Syrian Activists Protest, But Not Over Anti-Islam Video

For the past year and a half, every Friday in Syria has been given a name. That's because every Friday, people protest against the government, and those protests get a title. This week's title? "Syrian sons and daughters of the Prophet Mohammed are being slaughtered." In other words: "To all you Muslims who are angry about the denigration of the Prophet Mohammed in some YouTube film? Don't forget about us."

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Syrians also demonstrated today but not against that anti-Muslim film. For the past year and a half, activists in Syria have given each Friday a name to guide their protest, and today's title was Syrian sons and daughters of the Prophet Muhammad are being slaughtered. In other words, to all you Muslims who are angry about the denigration of Muhammad in some film, don't forget about us. NPR's Kelly McEvers tells us more.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: It's not a big protest. Protests in Syria aren't very big anymore, but still, there the people are, standing on the street of a village in northern Syria, staring at the camera with hard eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Where, where is your Islam, the chant goes. At another protest, the message was more direct. Oh, Arabs, where is your conscience? In the past few months, the violence in Syria has exploded. The Syrian conflict now claims more lives in a month than the most violent month in Iraq, and yet the world, including the Arab world, pays little attention, say Syrian activists. Now, much of the news is focused on angry mobs of people incensed about an amateur film. So a small but thriving network of young, connected Syrians is doing its best to keep the world from forgetting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: Ever since the attack in Libya that killed four Americans earlier this month the Syrian activists have been releasing cartoons, rants, songs, poems, even statistics on the number of mosques they say were destroyed by the Syrian government army. They've also circulated this video of a Syrian soldier standing on the balcony of a mosque, lip-synching a popular drinking song. You want blasphemy, the comments on the video read, this is blasphemy.

On one Facebook page, a poem went something like this: The Arab people are emotional. Films make them upset. Films make them angry and let them go crazy and kill. But when they see in Syria mosques and churches getting shelled, Qurans being burned, women being insulted, it doesn't move them because it's not a film. It's reality. Syrian activist Shakib al-Jabri explains.

SHAKIB AL-JABRI: Fine, you guys don't react to real life. You only react to movies. We're going to produce a movie. Just react for the love of God, react.

MCEVERS: Back in 2005 when a Danish magazine published cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad and sparked angry protests all over the Muslim world, Syrians reacted the most violently of all, trashing the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Now, Jabri says Syrian opposition leaders hoping for Western help to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are aware they need to keep tighter control of the message.

AL-JABRI: OK. We're calm. We're not like those people. We don't believe in violence.

MCEVERS: So please, he says, don't think we're angry fundamentalists. Perhaps one of the most striking images to come out of the Syrian uprising this past week was a reference to a little girl. Her name was Fatima, and she was killed when a mortar fired by the Syrian army hit her house and cut off her head. A Syrian artist immediately responded with a damning cartoon. It was the silhouette of Fatima, fully formed but lying dead, framed in a picture and hung on a wall while headless men and women stand with their hands behind their backs and do nothing. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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