Islamic Perspectives

Anti-Islam Film And Reaction In The Muslim World

A Coptic American, extreme right-winger and Islam-hater made an anti-Islam film and put it on Internet. The reaction to this film was very violent in the Muslim world beginning with Libya where an American ambassador along with four other consulate staff was killed in violent demonstration. It was followed by violent demonstrations in Egypt, Yemen, and other places. Saudi Arabia which normally remains officially silent, also strongly protested on Government level.        

Of course, some countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, remained comparatively peaceful though signs of unrest are visible in these countries too. In other words, countries covered by Arab Spring were mostly affected. On this occasion, a private organization in Iran once again renewed the prize offer with an increased amount on Rushdie’s head.  Rushdie reacted characteristically by saying that blasphemy should be one’s right. It is difficult to say what shape this renewed offer on Rushdie’s head will take. It may remain only a formal announcement. It seems difficult that it would become a raging controversy as it did when Ayatollah Khomeini had declared price on Rushdie’s head. Politically it was very different context.

 Ayatollah Khomeini then was a great hero for the Muslim youth as he had pushed America out of Iran and declared America the Great Satan. America all over the Muslim world then was seen as an evil incarnate which had tried to stop an Islamic revolution and Rushdie was seen as a western agent who had, in the name of human rights, insulted the Prophet of Islam thus trying to weaken the Islamic revolution.

But as for the anti-Islamic film Innocence, there is a different political context today, i.e., the Arab Spring, which no less significant than Islamic revolution of Iran. The only difference is that the Iranian revolution was actively opposed by America whereas Arab Spring was seen as favourable by American rulers under the pretext of bringing in democracy to the Arab world.

In Libya, America and NATO forces played an active role in overthrowing Gaddafi who had played an anti-American role throughout his life except perhaps during the last phase when he had tried to reconcile with Western powers. In Syria too, America, like Libya, is interested in ‘regime change’. Needless to say, both in Libya and Syria, America had not played so innocent a role as it would like the world to believe.

 Today, both in Libya and Syria, Al-Qaeda has become hyper-active but even at the cost of making al-Qaeda quite active, America’s priority is to destroy Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the old enemies of America and the only obstacles in total domination of Middle East by America and Israel. Both of them have been anti-Israel and with their elimination, America will be free to promote its interest in the area.

For al-Qaeda too, this suits it well as both Bashar al-Assad and Gaddafi have been its enemies. Thus, both the regimes, ironically, are seen as enemies both by America and al-Qaeda.

The violent demonstrations against the film are a result of number of factors. What is to be understood is that these demonstrations are less Islamic and more for down-to-earth factors - political, economic and sociological.

The media, especially western, is portraying these demonstrations as purely a violent religious act of fanaticism. It is not so simple as the media is portraying it. First of all, we must reckon with the oil factor. America’s sole interest in this region is neither Islam nor democracy nor dictatorship. It is oil, pure and simple.

There is as yet no alternative to oil and most of the oil resources of the world are found in this region. America wants to maintain its grip on this region at any cost. The first danger it smelt in the region was the Islamic revolution of Iran. U.S. was exceptionally hostile to Iranian revolution. Not because it was Islamic but because Iran was emerging as a challenge to American hegemony over the region. It was equally hostile to Mosaddeg’s democratic revolution in early nineteen fifties and to undo that revolution it had used Ayatollahs.

After the then Iranian revolution of 1950s, a number of left-oriented regimes emerged in the Middle East, i.e., Iraqi and Syrian (Baath Party-led revolutions) and Libyan Revolution in September 1969, apart from Gamal Abdel Nassir’s Young Officers’ coup in Egypt in July 1952. Nasser’s revolution was no less dangerous than that the Iranian revolution in 1979. It nationalized Suez Canal prompting France, Britain and Israel to invade Egypt. It was Soviet Union which threatened these powers and made them retreat.

 The Arab Spring, was also seen similarly as an opportunity by America to intervene and do away with ‘enemies’ like Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. But like before, it is not as simple as America wishes. The demonstrations are aimed politically against American interests in the region.

It is true the American regime, much less the people, had anything to do with making of the film and so one wonders why kill its ambassador and consular staff or why demonstrate against America. These demonstrations do not mean that people put responsibility of the film on the American government. It clearly means that they have utterly hostile feelings towards the American domination and repeated interference in their region. They want America to get out of the region.

 Unfortunately America does not want to learn lessons. After Libya it rushed to the aid of rebels not for its love of democracy in Syria but for its hatred of an enemy, i.e., Bashar al-Assad. America is fully aware of the fact that al-Qaeda is trying to capture the rebel forces. But it thinks Bashar al-Assad is much greater enemy and it can take care of al-Qaeda later. Let  America not think that the rebels in Syria would feel grateful to America after the success of their rebellion. These rebels too carry anti-American feelings hidden in their hearts and when time comes they will manifest it as it happened in Libya.

Some moderate Muslim intellectuals are saying that moderates should speak out against violent demonstrations. I fully agree with this viewpoint. We must oppose violence anywhere and in whatever form. Moreover, it is not people of America who are to be blamed for events like anti-Islamic film. It is after all a small number of right-wingers who are compulsive haters of Islam.

 Also, people of America like any other people of the world, are manipulated by the powerful media to think that American foreign policy vis-a-vis Middle East is right. For them, interests not principles play the role in framing policies. Also, hatred is not the right answer for hatred. As a Muslim and as a Gandhian, I think love and understanding are the right answer.

 To prevent such violent demonstrations, our Imams should play creative role in Friday sermons. They should explain to Muslims what are Islamic values and why they should desist from such demonstrations. Also, as a value we oppose US policies, not America or its people. American principles are as great as any other principles. Among those principles are freedom of expression and freedom to follow the  dictates of one’s conscience. There can be no compromise of that.

But this is possible only when our Imams are highly educated and capable of analyzing facts as they are. The kinds of Imams we have now are illiterate in matters other than Islamic Shari’ah and theology.  Imams play a very significant role in the lives of Muslims, especially in Asian and African countries. Muslim intellectuals and moderate Muslims should see to it that Imams should not only be Islamically educated but also in other matters as they influence the thinking of the Muslim masses on socio-political matters through their sermons on Friday and other occasions.

 The Muslim media also has to play a highly responsible role in such matters. We see that Muslim media also, like Imams of the mosques, plays to the gallery. Today, we are living in the age of democracy and in democracy media plays a very important role. We know western media too does not play a responsible role. On the one hand, it displays deep-rooted prejudices and on the other, it guards the interests of multi-national corporations.

But if we believe in Islamic values of justice and peace, we have to suppress our anger and display more patience failing which our belief that “Islam stands for peace” will become mere rhetoric and such display of violence does show it is mere rhetoric. As good Muslims, we should go beyond mere rhetoric and show in action that we stand for justice and peace.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2012 on page no. 20

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