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Anger that erupted on Sept. 11 over an amateur film denigrating Prophet Muhammad spread throughout the Muslim world. Two weeks later, the unrest prompted a historic response from President Obama at the United Nations General Assembly. GlobalPost brings you the latest on how the story is playing across the Middle East, on the US campaign trail, and around the world.


Anti-US protests spread to India

Here's why you shouldn't be alarmed – or surprised.

600 people for illegal assembly and the remanding of 18 people to 15 days in judicial custody for vandalism and violence, according to a police spokesman.

“It is a highly religious attached [issue],” S.N. Seshasai, joint commissioner of police for Chennai's eastern zone told GlobalPost by telephone.

“People are coming out on their own, not for any money [from the political parties] or anything like that. They are spending their own money and coming here.”

Nevertheless, it is important to see this anger in context, to recognize it for what it is, and to understand its limited potential impact.

There are two ways that Muslim anger can affect the US. Radical groups can target US citizens and assets for attacks, such as happened in Libya. Or a groundswell of political opposition can influence government policy to hurt US interests.

Neither is likely here. Such events are unpredictable and Tuesday's protest here in New Delhi will provide a clearer thermometer reading about where things are headed. But even in Kashmir there have been no attacks on Americans since the kidnapping and subsequent murder of two Americans, along with four other western tourists, in 1995. And despite the scary pictures, separatist leaders have denounced a call issued by a local cleric warning American tourists to leave the region immediately (which the US government has also advised would be wise). 

Meanwhile, neither of the national parties which depend most heavily on Indian Muslims, the Uttar Pradesh-based Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, has taken to the streets or issued inflammatory statements related to the “Innocence of Islam.” Nor has the Darul Uloom Deoband, the religious school that is the ideological center of Indian Islam, taken a stance of any kind on the film or subsequent protests – though it issued a fatwa banning Salman Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival last January.

The bottom line is, these are political protests by fringe parties, with only local relevance.

Despite Seshasai's assertion that protesters have not been paid (a frequently used tactic), the demonstrations in Tamil Nadu were largely the handiwork of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TNMMK), a minor player looking to pull Muslim voters away from the dominant Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). And it appears that all of the protesters who engaged in violence at the US embassy were TNMMK workers.

Similar factors came into play in Kashmir. A militant separatist struggle that cost thousands of lives in the 1990s, together with the presence of as many as 500,000 Indian soldiers many locals consider an occupying force, has made Kashmir by far the region of India most influenced by pan-Islamism. Yet local politics likely played a crucial role in spurring and spreading the protests — as the weaker, separatist parties rely on street action to remain relevant despite the electoral dominance of the more moderate National Conference and People's Democratic Party.

“Kashmir's narrative of America's relationship with Islam is more driven by the narrative in Pakistan than in India,”  said Jamia Millia Islamia's Rehman, referring to the Kashmiri separatist movement's long reliance on support from across the border.

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“In the case of Kashmir, because of the constant political turmoil, there are professional protesters, who are looking for opportunities, or whenever there is an opportunity they jump into it,” Rehman said.

Meanwhile, local observers say Kashmir these days is a tinderbox waiting for a spark. The authorities have been imposing curfews and similar measures at even the hint of a political march since more than a hundred people were killed in government action to put down massive anti-India protests in 2010.

In other words, anti-American feelings are indeed running hot in the disputed region, because of the perception that the US has backed away from pressuring India to resolve the Kashmir issue as Washington has drifted from Islamabad toward New Delhi. But any protest, whatever the provocation, is seen as an opportunity to mobilize, and eventually transforms into, a demonstration against the government of India.

And that's why the Indian authorities—not Americans—have reason to worry. Muslim rage has a way of sparking Hindu rage, even as both fires are stoked by irresponsible politicians and radicals.

Already this weekend, a riot broke out near New Delhi after some miscreants littered a railway station with torn up pages of the Koran, suggesting that some local actors may see an opportunity in the Muslims' heightened anger. Unlike the protests in Chennai and Kashmir, it made the front pages of most major newspapers here.

But there's no doubt you haven't heard about it. No Americans were involved or targeted.

– Additional reporting by Parvaiz Bukhari in Srinagar.