Skip to main content

Anti-Islam video does not represent Coptic community

By H.A. Hellyer, Special to CNN
September 16, 2012 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Protesters against the anti-Islam video confront police near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Friday.
Protesters against the anti-Islam video confront police near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An anti-Islam video that sparked protests seems to have involved Coptics
  • H.A. Hellyer: We must not point fingers in the wrong direction
  • He says the video does not in any way represent the view of the Coptic community
  • Hellyer: Coptics, Muslims should not have to apologize for the actions of a few people

Editor's note: H.A. Hellyer, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs and U.S.-Muslim relations. He was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter: @hahellyer.

(CNN) -- Last Monday, only a few people knew about an obscure anti-Islam video produced in the U.S. Today, people around the world are aware of it. The video sparked protests worldwide, starting in Egypt and Libya, and then spreading to other countries. Tragically, some of the protests turned violent and took the lives of Americans, Libyans, Tunisians and Yemenis.

The protests have subsided for now, it seems. In assessing what happened, we have to be cautious and ensure that we do not point fingers in the wrong direction.

As things become clearer, it seems that the video was created and promoted by members of the American Coptic Christian community -- a community with its roots in Egypt. It is understandable that Muslims worldwide were deeply offended by the video. The United Nations called the video "hateful" and the Obama administration called it "disgusting."

H.A. Hellyer
H.A. Hellyer

But, there were other elements at work in the some of the protests; there are those who used anger at the video to promote their own agendas. For example, the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was likely a terrorist operation that took advantage of the protests.

In the midst of all this, it is not surprising that some people looked to assign blame and demand apologies. These people within the Arab world began blaming the Coptic community -- a community whose very name means "Egyptian." In response, the Coptic Church, both in Egypt as well as in the United States, insisted that it has nothing to do with the video. It also said that the video does not in any way represent the view of the Coptic community.

I do know a Copt who was involved with the promotion of the video. I met Morris Sadek earlier this year. Sadek's personal actions have nothing to do with the Coptic Church or the Coptic-American community. Virtually no Coptic Christian I encountered had heard of him before. They know about him now. And in response, he received a volley of shoes from outraged members of the Coptic community for his promotion of bigotry.

It is a mark of Christian value for the Coptic Church to condemn the video and its filmmakers. But the Coptic Church should never be placed in the position of having to apologize for the actions of a few of its members.

The same applies to Muslims. From the local representatives of Muslim communities in America, to the religious establishments of Egypt and Libya, to the leadership of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents all Muslim countries, we have heard apologies and condemnations for the violence.

The Muslim community at large is not responsible for the violence, and it should not be expected to apologize for the actions of some of its members. The violent actions of a comparatively small number of individuals do not represent all Muslims, just as the video does not represent the views of all Coptic Christians. Neither group needs to apologize, but both should be recognized for their solidarity in condemning the violence.

At some point, there do need to be levelheaded discussions about hate speech (which is legal in America, unlike most other countries), the roots of widespread anti-Americanism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and what different cultures consider as sacred.

Before that can take place, we should be careful about whom we hold accountable. It should be those who have been directly fanning the flames of intolerance not just over the last few months, but over the years.

The video did not appear in a vacuum. There is a well-organized network that thrives on promoting anti-Muslim bigotry within the U.S. It provided an ideological base for Anders Breivik, recently convicted of mass murder in Norway. Similarly, there are those within the Muslim Arab world who also push for a hateful agenda, to devastating effect.

The last few days are just a reminder of how important it is to confront such promoters of hate. Whether it's through legal channels or social pressures, they must be dealt with. Their aim, simply, is to engineer cultural wars between non-Muslims and Muslims. That must not be allowed to happen.

The least we can do now is to make sure not to blame the wrong people for the vile actions of a few individuals. That is, after all, precisely what they want -- for us to do their dirty work for them.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of H.A. Hellyer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT