Vicious Cycle of Islamophobia

We are going through strange times. While science, technology and rationalism have given us physical and intellectual tools to better the lot of humanity, we are witnessing the production of provocative materials, literature and films in particular, which demonize a particular religion, Islam to be precise, and the Prophet of Islam. On the other hand, there is a section of community, feeling threatened and insecure, coming to the streets to protest against such humiliation and insult of their religion. There are debates on freedom of expression, but how come the freedom of expression always goes to humiliate and demonize one particular religion?

Currently, massive protests are taking place in different countries against American embassies, resulting in the death of four from the US staff, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi. Different countries are asking Google, the owner of YouTube, which is hosting this provocative and insulting video clip, deceptively named ‘Innocence of Muslims’, to withdraw the clip. At places, the video clip has been withdrawn and blocked. US sticks to its ‘Freedom of Expression’ stance and many protesters are still on the streets.

The film clip, of around 14 minutes duration, is part of a full-length feature film made by Nakoula Basseley, a US-based Christian of Egyptian origin. The film is very insulting to Islam. In this film, large numbers of “bearded Muslims” are shown to be attacking Christians. It also takes the audience back in time to show a distorted life of Prophet Muhammad with negative and aggressive traits. It is a crude film, made in extremely poor taste and has generated strong reaction amongst a large section of Muslims around the world.  It must be pointed out that this is not the only type of reaction to this film. There are sections of clerics who have asked Muslims to keep restraint. Quoting moral precepts from the scripture of Islam, Qur’an, they said that Islam is a religion of peace and no violent protests should be held. The best response to this despicable film has been from a section of Muslims distributing a book on the life of Prophet Muhammad, the prophet of peace.

During the last few years, it has become a sort of standard pattern by many in the West and some here in India to demonize Islam. We remember the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, where he is shown as a terrorist, with a bomb tucked in his turban. A Florida Pastor went on to burn the holy book, Qur’an, claiming that it teaches violence. Some US soldiers in Afghanistan burnt copies of the Qur’an on the ground that the terrorist elements had written messages on those copies.

The demonization of Islam and Muslims follows a pattern and agenda. Cartoons and films are the outcome of deeper political processes which aim to control the oil wells in West Asia. The imperialist greed of the United States marshalled the flag of “Islam the New threat” since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran, overthrowing the US stooge Raza Shah Pahlavi. Later, the slogan was worsened with US setting up madrassas on Pakistan-Afghanistan borders to train Al Qaeda-Taliban to initiate the Muslim youth to fight against the occupying Russian armies in Afghanistan. The word, “Jihad” and “kafir” were distorted to indoctrinate the Muslim youth in these seminaries.  With later trajectories and the event of 9/11, the US media with all its guile and global reach, popularized the phrase ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The phrase was picked up by the media all over the world and later became a part of the social common-sense. This is a major abuse of media power for political goals by the imperialist powers. One can understand this demonization of Islam as a part of US policy, a cover to hide its agenda to control the oil in the Middle East. To understand it in the way Noam Chomsky coined the phrase “Manufacturing Consent”, the coining of the word “Islamic terrorism” is part of the US mechanism of manufacturing consent of the world to give assent to the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

This US policy has given rise to twin processes. On the one hand, the phenomenon like a Florida Pastor Terry Jones burning Qur’an or a Danish cartoonist drawing Prophet Muhammad as a “terrorist” or the present film has been the outcome of the intense propaganda unleashed against Islam.

This US propaganda has been backed up by the US-sponsored ideology of ‘Clash of Civilizations’, according to which the current era of World history is the era of the assault of the beleaguered Islamic civilization against the advanced Western civilization. This distorted perception, this ideology, was used as a cover for the US agenda in West Asia.

The other process which got unleashed was that the psyche of global Muslim community started being affected. A perception grew that Muslims (Afghanistan and Iraq) are being attacked, they are under threat. In India, the added aspect was the rise of RSS-type politics, bringing up Ram Temple issue and starting a hate campaign against Muslims. A large section of Muslims started feeling intimidated and besieged. It became easy for mobilizing them around identity issues. Any community, which feels besieged, becomes vulnerable to easy provocation and identity-based mobilization.

It is a vicious circle: Islamophobia on one side and besieged community on the other. In this scenario Muslim clerics who are appealing for peace are the beacon lights of hope for the community. Muslims who are distributing books on the life of the Prophet need to be complimented. This is what the sane response from the community has to be.

What about US, imperialist designs and its mighty propaganda machinery doing all the mischief in the world? Can there be a process of controlling it? Under Kofi Annan, when he was Secretary General of United Nations, a high level committee produced a report, ‘Alliance of Civilizations’. This report got lost under the barrage of Islamphobia. It is time the world as such takes note of the deeper humane values which have developed by humanity over centuries, the values which have led to the reports of type of ‘Alliance of civilizations’, the UN conventions which have conceptualized human rights for all.

The trigger which has incited the demonization process of religion and films like this one are provoking reactions from a section of Muslims. Can United Nations be revived as a global platform for monitoring the behaviour of Nations, media and other aspects of our global life in order to ensure that democratization and human dignity are promoted. Can the World come forward to check the aggressions of the Super Power? That’s when such films will cease to be made to incite people and such crude attempts at insulting others’ religions will come down. May be with such norms and restraints on US policies we can hope that such incidents will come down. Even if there are elements making some films like this there will be others making a film giving their own versions of Prophet’s mission of peace in the World.  

And, finally, we need to preserve the concept of freedom of expression within limits. We also need to cultivate methods of protest where hysterical emotions are kept at bay and rational approach is brought to the fore.   (Issues in Secular Politics)