Given the media's obsessive focus on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's comments regarding the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes, you could be justified in forgetting that a major crisis is still happening in the Middle East. Not only that, but that crisis actually took a serious turn for the worse yesterday, when the Salafi cleric Sheikh Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti reportedly issued a fatwa not only providing theological justifications for the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, but also calling for the killing of more U.S. ambassadors.
The fatwa is being reported by the Middle East Media Research Institute:
Following the September 11, 2012 killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, a number of queries were sent in to the Salafi-jihadi website Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad (MTJ) regarding the legitimacy of this action. Answering on behalf of the website's shari'a committee, Sheikh Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti issued a fatwa in which he approved of the killing of the U.S. ambassador and other U.S. diplomats, and refuted religious arguments raised by some Islamic scholars against such actions.
This fatwa followed a similar announcement by the leadership of Iran on Wednesday, which appears to have been intended to fan the flames of Arab rage regarding an anti-Islamic YouTube video:
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced his harsh condemnation of the U.S. and Zionism over the YouTube film, saying that it was aimed at degrading and humiliating Islam. He added: "The Muslims should know that this desperate move [i.e. the film] in response to the Islamic awakening is a sign of the glory and importance of this uprising, and of its growth."[...]
Iranian officials and ayatollahs called on Muslims worldwide, especially Shi'ites, to actively protest across the world. In an interview broadcast on Al-Alam TV, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said: "This wave of holy rage must turn into a hurricane or a tsunami against the U.S., so that they will refrain from toying with what is holy to the Muslims. They should learn that toying with Islam and with its most honorable prophet is tantamount to playing with a lion's tail. They will pay a steep price for this. They have already paid for this, and they will pay more."
Unsurprisingly, problems have escalated since these escalations of Islamist rhetoric. The Associated Press reported that today, protests in Pakistan have shifted toward violence, with three dead as a result of one particularly vicious clash between Pakistani police and rioters:
In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, police fired on rioters who were torching a cinema. Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani television station, was killed when police bullets hit his vehicle at the scene, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who was also sitting in the car at the time. The TV channel showed footage of Amir at the hospital as doctors tried to save him.
A protester who was shot during a demonstration in the city also died, said police officer Rohhullah Khan.
In Karachi, armed protesters among a group of 15,000 fired on police, killing one and wounding another, said police officer Ahmad Hassan. The crowd also burned two cinemas and a bank, he said.
Clashes between police and stone-throwing protesters also occurred in Lahore and Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Police fired tear gas as well as warning shots in an attempt to keep them from advancing toward U.S. missions in the cities. At least 55 people, including nine police, were injured in the nationwide unrest, according to police and hospital officials.
You can see some of the unrest below:
But that's not all. The Associated Press details more of the unrest across the country:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the West over the film. Speaking during a military parade in Tehran, he said: "in return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they - the West - raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech." He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."
The United States closed its diplomatic missions across Indonesia due to continuing demonstrations over the anti-Islam film. Small and mostly orderly protests were held outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and in the cities of Surabaya and Medan, along with a couple other smaller towns. No violence was reported.
In addition to the embassy in Jakarta and consulate offices in Surabaya, Medan and Bali, the American mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also was shut.
About 3,000 people, mostly followers of Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim groups, protested against the film and caricatures in the southern city of Basra. Demonstrators carried Iraqi flags and posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, chanting "death to America" and "no to America."
They burnt Israeli and American flags. One of the organizers, Qassim al-Moussawi, told AP that people gathered "to express our anger and resentment on the offenses made against our prophet."
About 2,000 Muslims burned effigies of President Barack Obama and American flags at a protest after Friday prayers in the capital, Colombo, demanding that the United States ban the film.
The violence has also shifted to cyberspace. The Saudi news website Al-Arabiya reported that a group of Islamist hackers calling themselves the "Arab Electronic Army" have begun attacking Western websites as payback for perceived slights against Islam, with the film "Innocence of Muslims" being the main pretext:
One of the hackers, who identified himself as Ridouan (hacker alias RéD-Zàr) from Morocco, wrote in an email sent to Al Arabiya English that the hacking operations were part of a “campaign to defend Allah’s prophet.”
“The army was recently formed and we have started to work as a team after we used to work individually.”
He identified some of his fellow hackers as Abdel Haq from Morocco (pro-psd), Saudi Hacker (wesker Hacker) Alaa from Syria (Alaa Alsory), Khaled from Syria (Connect-r Syrian).
“The hacking operations are of course a response to the offense against the prophet, peace and blessing be upon him.”
Ridouan, the spokesman for the group, explained that after he proposed the idea of forming an “electronic army” he received wide support from young Muslim hackers to “repel all offenses against our religion.”
In one of the websites (www.handmet-military.net) the hackers placed a verse from the Quran and a video titled “the absolute truth about Muhammad in the bible with Arabic subtitles.”
Al-Arabiya also posted an article analyzing the chances for Al Qaeda to become a political force within "Arab Spring" countries. The results may sound alarming:
In a study written to Al Arabiya’s studies center by Hani Nesseira, an expert in Islamist movements, the characteristics of the radical extremist thought becomes clear.
Nesseira writes that former Jihadist Sheikh Ahmed Ashoush, who is the head of “Ansar al-Sharia” group in Egypt, issued a fatwa (religious edict) saying that it is justified to kill anyone involved in the making of the anti-prophet film, Innocence of Islam, which sparked Muslim anger throughout the world.
Nesseira added that Seif-Allah Bin Hassine, known as Sheikh Abi Ayadh was leading “Ansar al-Sharia” group in Tunisia. Security forces had surrounded him at el-Fateh mosque in Tunis after the violent protests against the film.
In Libya, it was difficult to conclude whether “Ansar al-Sharia”‘s attacks against the Tunisian embassy and the U.S. consulate were planned in advance or were just a spontaneous reaction to protests over an anti-Islam film.[...]
Al-Qaeda endured several blows but it is still active, and this was proven through many events and attacks. Al-Qaeda’s activities may be limited and powerful in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan unlike the rest of the world; but in others regions, like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, al-Qaeda witnessed a progress after several groups joined it in the last couple of years.
Another evidence for al-Qaeda’s activities is Taliban in Pakistan: it has at least conducted twenty operations in Pakistan, as retaliation for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It has re-emerged in regions like Iraq, Sinai, Libya and many others.
In other words, while Al Qaeda was weakened after last year, this new round of protests may have breathed new life into the moribund organization. With the support of Iran, and a fatwa to back more violence, there is no telling how far this kind of unrest will extend. How far this will go, as well as the response of the United States, remains a blank slate.