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 20, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
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.
ADVERTISEMENT