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The Embassy Attacks: Hyperbole, Hypocrisy and Hujarat


There is perhaps no other area of the world that can dominate a string of news cycles like the Middle East. Getting the world’s attention, it seems, is the easy part. Getting it for the right reasons? That’s another story.

After the positive and hopeful coverage of last year’s popular uprisings, there was cause to believe that perhaps the tide had shifted, that no longer would coverage of the region hinge on violence and anti-American discord. Syria, however, thoroughly undid this hope in the first instance, with this past week’s events dismantling the latter optimism.

So here we are again. The brief epoch of peaceful Muslims of all stripes seeking freedom has degenerated back to archetypal scenes of angry Muslim mobs.

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How did this happen?

Much about the embassy attacks and the film that spawned them remains unclear. From the outset, however, familiar themes were apparent.


It’s entirely likely that this obscure anti-Islam film – supposedly the reason throngs of Muslims were driven to protest in over forty cities – would have maintained its complete and utter insignificance had it not been for the broadcast team at the Salafi affiliated Al-Nas channel in Egypt. On Sunday September 9th, Khaled Abdallah, one of the stations premiere commentators, aired clips of the Arabic-dubbed trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” following which his co-host voiced, in a blatantly accusatory tone, questions about the linkages between the Coptic Christian ex-pats in America thought to be behind the film and Coptic institutions in Egypt. Indeed, this sort of provocation is nothing new for the channel – less than a week prior to this airing, a formal complaint was lodged against Al-Nas for controversial remarks against Copts made on Sheikh Khaled’s talk show.

Word of the film then spread widely. Nader Bakkar, spokesperson for the Salafi Al Nour party, subsequently called for protests at the US Embassy and even declared that the film, which was still hitherto almost entirely unknown across the Atlantic, was actually broadcast on American channels. Whether he misunderstood, misconstrued or outright lied about the facts, Mr. Bakkar’s aggrandizement of the film was hardly unique. Indeed, many protesters echoed and even enhanced this line of thought, claiming that the US government was actually behind the film’s production.

And here is real crux of the matter, the genesis, the agent zero, the sine qua non of this whole affair:

Exaggeration and expertise (ON EVERYTHING) are in our essential make up. “I don’t know” or “I have nothing to say” or “Did you verify that?” are simply not part of the Egyptian lexicon. Instead, we get “I heard from Ahmed who heard from Jamal who read on the Internet that [INSERT CRAZY NUTJOB CONSPIRACY THEORY].”

It’s important to note here that the Internet, I would argue, is more catalytic than causal. That is, it enhances the conspiratorial impulse in Egyptians rather than initiates it. Long before the Internet hit the scene, conspiracy was the default and the burden of proof was on you to prove otherwise. This is clearly the prism through which the early promulgators in the Egyptian media – both mass and social – filtered news of this film. Now, I’m now saying that Sheikh Khaled had any dubious intentions, political or otherwise, in bringing this film to light. What I am saying though is that the culture in Egypt of speak first, get facts later was patently in play.


So a Coptic Christian extremist puts together a crudely made and even more crudely conceived film, and that’s cause to demonize his coreligionists and his faith altogether?

So an American provokes a reactionary response and we oblige by attacking the installments of a government that had nothing to do with his provocation? And we do this on September 11th?!?

All this would be painfully ironic if it wasn’t so nakedly hypocritical.

Honestly, where do we get off complaining about the way Muslims are perceived when we project the very same stereotypes and rash judgements any chance we get? This hypocrisy goes hand in hand with the hyperbole complex and each are branches of this greater victim mentality that permeates Egyptians, yes, but really Muslims on the whole. We see a need to spread half-truths that fit some fantastical anti-colonialist framework while simultaneously exercising the power that’s within our means in destructive ways.

And so we preach one way, practice another, and claim to do so in the name of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who reserved some of the strongest words for the hypocrites of our community.


So now, after the protests, violence and death, are we any better off than had we simply ignored this blasphemous speech? Did not our actions simply embolden the next provocateur now that he knows all that it takes to send the Arab populace into mayhem is a camcorder and a YouTube account? Would it not have been better, as it always is, to heed the guidance of the Quran?

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.”  [49:6]

“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.”  [49:12]

If indeed we do take the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as the best of men, then let us not set aside his example when we are in most need of it.

If you wish to defend the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), do so with the etiquette and manners of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

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Youssef Chouhoud is an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, where he is affiliated with the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Youssef completed his PhD at the Political Science and International Relations program at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Fellow. His research interests include political attitudes and behavior, survey methodology, and comparative democratization.



  1. Abdi Why

    September 19, 2012 at 2:52 AM

    “If you wish to defend the Prophet , do so with the etiquette and manners of the Prophet .” very well said, I hope all Muslims take this advice

  2. Slave of Allah

    September 19, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    Concerning the article, aren’t there scholars the likes of shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah who have touch upon those issues? It would be great to hear from such scholars.

