BYU students and faculty responded with sadness at the lives lost and speculated on future conflict in the Middle East after a tumultuous week of violent protests.
Last Tuesday, a group of Islamic protesters stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The protest and attack are linked to a trailer for an anti-Islamic movie created by an American and posted on YouTube. Some U.S. officials have also speculated that the protest was merely a pretext for an attack timed to 9/11.
Following last week’s attack, protests broke out throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. Protesters targeted U.S. embassies in Cairo and Sana, Yemen, as well as many other countries throughout the region. Violence also resulted in damage to U.S. government buildings.
Thousands of miles away from the unrest, BYU students said the attacks disheartened them.
Angie Schwartz, a senior studying neuroscience from Murray, said, “Reading the papers and seeing the numbers of people killed and damaged caused really puts into perspective how serious it is.”
At least eight people have died in these protests, including the four Americans killed in the attack in Libya. The brutality of these protests surprises students who grapple to understand the emotional reactions to the video.
Holly Harris, a junior from Manassas, Va., studying political science said, “I don’t understand why there is so much hate. I can’t imagine hurting a fly, let alone killing a person and dragging him through the street.”
Some hope the violence will pass, but looking at the disorder that has defined the Middle East in recent years some said see these as just the beginning of more violence directed at the U.S. and American interests.
“I’d imagine that this is just the beginning but it kind of depends on our foreign policy from here on out,” Harris said.
Scott Cooper, an associate BYU political science professor, said, “I don’t think it’s surprising and I think it will continue to happen especially as technology allows information to be shared more easily between countries. I think we’re likely to see more of this, not less of this. The values are different and as we become more aware of each other there will be more friction over those differences in values.”
The movie trailer that sparked the protests at American embassies mocks the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Cooper said Muslims in the Middle East are not accustomed to the type of freedom of speech which is part of American and most Western culture.
“My general impression is that they don’t understand our freedom of speech and our level of freedom of speech offends them,” Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate that they don’t understand and there is probably nothing we can do about it. They have different values. They believe in being much more respectful towards things than we do. We put a higher priority on speech than respect.”
The U.S. government has condemned the trailer but unrest still persists despite the attempts of Middle Eastern governments to curb the protests.