specializes on the Arab World at IHS analysts in London.
The recent protests are not the first violent response to Western pop culture that has been deemed by some as anti-Islamic.
Dutch filmmaker and writer Theo Van Gogh was killed in 2004 in response to his works that were critical of Islam. After a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons caricaturing Mohammad in 2005 and early 2006, violent protests erupted around the world--leaving some 200 dead in the Middle East and Africa.
Some Muslims believe that any depiction of Mohammed, positive or negative, is not allowed.
"Depicting the prophet Mohammed isn't forbidden, but it is discouraged because deifying a human being can distract the faithful from worshiping God," says M. Zuhdi Jasser, Muslim author of the book A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save His Faith.
"These crowds are using the movie as an excuse to wreak violence on Americans in Libya and Egypt," Jasser says. "Uneducated populations will viscerally react. There is no quicker way to get a mob enraged than by using religious intonations."
"I'm not politically correct"
Bacile said that his movie -- which claims that the Mohammed is a fraud who approved of child abuse -- was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors.
Steve Klein, who said he was a consultant to the film, said Bacile is using a pseudonym to protect his life and is proud of his film but frightened for his safety. "I don't care if people call me names," Klein said. "I'm not politically correct. I tell the truth. If they don't like it, I don't care. If they want to kill me, I don't care."
Terry Jones, a Florida pastor known for his virulent opposition to Islam, issued a statement on his website defending the film. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Jones on Wednesday and asked him to withdraw support for the video.
Two years ago, then-Defense secretary Robert Gates asked Jones not to go through with a public burning of the Quran, the threat of which had triggered violence in Afghanistan; the public burning did not take place.
Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, says extremists in the West and the Muslim world deserve blame. "You have people essentially shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. They know what's going to happen," he said.
Some in Egypt blame their own. "The movie is ridiculous; it's an insult to one of the world's major religions," said Belal Farouk, 28, a poet in Cairo. "But I blame the violent reaction too. The film doesn't represent the views of the American people either, just a few fanatics."
Many believe that the extremists are drowning out the voices of the majority in the region, most of whom are moderate.
"It's extremists on both sides playing with each other," Said Sadek, a professor at the American University in Cairo, said, referring to those who made the film and the hardliners who protested. "And the victims are usually the moderates and the majority of people."
Contributing: Jim Michaels, Aamer Madhani in Washington, D.C.; Jabeen Bhatti and Louise Osborne in Berlin; Natalie DiBlasio in McLean, Va.; and Bryan Alexander in Los Angeles.