I certainly support the idea that the United States should change its entire Middle East policy beginning with its support for Israel and should support the Palestinian cause more and that would send a great message which I think shows that not all of this is about religion but it is about politics.”At least 30 people have been wounded during the clashes between Egyptian police and protesters outside the US embassy in the capital city Cairo. According to Egypt’s Health Ministry, some 16 protesters and 14 security personnel, including three officers and 11 soldiers, have been injured. The clashes broke out during the early hours of Thursday as protesters chanted in the streets against an anti-Islam movie produced by an Israeli-American. Security forces scuffled with demonstrators and fired tear gas at the angry protesters. On Tuesday, thousands of Egyptians stormed the embassy, scaled its walls, pulled down the US flag and called for the expulsion of the US ambassador to Egypt. A few hours later, clashes broke out at the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi after a group of people held a demonstration to protest against the anti-Islam movie. US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three staff members of the US consulate were killed during clashes at the consulate building. Outrage is growing across the Muslim world over the USD 5-million movie that was financed by more than 100 Zionists. To further discuss the issue, Press TV conducted an interview with James Jennings, president of Conscience International from Atlanta. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview. Press TV: I wanted to ask you as far as your assessment goes; of course this has been a tough year for relations between the United States and the Muslim world; various incidents in Afghanistan and now this latest incident about this movie. How much of a lasting impact do you think that this will have? Jennings: Unfortunately, right now we are at a time of very great anger and very great crisis because of this incident and I think it will develop into more and more trouble. I do not see an easy way that this can be attenuated or reduced and what we need right now more than anything else is peace. We need people who are not inflamed by anger or passions on both sides, who can discuss the issue clearly and have respect for religion as well as freedom of religion. Those two things go together. Press TV: So then going forward, Mr. Jennings, do you see the United States being more sensitive then to the Muslim world considering they have not in the past, as I said, there have been other incidents; there has been Quran burning incidents in Afghanistan, the incidents of US marines urinating even on corpses. Do you believe that going forward, there will be some sort of sensitivity training, if I may call that? Jennings: The August 30th issue of one of the leading magazines, Time Magazine, had the cover issue: is the United States becoming more Islamophobic? And I think I can say that in the last 10 years, that has increased; there has not been a really great development of understanding and peaceful overtures and we think that in the next few years, this needs to change. Unfortunately, right now I think it is going in the other direction and so we need to think of ways and I represent one organization, US Academics for Peace, and we are trying to establish peaceful dialogue so that the wars in the future can be prevented. But right now it is a very serious thing and I cannot believe that any responsible leader of any country would actually approve these murders of these ambassadors. I taught Islamic civilization for many years and throughout the history of Islam, ambassadors were respected for the most part and that is an important issue. These were bloody murders; they cannot be countenanced and in fact, I do not believe that the vast majority of Muslims that I know throughout the Middle East and across the world would support the al-Qaeda organization and what they have done here. I know there is a history, a back story, about the drone strikes in Pakistan and the other issues. Press TV: I want to ask you as well about a couple of things that you mentioned there. Going forward though, do you see that, especially with this protest movement that has now begun and we are seeing live images coming out of Cairo where this is now the second night of those protests; in Cairo, protesters were able to scale the US Embassy wall, take down the American flag; in Libya, of course, as you mentioned as well, the US ambassador to that country was killed. How sensitive a situation do you think that the United States and the Muslim world are in at this point? Jennings: Islam is a great world religion and it deserves to be respected. The extremists on both sides are actually driving the narrative right now and as a Christian, I certainly respect Muslims and I have worked for many years in many Muslim countries and understand that not every American does so. As a Christian, I also object to the law of blasphemy in Pakistan that has a 14-year-old girl on trial for something that you may or may not have done. Now in the US, we also have laws restricting freedom of speech, in a 1990 Supreme Court decision with their famous phrase, ‘you cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater because it might lead to someone being hurt’. In 