Muslim rage: how the Prophet handled insult
Muslims, from Libya to Hong Kong, have exploded again. The rage is against an anti-Islam film, made in the US, and cartoons in France.
In Benghazi, deadly riots had tragic consequences: death of four diplomats, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
A 14-minute video was first posted on YouTube on July 1, but it went largely unnoticed until Arab TV stations picked it up. An Egyptian religious channel, al-Nas, broadcast some scenes on September 8. Some scenes were dubbed into Arabic, posted online and viewed by thousands.
These protests, like earlier ones, could be protracted. They could intensify hostility towards America, although, I believe, the US diplomats became a target because the film was made in America. It need not have been so.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton condemned the film, calling it “disgusting, reprehensible” and rejecting its contents. I believe that Clinton genuinely condemned the video, and did not just mouth platitudes for the sake of preventing more attacks on Americans.
One may dispute US foreign policies, but America’s constitutional commitment to religious freedom is unquestionable. Muslims, as a minority, in America are safer than, say, Christians in Egypt. Religious tolerance is deeply linked to America’s most abiding idea: liberty. America’s founding fathers assumed religious freedom to be the “first liberty”. Therefore, America ought to make religious bigotry a serious punishable offence.
Incendiary films, literature and cartoons that poke Islam are not an expression of free speech. I consider them to be hate speech. Therefore, anybody who hates hate speech must protest. However, it is violence that we must all condemn.
Why is the Muslim world ‘provoked’ and why do Muslims react violently to denigration of Islam or insult to the Prophet?
Any representative portrayal of Prophet Mohammed is itself thought to violate Islamic tenets, let alone making fun of the Prophet. However, the problematic relationship between Muslims and the Western world, especially the US, may have more to do with the ferocity of such outbursts.
In the Muslim world, Islam has a deep resonance in people’s daily lives. In the West, Christianity has been subjected to an utterly private realm, since the separation of the Church and the state. Therefore, the West is sometimes incapable of judging Muslim sensitivities. Besides, there is a great deal of confusion over what Islam is and what it isn’t.
In any case, mainstream Western writers or artists do not indulge in producing work that crudely denigrates either Muslims or Islam, with the exception of Salman Rushdie. Much of the incendiary stuff comes from far-right Christian bigots, who like Muslim bigots, are no better. The Brevik shooting case and, recently, the shooting of US Sikhs are before us.
The anti-Islam film that triggered the current rage is itself the work of far-right religious groups. Evidence suggests three Christian groups were behind the film. The Southern Poverty Law Council, a prominent anti-White supremacy non-profit, has classified two of these as “hate groups”. Click here A third advocates the cause of Egyptian Christians, or Copts, who have faced worst recent violence from Muslims. See here
Muslims ought to look back at the life of the Prophet, who is the object of universal Muslim love. The Prophet routinely ignored the gravest of insults from his enemies.
Western countries, on the other hand, must shift from just condemning religious bigotry to criminalizing it, building on the UNHRC’s Resolution 16/18. That’s the way forward.