Obama says Arab blasphemy protests are ‘natural’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama said he thinks Muslim protests against Western criticism of Islam are “natural.”

“The natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests,” Obama said during an hour-long town-hall interview on the Spanish-language Univision channel.

Obama did not use the interview to champion the right of Americans to speak freely amid criticism and threats from Islamic advocates.

He did briefly mention free-speech, saying that democracy also includes “looking out for minority rights… respecting freedom of speech… [and] treating women fairly.”

Obama and his deputies have said the protests and attacks were not spurred by their post-2008 policy of deposing autocracies and boosting Islamist political parties.

Instead, they blame the continuing upsurge of protests and attacks against American and European embassies on a low-budget, California-made YouTube video that satirizes and blasphemes Islam’s primary prophet Muhammad.

“What we’ve seen over the last week, week and a half, is something that actually we’ve seen in the past, where there is an offensive video or cartoon directed at the prophet Muhammad,” he said. This “is used as an excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts directed at Westerners or Americans.”

Muslims say Muhammad is Allah’s last prophet, and superseded Jesus, who they also claim to be a Muslim prophet. Any criticism of Muhammad or Allah, they say, is blasphemy.

The video blamed by Obama was released by July.

In early September, it was broadcast in Egypt by an Islamist TV station that was seeking to spur protests against the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

The Cairo embassy protesters were organized by a small Islamist group seeking the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” who was jailed by the United States government in 1995 for organizing jihad attacks in New York. (PHOTOS: French cartoon mocks Muhammad)

Since the Sept. 11 attacks and protests, competing Islamist parties and politicians — including politicians in the Egyptian, Turkish, Iranian, Pakistani and Sudanese governments — have called for curbs on Americans’ free speech rights to bar criticism of Islam.

These populist calls are apparently popular, partly because many Arabs and Muslims blame Americans for their countries’ poverty.

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