The World from Berlin: Angry Mobs Part of Arab World's 'Search for Self'

As outrage continues to spread across the Muslim world in response to an anti-Islam film, Western embassies are bracing themselves for further violence. German commentators on Monday say that the protests are less about anti-Western sentiments than they are about finding a post-Arab Spring identity.

Protesters in Ankara, Turkey set fire to a mock US flag on Sunday. Zoom
AP

Protesters in Ankara, Turkey set fire to a mock US flag on Sunday.

The wave of violent anti-American protests raged on across the Muslim world on Monday, with the Afghan capital among the latest locations to be rocked by the outrage.

Hundreds of demonstrators in Kabul reportedly set cars alight and shouted "death to America" in what was just the latest flare-up in a week of violence targeted at mainly American missions that began in response to a controversial film called "Innocence of Muslims," which derides the Prophet Muhammad.

Protests also took place in several countries on Sunday, but were less intense than on Friday when at least nine people were reportedly killed in several countries. In Pakistan, where there were protests in over a dozen cities on Sunday, one person was killed when unidentified people fired at a protest in Hyderabad.

The demonstrations have led Western countries to beef up security at their foreign missions and even withdraw staff in some places, as both the US and Germany did in Khartoum, Sudan on Saturday following unrest there. After its embassy in Tunis was targeted on Friday, the US has also withdrawn non-essential staff from Tunisia.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that American missions would remain on guard, though he hoped the worst of the violence had passed. "It would appear that there is some leveling off on the violence that we thought might take place," he told reporters on his plane on Saturday. "Having said that, these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer."

Pope Urges Peace

In a weekend visit to Lebanon, where one protester was killed on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI called for peace in the region. "In a world where violence constantly leaves behind its grim trail of death and destruction, to serve justice and peace is urgently necessary," he said during a public mass.

But after the pope's departure from Lebanon on Sunday evening, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called for protests against the film. "Those responsible for the film, starting with the US, must be held accountable," he said. The effort, however, seems to be a thinly-veiled attempt to take advantage of the outrage over the video and win back some of the popularity Hezbollah has lost over the past year. While it initially praised the Arab Spring, the party's support for the Syrian government -- its main political backer -- has turned off many who were once sympathetic to its militant and populist rhetoric.

Hezbollah's opponents hope to use its current lack of popularity to pressure it to disarm. But that hope appears misplaced. "They can call for that all they want," a party member told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We will never lay down our weapons."

Meanwhile German officials appear to be trying to mitigate an escalation of violence over the issue in Berlin. On Sunday, SPIEGEL ONLINE learned that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had asked the German Interior Ministry to ban US pastor Terry Jones from entering the country. The move was taken in response to information that suggested that German right-wing populist and anti-Islamic groups such as Pro Deutschland and Pro NRW might invite Jones, a notorious anti-Islam extremist, to come to Germany in the coming days.

German commentators on Monday analyze the turmoil in the Middle East, with some exploring the role of the Arab Spring developments in the protests, and others questioning whether Pope Benedict's message of peace will have any effect on the violence.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"This was not a vent for public anger. Especially in the still unsettled countries involved in the Arab Spring, this was a chance for opposition parties and extremists to relativize a disappointing election result on the streets. … The United States appears to be at the center of many of these conflicts, but in reality it's not about that. Thus it is premature to interpret the riots as a sign that President Barack Obama's Middle East policies have failed."

"In many parts of the Arab world there is still a feeling of disenfranchisement. The Arab unhappiness, frustration and general hopelessness is blamed on the West above all. But that is wrong, and it's an easy excuse. … Still, the relatively small protests by radical Islamists do not prove that the Arab Spring has failed, or that Western relations are irreversibly shattered. In Libya, of all places, people have been taking to the streets for four days in solidarity with the victims of the attack at the US consulate in Benghazi. Obviously people there haven't forgotten it was the Americans' intervention that probably prevented a massacre by former dictator Muammar Gadhafi in the city. And last week there were also some significant opinion pieces in the pan-Arab newspapers that give cause for hope."

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Zealous Salafists claim authority over how the new Arab-Islamic era will look. Not moderate, as the Muslim Brotherhood (purportedly) wants, but 'Koranic.' The radicals may be the minority, but they have influence thanks to simple slogans. They will push through some of their ideas."

"There is a bundle of reasons behind the violent outbreaks. These include local reasons. … And Washington is not responsible for many of them. … From the beginning, the Arab Spring was less about democracy than it was about emancipation. The Arab World is freeing itself from the external forces that it has had since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. … This is about domestic co-determination, but also self-determination as Egyptians, Tunisians and Arabs."

"Identity in the region is inextricably linked to Islam, the greatest of Arab cultural achievements. Therefore religious ideologies play a role in the search for self -- whether in parliament or an angry mob."

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"A wildfire in the Muslim world that began with a cheap defamatory film about Islam's prophet made (Pope Benedict XVI's) trip much more relevant. It didn't end the war or put out the fire, but it was still an important signal … because the head of the Catholic Church showed Christians and Muslims in the Mideast that peace and humility can be an alternative to the violence that grips the region."

"In addition to the Muslim anger over an insult to what they hold sacred, the protests show two things. First, that the process of upheaval in the Arab world is far from over. …The fall of dictators and elections have not (yet) created democracies and not (yet) brought justice. … Second, demonstrators continue to gather in front of American embassies, which shows that most angry Arab Muslims still don't see Washington as a constructive partner. Their dislike is deep for what they perceive as policies that impose American will on others. The fact that Egyptian President Morsi's first foreign trips were to Beijing, Tehran and Brussels -- and not Washington -- shows that America's influence is weakening."

"Thus Pope Benedict's visit to Lebanon was celebrated by both Christians and Muslims, because he opposed attitudes of imperial domination by suggesting Christian humility."

Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Given the deadly religiously motivated riots, Pope Benedict's statements seem like a helpless message. It is time, warned the pope, that Muslims and Christians unite to stop the violence and wars. But it is hard to imagine that such a statement, delivered with a shaky voice, reached the people who were burning flags or doing worse in front of Western consulates and embassies. And yet the words of the Pope more than just an ineffective message of peace. His call for a new model of brotherhood must be understood to mean that in addition to protecting faith, there is an need for secular coexistence. Violence, the Pope said, whether physical or verbal, is always an attack on the human dignity and should be banned. No religious violation justifies violence, according to this secular message from the head of the Catholic Church. But it's a message that does not appear to be shared among the world's religious representatives."

With reporting from Raniah Salloum

-- Kristen Allen

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