September 17th, 2012
07:26 PM ET

Letters to the President #1337: 'The continuing protests'

Reporter's Note: President Obama receives a letter from me each day.

Dear Mr. President,

As I have watched these protests erupt in twenty-some countries over that anti-Muslim video, I have concluded…as other observers also have…that they have little to do with the film. Yes, it was insulting to Muslims. Yes, it was ham-handed and awful. But no, it is not the fundamental, driving force behind the protests. At least, it does not appear to be so. Instead, there seems to be substantial evidence that the protests are being pushed in large part by opportunists who have a long standing gripe against the United States. Or maybe they have a lot of gripes. Whatever…they are using the film as an excuse to air their complaints and spur violence.

In the course of events, the uproar is feeding two false assumptions.

First, if we buy the idea that this violence is springing wholesale from outraged populations, we may also buy into the already pervasive idea that all Muslim nations are riddled with radicals; people who fly off the handle over any reference to their prophet, and who declare holy war at the drop of a hat. The evidence says that is simply not the case. If it were, these protests would be drawing many, many more people and resulting in much, much more damage. (Mind you, I am not ignoring or excusing the violence that has occurred. I am simply saying that the protests do not seem to be indicative of what Muslim culture writ large is thinking at this moment; the violence is the work of a smaller subset.)

Second, if people elsewhere buy the idea that this video somehow represents what America stands for…well, that is equally unfair and ill founded. Yes, the film was made here, but it seems to have been the mission of one person with one opinion, and it is hardly reasonable to assume that 310-million other Americans share the opinions expressed in the movie. This video no more represents broadly held American views of Muslims, than Breaking Amish reflects our views on Christianity.

In short, what I suspect we are witnessing is a war of willful ignorance. Those who wish to think this video represents American policy, and are using it to justify their violence, are simply wrong. Likewise, those who want to believe the protests and attacks represent the broader culture of Islam…well, they’re wrong too.

I mention it all simply as a caution; don’t read too much into the offense, or the reaction to it; both are the works of individuals and smaller groups with bones to pick. Treat each with the seriousness it deserves, but no more.

Hope all is well.


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