    • Mww_m

      September 19, 2012 at 7:27 PM

      No brother, I believe ibn Taymiyyah passed away before the filming of the documentary.

      • Gibran

        September 20, 2012 at 2:03 PM

        Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        He meant, on the subject matter. Kuffar insulting the Prophet salalahualayhiwasalam.

  3. Noor-e-Hira Shamim

    September 19, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    Very nicely written. thank you.

  4. Hasnat

    September 19, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    Nice and on time write up…jazkAllah

  5. Mohammad Abdul

    September 19, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    I will brother have to disagree with you on this
    article and this theme you are discussing.

    There is no conspiracy
    that this film exists and for some reason both the articles I have read on
    Muslimmatters seem to disregard the context in which this film came. Just to
    reminder all, the context we live in is where one the US government has been
    waging a war on terror i.e. war on Islam and this is what we have seen from
    9/11. In this war it has demonised Islam and Muslims and attacked central
    tenants of the Muslim faith which has led to an environment where anybody can
    attack Muslims and Islam and this is where is film fits in, another attack,
    maybe not directly by the US government, but none the less a product of the
    environment it has bred and created. Not to discuss this context is quite disingenuous
    and to discuss this film as if it is an isolated incident is even more disingenuous.

    Secondly, its
    amazing how much some writers have focused on the reaction of the Muslims and
    have given extensive commentary and condemnation of the Muslims but they have
    not mentioned why Muslim have reacted like this nor have they looked what has
    provoked the Muslims to do this, and even when they have, it has been a passing
    comment rather then an extensive understanding of the situation which led to
    the reaction of the Muslims. It is like if a father kills the murder of his
    family, and when he is in court nobody mentions the fact that the murdered
    person killed his family, all they talk about is the father killing the murder,
    everybody would see the hypocrisy in that but for some reason we do not see it

    Lastly, most of
    those who have condemned the Muslims in their articles are also the ones who
    have articulated that we should have patience and bear the hurtful slurs
    against the Prophet (saw) as this would be the Prophetic response to these
    slanders. I would argue that their understanding of sabr is completely misconstrued.
    This is because sabr does not mean being passive and letting some one do evil and
    you just ignore them. This is the one with the passive mind-set who has
    abdicated himself of responsibilities, rather sabr as the Prophet (saw) taught
    as is to command the good and forbid the evil (many verses about this in the
    Quran) and whilst doing this be patient upon it awaiting the result from Allah
    (swt) and this is what we find the Prophet (saw) doing in his life. No matter
    how much they slandered and attacked him and his sahabas the Prophet continued
    giving dawah to the Quraysh and exposing their way of life, it never deterred
    him, and this is what the Muslims should do, continue standing up for the
    Prophet (saw) and Islam in an articulate and intelligent manner and be patient
    upon this while waiting for the victory from Allah (swt), we should not fear
    the blame of the blamers.

    • Moegammad Damon

      September 20, 2012 at 12:30 AM

      Nice response brother. JazaakAllah for the insight.
      I have to state i do agree with you. But surely what can be done in this situation. The response the that our muslim brothers and sisters across the world has come up with so far (attacking innocent people) is surely not the answer…
      It seems the timing of all of this is very strange 9/11 etc… there are lots of conspiracies involved, the current state of Egypt, America attacking Islam…
      This situation will give our deen much exposure, It is up to us to portray the true message of Islam. I have found a few of my christian collegues asking me for my opinion and thus resulted in me talking to them about the life of the Nabi(saw) and they were shocked because they did not know what type of person he was.

    • Gibran

      September 20, 2012 at 2:05 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Well don’t fear the blame of the blamers who thumbed you down. I think you are right.

      JazzakAlahu khairun.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      September 21, 2012 at 3:43 PM

      Salam Mohammad

      Thanks for the comment. You raise some important points. Even though I may not have addressed them, or addressed them comprehensively, in the article, rest assured I’ve carefully considered the issues you’ve raised.

      For the sake of brevity, I’ll address the comment as a whole in some bullet points.

      *American foreign policy has many flaws, especially when it comes to
      Muslim majority states. Many of the actions the US government has taken since 9/11 are condemnable and we (at MuslimMatters) have – and continue – to condemn them.

      *Conflating the actions of one individual, or even a group of people,
      with the beliefs of their government is exactly what we faulted America
      for in starting their wars with Afghanistan and Iraq and is exactly the
      logic you’re relying on.

      *Islamophobia in America has ebbed and flowed in recent years, but on
      balance remains a persistent problem. Aside from a fringe element of the US congress, this is not something that is seen on a governmental
      scale. In fact, it is a point of ridicule for those who espouse nonsense like Rep. Backmann and her ilk.

      *It’s clear that the film did not draw on domestic tensions, but rather
      targeted a global – specifically, Arab – Muslim audience given the
      effort to translate it into Arabic.

      *In drawing your faulty causal links with the US government, you seem to have overlooked the origin of the producer and the internal tensions in Egypt. This situation is complicated.

