Skip to main content

Anti-Islam video does not represent Coptic community

By H.A. Hellyer, Special to CNN
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Sun September 16, 2012
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
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT