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Deep Dive: The Backlash Over 'The Innocence Of Muslims'

Backlash against the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" has sparked demonstrations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and several other countries with majority-Muslim populations.

Though significantly smaller than the protests of 2011 that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere, some of the demonstrations have turned violent and have been marked by attacks on Western diplomatic outposts. The most high-profile attack came on September 11 -- the day the protests began -- in Benghazi, Libya, where an armed group stormed the U.S. Consulate, killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

For more on who is protesting and why, RFE/RL spoke to academic Olivier Roy, historian and writer Tariq Ali, and author Charles Kurzman.

Olivier Roy: "It's not true that there is a general ban on pictures of Muhammad. It's a Salafist view and now the Salafist view is dominant. But if you look at miniatures in the Middle Ages, you had a lot of representations of the Prophet. The story that there is no representation of the Prophet in Islam just doesn't exist; it's a modern invention.

"You can find a huge iconography of Muslim representations of the Prophet, including in Pakistan, by the way. Until the 1960s, you could buy a picture of Muhammad in the shops in Pakistan. It's only a recent kind of Salafist interpretation." [READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW]

WATCH: Experts weigh in on demonstrations over "The Innocence of Muslims"
Thinkers, Experts Weigh In On Islam Film Controversy
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Tariq Ali: "Without a doubt [local grievances against the West play a big part in these protests]. The religion has been politicized. The reason for that, of course, is that during the Cold War the United States was backing most of these [extremist Islamist] groups to fight communism all over the world, especially in the Muslim world. Wahhabi preachers were sent with American approval by Saudi Arabia to create what we now know as political Islam." [READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW]

Charles Kurzman: "I call this a clash of hatreds. Most people do not hate one another and yet these small groups who do hate seem to be able to grab the headlines and get everybody's attention.

"Let's keep in mind that protesting an insult is perfectly legal in most countries, including the United States, and if people want to hold signs or even burn flags, they're allowed to do that. That is called free speech, and so I do not mind when groups organize to protest a movie. I think that is a sign of political participation." [READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW]

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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