THIS WEEK'S Islamic eruptions in Cairo and Benghazi came (coincidentally?) on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

In Cairo, crowds were ignited by a defamatory movie about Muhammad. Meanwhile, "film critics" also attempted to storm our embassy in Yemen on Thursday.

In Benghazi, Libya, militants apparently used civilians protesting the film as cover for a pre-planned attack to mark 9/11.

Not a whole lot has changed since crowds in the Arab world danced in the streets on 9/11, despite President Obama's overtures, which even go so far as to ban from official use the name of the enemy: radical Islam. So what we saw this week was a pesky "overseas contingency," rather than terror by Islamists who do not believe in free speech or democracy because they find neither in their Islam.

I say "their Islam" because American Muslims stand on a bridge they built between their god and their culture. They can be good Muslims and good Americans.

Such a man is Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. "We need to help the people of these countries to go through a reformation and step into modernity and away from these irrational actions," he said.

The seeds of this week's work - call it offspring of the Arab Spring - were planted on Nov. 4, 1979, when government-supported Islamists seized America's Iranian embassy and President Carter let them get away with it for 444 days.

This time an amateurish film ridiculing Muhammad, promoted by dim-bulb preacher Terry Jones, of burn-the-Quran fame, lit the fuse in Cairo.

Cairo was the curtain-raiser: Damage was done, but no deaths. Benghazi was the main feature, with the death of our ambassador and three others. Then Yemen. More to come?

In each case the governments in power (with U.S. support) did not sponsor the attacks.

Time's Bobby Ghosh said that there is an "extremist industry" that combs the Web looking for anything even vaguely anti-Muslim that they can harness into anti-American and anti-West blowups.

It is not Islamophobia to say that hate is a byproduct of fundamentalist Islam. So, what should our response be, as a democracy, a world leader and a nation tired of being hammered by bloodthirsty extremists?

The Arab world has no tradition of freedom of speech, and Islam does not tolerate inquiry, let alone anything seen as belittling the prophet, or even depicting him. That's why Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death by an ayatollah in 1989 after his Satanic Verses was published, why worldwide riots followed the publication of cartoons in Denmark in 2005, why Christians and other "unbelievers" are murdered and why our diplomats were killed this week.

The "Arab street" is driven by a toxic brew of rumor, lies and disinformation. To this day, a majority of Arabs believe that Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, according to the Pew Research Center.

It's hard to overcome generations of ignorance, but there are some things we can do.

First, ramp up operations of the Voice of America, which can be harnessed to dispense "our side" across a broad range of media - radio, TV and, importantly, the Internet. It will take a long time, but we can use our ingenuity to crack open those closed minds a bit. It's a smart use of soft power.

Second, having tried apologies and outreach, our government must proclaim American values, such as free speech, from which Muslims get no special immunity. No more acts of contrition. That's moral power.

Finally, financial power. Cut off aid to any nation that does not support us. Buying friends? It beats funding enemies.