      *Causal links are hard to draw in general and it’s not entirely clear if
      the film was even the main motivator of protests (at least in Egypt).

      *The condemnation of the film is a given. To think that we think otherwise, would TRULY be disingenuous.

      *Action is not equivalent to right action – that’s the motivation behind focusing on the aftermath.

      *Also, considered and measured action is not equivalent to lazy passivity.

      BOTTOM LINE: It is not cognitively dissonant to condemn the film and it’s depictions on the one hand and simultaneously condemn the reaction – or what we perceive as a reaction – to it on the other hand.

  6. Abu Ismail

    September 21, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    The more I read the responses of Western Muslims, especially the
    so-called educated chattering class, to these blasphemous acts, the
    more I feel like wanting to throw up.

    They’re full of
    condemnation for the Muslims. Yes, attacking innocents is wrong and
    burning a KFC is wrong and attacking a press club is wrong. But to come
    out defending the biggest Taghoot of the time, the Fir’awn of our time
    and his forces, is nothing short of hypocrisy.

    They are defense lawyers for this Taghoot, condemning the
    “emotional” Muslims of the East, talking about sabr and patience and how
    the Taghoot is innocent of this crime. The Taghoot may not have made
    this film, but the Taghoot’s forced did flush the Qur’aan down the
    toilet. Oh that was the work of a rogue soldier. The Taghoot’s men
    urinated on the bodies of shuhadaa’. Oh, those were “terrorists”, so
    they deserved what they got. The Taghoot continues to invade, kill,
    slaughter and rape our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world.
    Oh, those are the “bad Muslims”, so we shouldn’t care about them, we
    need to improve ties, because that’s good for “da’wah”.

    Truly, living in darul kufr has changed these people to such an
    extent that their allegiance and loyalty is now firmly to the Taghoot.
    May Allah protect us from going astray.

    Advice to myself and
    everyone else: do NOT settle in the lands of the kuffar. If someone is
    there, the stay should be temporary for education, etc., but to stay
    there will bring forth the likes of these misguided Western Muslims.

    • Sana

      September 22, 2012 at 5:10 PM

      Assalamu Alaikum Brother,
      No one is defending the person who filmed the movie, if thats who you are referring to as “Taghoot”. Or are you referring to the United States/the so called “Western” countries as “Taghoot”?

      Brother, just as the actions of a few Muslims do not represent the entire Ummah, in the same way, the actions of a few Americans do not represent the entire country.

      We DO need to have patience and sabr, because that is a characteristic the Prophet (SAW) valued greatly and embodied. Do you remember the hadeeth in which he (SAW) was helping an old woman who didn’t realize he was the Prophet? She kept on insulting him throughout the way, not knowing that the man she was talking to was the very man she hated. After they reached her dwelling, she thanked him nicely and asked his name. When he replied that it was actually him, Muhammad, (SAW), she was so in awe (because he was patient and was not REACTIONARY, like a fuse) that she became Muslim, just because of that.

      Or the other instance, when another old woman would throw trash in his path daily. Once, when she didn’t, he asked about her, and found out she was sick. Even though she was rude to him, he went and asked about her and arranged for some help. Due to this one act of kindness (and patience), she became Muslim.

      We need to embody that civility, patience, and calmness when dealing with other people, especially non-Muslims, because we ARE representing our deen, whether we like it or not.

      No one is calling the Muslims who remain in the geographic East “bad Muslims.” We (including various shuyookh who reside in the geographic East) are advocating to get our point across peacefully – “salaam” – which is not done by the whole burning places/violent demonstrations. Yes, we need to honor and respect the Prophet above all, but we need to respond to such actions in a manner which He (SAW) would as well. The Prophet would never have condoned these demonstrations and attacks. We ourselves are dirtying his name when we commit violence like this.

      Brother, Allah made the entire Earth for us to live on, not just one geographical area. Also, whenever we live in any area, we accept the good in that culture yet reject the bad, for everything has some good and some bad in it – even in so called “muslim” countries – (and I know for a fact that living in America is better than living in Syria, another so called Muslim country).
      The Prophet himself spent most of his life in an area which was not predominately Muslim.

      Also, Brother, please try not to create rifts between the ummah by calling other Muslims misguided, especially when they are the ones trying to create some sort of peace and understanding between their brothers and sisters in the Ummah and their countrymen and women. Its a difficult job, and we need your support, not contempt.

  7. Junaf

    September 27, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    We Did protest & We always have to protest against those American (TERRORISTS) , Who Produce & Direct this film .
    (((Mohammad Abdul))) Brother, Good response .

  8. Mansoor Ansari

    October 5, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    I think there’s a typo in the article:

    The article states: “Now, I’m now saying that Sheikh Khaled had any dubious intentions, political or otherwise, in bringing this film to light.”

    I think you meant “Now, I’m not saying that Sheikh Khaled had any dubious intentions, political or otherwise, in bringing this film to light.”

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