The violence of some of protests outside US and other embassies against the 'Innocence of Muslims' film will have horrified all democrats and socialists.
So dismayed were secular-minded Libyans with the killing of American diplomats in Benghazi they organised counter-demonstrations.
The protests were relatively small in most cities in the Arab world, Africa, and south-east Asia, but larger in some places (like Kabul, Monday 17 September).
The Kabul protest will have been fuelled by resentment against the NATO forces, the corruption of the Afghan government, and much else. But the religious-political leaders behind these demonstrations were only interested in stoking up and exploiting ethnic and religious division.
A demonstration outside the US Embassy in the UK was the work of the ultra-Islamist sect, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Mainstream Islamists responded in line with whatever they perceived their political advantage to be. Hezbollah and Iran’s rulers appealed to “Muslims everywhere”, in order to puff up their own position in the Muslim movement.
But in Egypt both the Muslim Brotherhood government and the Salafists who want to be part of the new Egyptian political set-up distanced themselves from the violence of the protests.
In Libya Benghazi-based Islamists with a specific beef against the central government are said to be behind the attack.
Overall the protests have been manipulated by demagogues, rousing people to fight for their religion... against any threat — or rather, against people or buildings which, by dint of being American or “western”, were seen as symbolically associated with a rubbishy, far-distant crank film.
Yet one group on the British left, the International Socialist Group (Scotland), felt able to described the protests as “anti-imperialist”.
They said the protests were symptomatic of a new drive against rampaging western powers, the US first and foremost, and all socialists must back them.
This was both mind-numbingly ridiculous and very toxic.
Can there be any worse kind of “ideology” than that we saw in the protests?
In fact the ultra-right wing, politicised Christian fundamentalism of the people behind this film is about as bad.
In the US, some people enjoy provocations like Qu’ran burning, have long been mobilising to stop “abortionists”, and get their kicks by ostentatiously condemning gay people to burn in hell. They too are fringe people.
But short of the radical transformation of American society, they could become more numerous. And probably more so if, as seems likely, Mitt Romney does not get elected as President in November.
Others on the left (Nick Cohen, the Observer, 16 September), have argued defending the free speech of the film-makers is key, even in the face of their ignorance and stupidity.
That’s alright. Any attempt by the American or other state to ban e.g. public showings of the film would in the long run harm the possibility of having a rational discussion on religion and politics.
However, the film is a different case from the 2005 case of “Danish cartoons” which satirised the Prophet Muhammad. Those were part of a serious debate on self-censorship (from a viewpoint I would not agree with). I would not want to solidarise to any degree with these film-makers.
No good will come from further intervention by the big powers in Libya or, as is possible, in Yemen because of these protests.
Secular-minded people in the Muslim-majority countries and the west need to join together to fight for societies free of all forms of bigotry and sectarian divisions.
As economic and social inequalities rise and rise, that task is becoming more urgent.