Raza Habib Raja
“One of the “best”ways to protest against a movie which portrays your faith as crazy, fascist and violent is to go and protest in a way that is crazy, fascist and violent !”
The above is a Facebook status of a friend (may be an excerpt from an article) which accurately describes what right now we are witnessing all across the Muslim world. How an obscure and crude movie on YouTube ( which by no stretch of imagination is state sanctioned or censored in the conventional sense) can spark such violent protests is something which really needs to be pondered upon.
Frankly I will not defend the movie as I have seen the thirteen minute trailer. I fully agree that it is crude and frankly aims at humiliating Muslims. But in no way, does it lead to any justification of the violence which has erupted all across the Muslim world.
Whenever I want to refute the increasingly voiced and accepted opinion that “ Moderate Islam is a Mirage”, something like this happens which leaves me completely speechless.
It is not the protests, as it is natural to protest against what a community feels is offensive and inflammatory. It is the ugly nature of protests which is extremely worrisome. Muslims really need to ponder over the fact that their excessive reaction actually ends up leaving them virtually isolated. The world does not feel any sympathy for them and correctly interprets them as perpetuators of hate and bigotry. This behavior also has a spillover effect on virtually all issues which involves Muslims and creates a universal impression that perhaps everywhere, even where they are actually prosecuted, Muslims are the main culprits.
And by the way let us not forget that while Muslims continue to rage over Blasphemous cartoons, movies and images, their own record with respect to treatment of minorities is pathetic. What they need to learn that world will only sympathize with them if they themselves show the same kind of respect they expect of their faith.
And besides the ugly nature of protests, the Muslims also have this misplaced anger towards the Western governments. An obscure movie, made by someone who has even been convicted in a fraud, is in no way connected with US government or West in general. However, in this strange Muslim mindset ( which by the way is roughly similar all across the globe reaffirming that Islamic identity cuts across the world), everything is being deliberately planned to insult them.
Much deeper and frankly important issue is the confrontation between Western ideals of freedom of speech and Muslims’ extraordinary reverence of their religion. I have pointed out before also that one of the major reasons as to why Muslims are like that is the extraordinary reverence which is instilled in their minds right from the childhood. Even those who are moderate ( and they exist in majority) and for that matter those who don’t follow Islamic rituals, have a tendency to get riled up when anyone mocks Prophet Muhammad or Quran. Religion for Muslims is like race or ethnicity and in fact even more than that. This is something which the West needs to understand.
While it is perfectly right to be critical of radical Islam and also question inhuman laws, but mocking or insulting the Holy Prophet will be completely counterproductive. It is just like calling African Americans as “Niggers” and expecting them not to even notice! Yes I am fully admitting there is a huge issue with the way Islamic World is today and we need to address the issue but mocking won’t just do it. I am being extremely realistic and pragmatic here. It is how you deal with the problem that will make any difference.
Yes I agree that religion is not that sensitive matter for many in the modern world but in Muslim world it is. And through mocking and ridiculing, we only further alienate the Muslims and in the process lose any realistic chance of engaging them for reforms.
However, at the same time it becomes difficult to just bow down in front of violent pressure exerted by Muslims when Muslims themselves show little credibility in terms of how they treat minorities and respect their religious freedom. Moreover, since freedom of expression is often construed as a hard won right therefore making exceptions for Muslims and that too in the face of violence, does not appear to be the “right” choice.
We need to nevertheless agree on something with religion’s criticism in the media. For example just like race, religion’s criticism also needs to be pondered over. For example, perhaps we can broadly agree that criticism on religious laws and customs is acceptable while ridiculing its symbols is not. There has to be at least some consensus, of informal type, which should guide media in general.