Over the last couple of weeks thousands across the Muslim world from Tunisia to Jakarta, have staged protests, burned US flags outside of embassies and murdered an American diplomat over a video portraying slanderous and offensive content toward the prophet Mohammed and the religion of Islam. The protests spiraled out of control when the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other American citizens were killed by an unruly mob in Benghazi, Libya last week. Slowly more and more angered Muslims joined the fray across the world with some of the largest gatherings since the Arab Spring.
The film is itself laughable, displaying poor acting, cheap special effects and insinuations that are pure farce. However, no one can ignore the enormous ripple effect that it has spread across the Muslim world. Anti-US sentiments are now spilling over, as flags are regularly being torched in the streets of countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Although the message of the video is clearly offensive, the naivety that this is the belief of the common US citizen, or that it represents the position of the US government and therefore their embassies should be the target of the violence is absurd. One independent filmmaker does not represent the feelings of an entire nation composed of over 300 million citizens, and it’s not unreasonable for many Muslims to know this already.
So what are these widespread anti-US rallies really about? When the Arab Spring ignited in the fall of 2010, the world watched as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen all toppled oppressive governments as the people seized control of their nations once again and dictators were replaced with what was supposed to be the beginning of democracy in the Arab world. As the World Bank stated earlier this year, poor education and unemployment were the root cause of the Arab Spring and if jobs were available to accompany economic growth, something of this magnitude might never have occurred.
When viewing the videos of the recent protests and violence outside of US Embassies across the globe, one common factor stands out: a plethora of young men. Now while this notion cannot be confirmed, it can be noted that the same countries that have had massive unemployment, especially for young men, continue to incur these same problems. Just because there are new governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen does not mean that new jobs were to follow or that poverty would be dealt with effectively.
In the countries where the protests over this film began, not coincidentally the same countries from which the Arab Spring ignited, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, all have an unemployment rate well over 10 percent and some as high as 35 percent, with especially high rates of unemployment for males under the age of 24. The poverty levels in three of the four countries are as high as 45 percent, with Tunisia the only one falling below the 20 percent mark. With these two factors playing a major role in igniting the Arab Spring, the same connection can be made regarding the current protests and violence.
While this may not be the only contributing factor to these widespread demonstrations and violence, the fact that many males under the age of 24 still have very little to occupy their time during the day and because the economic woes in the region have not been dealt with, it takes very little to spark an outcry and encourage the unemployed youth to take to the streets. Couple this with the anti-American inclinations that are common in the region and the power that they witnessed through the Arab Spring that derives from such outcries and you have a perfect environment for drastic actions. Until the economic problems are solved in the Arab world, unfortunate incidents like the one that took place in Benghazi last week will continue to occur.
Only through continued efforts to work with the new governments in these countries to fix their economic struggles will the US avoid future catastrophes. In a newly globalized world, it can be expected that such ridiculous videos like “Innocence of Muslims” will attract the attention of extremists in the region. However, if people are employed and making a living the time to rally such forces will dwindle. The struggling world economy has affected everyone, and unless some viable solutions are created, expect more events like the rallies over the past two weeks.