1969, that was changed to tighten it up but you still cannot incite immediately a riot. That is a criminal act. So whoever did the criminal act on this film, I think eve under US law could be brought to trial without restricting our freedom of speech under the constitution. So that is also an issue. But it did not happen just in the last two days because if you look back on the internet, there is hate speech against Islam and against Judaism and Christianity and every world religion on the internet. It is very disgusting. But you cannot take it down with closing the entire internet which is impossible. So there needs to be a way of dealing with this. Finally, the Supreme Court Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes who wrote that opinion about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, he later seemed to change his mind a bit and say we should not have a law that punishes an unknown person for a silly pamphlet and I think that is a very good point that not everybody who says anything disgusting or wrong needs to be put in prison or attacked or murdered because of that. Press TV: President Obama had come in with much promise about improving relations between the United States and the Muslim world. In fact, his speech in Cairo was much applauded and spoken about in the Muslim world as well. How bad have things become between the two entities like the United States and the Muslim world and why exactly? Can any of that be attributed back to the Obama administration? Jennings: Yes, I think the Obama administration should have some of the blame for the way things have developed as they have. He actually increased George Bush’s drone attacks and these unmanned drones have been killing people including Abu Yahya al-Libi [al-Qaeda leader’s deputy] and it was Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaeda leader] who came recently just yesterday on the internet and announced to his followers that they were going to avenge al-Libi’s death.
So this whole attack was very much timed to be in line with the al-Qaeda philosophy. But most Muslims, as I said, throughout the Muslim world by the overwhelming majority reject the bloody terrorism of al-Qaeda.Press TV: As you have said, cooler heads should prevail at this point; so then if we do say that things do calm down, then what needs to happen next? Will it be dialogue? What needs to happen for such things not to occur again and again such as this anti-Islam movie, etc.? Jennings: We have not put a very good dialogue process in place for dealing with the religious issues. I think that religious people who are sincere in their belief in God can come together on this issue and I know there have been some attempts but unfortunately, most of them have fallen on deaf ears of populations on both sides of the issue and as I say, the recent Time Magazine said that Islamophobia is growing in America. So the US Academics for Peace that I represent as well as Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization, we are trying our best to engage in dialogue of civilizations over this issue because my Muslim friends often say to me Allahu Akbar: God is most great and I certainly agree that God is supremely great. As a Christian, that is what I believe as well. They also say to me Allah Kareem: God is noble and I cannot imagine that any human being could pick up an RPG or an AK-47 and say I am going to help defend God as if God were not able to defend Himself. So certainly rejection of this terrorist mentality is one thing.
The other thing is, and I certainly support, the idea that the United States should change its entire Middle East policy beginning with its support for Israel and should support the Palestinian cause more and that would send a great message which I think shows that not all of this is about religion but it is about politics and the anger that has inflamed people and the incidents over and over again that have created bloodshed on both sides that have caused this tremendous impasse.And we need peace; we need respect for religion and we need the interaction that freedom of religion gives and those things go together; they are very much needed. Press TV: Mr. Jennings, I am glad you mentioned the Israel factor here because obviously this film that was made was largely funded by donors from Israel. Obviously, there is a large movement of Islamophobia it seems --not large maybe but small maybe, if I may call that-- in Israel and that has obviously impacted the right-wing politics in the United States as well. How do you believe that should be tackled? Jennings: I think education is probably the only thing that will really work in the long-run but people to people exchanges so that we get acquainted with people that we have differences with or have a different way of looking at religion in the world and that has worked very well and it needs to be amplified certainly that we might understand better and some of the people in the United States with their churches or universities or politicians have made an effort to better understand Islamic faith and people who hold their faith so dearly as such an important thing. But it has not gone far enough and I think we can say the same thing about many of the countries in the Muslim world who are dealing with other problems and maybe or not, that involved or interested in what we might call dialogue. MSK/JR