By Nipunika O. Lecamwasam
The World is all about perception. Our perception becomes our reality. Media for its part plays a significant role in shaping public perception, which the public in turn takes to be the reality. The recent projection of the so-called “Muslim Rage” is one instance of inflated reality propagated by Western media against the West’s principal rival, the Islamic world.
A chain of violence took place all across the world in predominantly Muslim areas in response to a rudimentary video that ridiculed Prophet Mohammad. The video was done by a US based Egyptian film maker. Violence erupted in varying forms in different countries but the most tragic incident of all was the death of the US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens whose very function was to ensure peace in Libya. US media took advantage of the situation and started a campaign of demeaning Islam as a source of violent conflict and fanaticism. The lack of sense of some fanatics thus led to too powerful a generalization of an outrageous Islamic world with next to no acknowledgment or mention about the vast majority of people who were not part of it.
Innocence of Muslims
Innocence of Muslims, a short film on YouTube done by an Egyptian Christian based in the US was at the root of the wave of violence that swept across the Islamic world. The film – if one may so term it – is an embarrassment to the cinema world and is rather evidently a hate work directed towards a faith of about 1.5 billion people in the world that has found the lowest possible form of expression. This work by no means can be justified by the lame excuse of free speech for it blatantly scoffs at Prophet Mohammad and is extremely offensive.
It depicts the Prophet as a womanizer and ridicules Islamic teachings. The film was of poor production quality with pornographic undertones.
All mundane beings are prone to violence under circumstances where their fundamental beliefs are challenged or offended. Though a faith itself does not preach violence, if it is at stake the situation can trigger violence especially among radical factions of believers. Christendom has experienced many wars fought in the name of religion, a very prominent one among them being the Crusades. Islam is no exception to this rule.
Reactions across the world
The notorious film prompted violent protests in a number of Islamic countries across the world since some radical factions decided to react in the name of Islam. Protests were held in several Islamic capitals. In Libya the protests turned bloody with the killing of the US ambassador Christopher Stevens. The US embassy in Cairo and an American school in Tunis came under attack by violent mobs. In Pakistan around 50,000 men took to the streets to protest against Innocence of Muslims and the demonstrations turned bloody with 17 people killed and numbers injured. The violence surged to Bangladesh in the form of Muslim-Buddhist clashes where hundreds of Buddhists were displaced with their properties burnt into ashes after a photo of a burnt copy of the Quran was posted on Facebook.
The Islamic world was thus engulfed by a gush of violence in a number of places soon after the release of the video. Numbers of Muslims too were killed in violent clashes that took place between demonstrators illustrating the fact that fundamentalism can bring death to not only its enemies but also to fellow Muslims who are devout followers of the faith.
Response of the United States
The US government was prompt in responding to the iniquitous video. The Obama administration effectively disassociated itself with the video by denouncing it. While rejecting the content and the message of the video Secretary Clinton said “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage. But as I said yesterday, there is no justification — none at all — for responding to this video with violence. We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms”. Explaining why US could not prevent films of this level hitting the web she stated “I would note in today’s world with today’s technologies it is impossible. But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law. And we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be”.
While violence in response to the freedom of expression cannot be allowed in a civilized world, it is also important to bear in mind that the freedom of speech or freedom of whatever in that case has to stop where the other’s nose begins. Invasion of a very delicate sphere of one’s life in the name of freedom cannot and should not by any means be justified. It is best for governments to try and do whatever is possible in their power to prevent such incidents from occurring in future however contrary they may be to their long established traditions and principles because prevention is always better than cure.
Muslim Rage? Or Radical Rage?
Reaction to the video as mentioned above was spontaneous and violent. Many took to the streets in violent protests. But the question here is whether these mobs encompassed the whole of Islamic fraternity as shown by Western media?
Western media revealing its manipulative function inflated the protests to that of a Muslim Rage that consumed the entirety of the Islamic world against the West. Their coverage conveniently neglected the enormous majority of the Muslim world that did not join the frenzy of violence. The actual proportion of Muslims who hit the streets was thus effectively clouded.
Imagine the whole of Arab Spring against America? There wouldn’t be any diplomatic mission to talk about! While the killing of Libya’s US ambassador should be strongly condemned, it is also important to understand that the picture is not as bleak as portrayed on Western media. It was only a minuscule portion of the Islamic society that acted in frenzy over the video clip. Quite a considerable number opposed such violence but was not spoken about in Western media. Usually what makes headlines is only the violent fundamentalism of Islam that provides justifications for US atrocities on Islamic soil. Muslim Rage therefore is not actually a Muslim rage but the rage of a very few radicals who in their ignorance provided the US with yet another excuse to intervene in regional affairs.
Politics and Islam
US interference in the Islamic world never enjoyed warm feelings at the receiver’s end. Be it in Afghanistan, Iraq or even in Libya, US involvement is met with increasing antipathy. The US more often than not forced its involvement upon these countries with the excuse of freeing their people from decades of tyranny. The ulterior motif of US involvement has always been and will be hunting down its enemies even at the cost of indiscriminate civilian casualties.
The US is seemingly becoming very unpopular for her irresponsible and inhuman treatment of civilians in these countries through her counter terrorism policies. For instance drone attacks and inattentive way of withdrawing troops are creating many problems in these Islamic regions. With a rising death toll, these countries are facing more economic, security and even political problems than they faced prior to US involvement.
Dictatorial regimes in the Middle East which are now collapsing were created with US assistance. Since Arab Spring, a movement though initiated by people allegedly reached a fully fledged stage with US patronage whereby the US opposed the dictatorships she herself helped to establish, rejection of these tyrannies is growing by the day. Extremist groups who consider themselves to be an alternative source of political power have found space to rise in the absence of the iron fist control of dictatorial regimes that successfully maintained the stability of the region. Thus the US is seen entangled in a political mess of her own doing. The perceived hegemony of the US is also rotationally challenged by the puppet power figures she unsuccessfully tries to install into the highest offices of Middle Eastern countries.
The anti-American stance of the extremists who formed the majority of protesters stems from decades old incompatibilities in culture, religion and politics. For them, US involvement spells nothing but trouble. Though their violent behaviour cannot be accepted, it is only natural for them to reject US led imperialism that is responsible for poor economies and inept regimes in their region.
The US’s quest for global hegemony will likely end as an incomplete mission since the staunchly traditional Islam world would simply not accept such a world order. Meanwhile the Islam world should exhaust all its resources in trying to keep the world in which they feel safe alive instead of fuelling absurd outbursts which will only make their world vulnerable to external intervention.
Innocence of Muslims has provided the radicals with an ideal opportunity to vent their frustration against the West. The video was only a trigger to unearth hidden grievances. However good the fundamental freedoms the West have guaranteed be, they should bear in mind that they cannot and should not impose them on another set of people who are culturally and politically different to them. As Rudyard Kipling said East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Therefore both the Islamic world and the US led West have to develop a culture of tolerance for the world to be at peace. They have to join hands to rage. To rage against the dying of the light i.e. hundreds of innocent civilians who fall prey to the whims and fancies and idiocies of both parties concerned.
Nipunika O. Lecamwasam is a final year undergraduate of International Relations at the University of Colombo. She holds a Diploma in Professional Diplomacy and World Affairs and has completed a Certificate Course in Diplomacy and International Relations at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, Sri Lanka. Her areas of interest are conflict theory, conflict resolution and peace studies. Nipunika has served in the capacity of an intern at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – Cultural Centre.