As the Muslim world continues to react, sometimes violently, to a film, "The Innocence of Muslims," that portrays the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light, observers are weighing in on the reasons behind Muslim anger.
One is Tariq Ali, a veteran Pakistani-born British military historian, author, and journalist who has written extensively on political Islam and the Middle East. He tells RFE/RL correspondent Frud Bezhan that the current situation is blowback from decades of U.S. policy.
RFE/RL: Why has "The Innocence of Muslims" caused so much violent outrage? Is there a historical, religious, or political explanation as to why defamation of religion in the Muslim world often leads to violence, as opposed to other regions and religions?
Tariq Ali: The question you have to ask is why these cartoons and films are being made at this particular time. Why weren't they made for most of the last century? The reasons these films are being made is precisely because of the occupation of the Muslim world by the United States and its allies, which have created an atmosphere of extreme Islamophobia.
You have, sometimes, liberals -- but usually the right and extreme right -- which feel it's a good thing to carry on provoking [extremists in the Middle East]. That's why they do it. It has nothing to do with free speech. The Muslim reaction to it is the same reasons that these guys do it. They feel occupied, they're angry, and the Arab world is in turmoil. So they react in that way. You can't isolate this from world politics.
RFE/RL: There seems to be a general assumption that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are "un-Islamic." How much of this is true and how much is it a myth created by extremist elements?
Ali: A questioning of Prophet Muhammad is not tolerated. There is a form of idolatry of the Prophet that is actually against the spirit of Islam, which is totally opposed to idolatry. So, people react to these attacks on the Prophet as an attack on their culture. They know they're being provoked and they get provoked.
In the past, I have written that the best way to stop this would be to ignore these things, but the world is too volatile now.
RFE/RL: You say local grievances in the Muslim world against the West, and in particular against the United States, have a major role in the violent demonstrations. If so, what events have led to this?
Ali: You have a situation today where the United States occupies a number of countries in the Arab world [like] Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya, which is a NATO protectorate, and they are very close to the military in Egypt. So that creates a new mood, which is why people react in this way.
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. They did that and now they are paying the price for it. [The West] created this monster.
RFE/RL: Will these violent demonstrations in reaction to the defamation of Islam continue? How do you see it evolving going forward?
Ali: The way forward is to create a way of life, not just in the Muslim world but the world at large in which people have some stake in the world in which they live.
At the moment, increasingly democracy is being hollowed out in the Western world, leave alone anywhere else. So people, to fill the vacuum, some move towards nationalism, as in China. And others move towards religion, like in the Arab world.