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US And West: Problematic Constitutions And Religions – OpEd

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By Khalid Aldakhiel

Continued protests against the offensive film about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) represent a complex phenomenon, although it looks pretty clear on the surface. It is complex because it does not represent any hostility toward the West, nor any defense mechanism against it. What makes the film complex is that it mixes culture with politics.
Deep down these protests, which are not new, represent a challenge not only to the West but Islam as well in both the Arab and Muslim countries. These protests, largely directed inward and not only at the West, are an expression of the frustration at the limitations and constraints of their homelands, as it is an expression of anger over Western infringements and excesses upon the rights of Arabs and Muslims, and on their geographical and political borders and also on their cultural taboos.

United States
United States

However, are these reasons related to the fact that protests are always emotionally impulsive that aims to bring about psychological and political shockwaves in the West? Why is there a large discrepancy between the magnitude of these full-swing protests and the triviality of this film that no one noticed nor cared about throughout the months leading up to the demonstrations?

Why didn’t these protests take the form of a political or cultural stand, such as making peaceful demonstrations, while carrying with them their demands in the form of a written message and take them to one embassy or another? Why didn’t demonstrators demand that their governments at least do what they should about the issue of their protest?

There’s a chronic and genuine reason that stands behind these protests. It is that Western policies, especially the American, toward Arabs and Muslims are always biased and sometimes aggressive, but there is another reason, which is the Arab and Muslims’ lack of influence on those policies and their implications and their inability to contain them before they get antagonistic, disregarding our rights.

Within the framework of this equation, the Arabs and Muslims neither on official nor public level did admit any responsibility toward what happens to them at the hands of the West in their minds at least. Does the weakness of Arabs and Muslims tempt the powerful West to mock and abuse them? And if so, what are the implications of strengths and weaknesses in this case? To be sure, military force is not the only indicator, regardless of its significance and weight; there are other indicators such as economic power, administrative, scientific, but first and foremost — political force.

It must be recognized that the West has been able to collect elements of power in the political equation, as represented by their democratic political system.

It is clear that the Arabs’ perception that military force is the most important element of power is flawed. This is not because military force is not important, but because this perception is abstract, and does not take into account that without governance, laws and a productive economy, you could not have an effective military. Without a hierarchical order, administrative discipline and the popular legitimacy of the state, how can the military force be protected from chaos and from becoming a mere tool to achieve political ambitions that has no connection with the real interests of the state and its development?

Events have revealed the importance and effectiveness of a military force in the Arab world often do not happen except locally. Note in this regard, the experience of the Iraqi Baath Party, Libya’s Qaddafi regime, and of course the Syrian Baath Party. They do not recognize that states without laws lose their souls, and without a popular base, lose their strength, and most importantly, without scientific production lose their status abroad, and without economic production, become reliant on others, and the Arab world has not come out of this vortex.

There is an Arab-Islamic perception of the West, and in return there is a Western perception of Arabs and Muslims. In both scenarios, deeply rooted cultural factors are mixed with timely political interests, and binding laws with not always-binding social rules. Here is the question of freedom of expression, this is an issue rooted in the West, based on binding constitutional provisions that have sensitivities that no politician can ignore or disregard. However, these sensitivities are usually paid attention to locally in the West, inside the US or France, for example rather than abroad, and when friction or confrontation with the outside world happens, prevailing perception cultural attitudes control the majority of people. Thus of freedom of expression, with its legal requirements coupled with requirements for social sensitivities, are combined with racial or ethnic attitudes, and in a political system based on the balance of many intricate and overlapping interests, and the constitution enjoys obligatory accountability, it becomes a sensitive issue, but at the same time negotiable.

Note, for example, that French law criminalizes the denial of the Holocaust, and here the contradiction is obvious: It is permissible to deny the existence of God, but the Holocaust shall not be denied. The reasoning behind the contradiction, is that denial of the Holocaust is directed against a particular ethnic group, and for discriminatory reasons deeply rooted in French history, and in European history in general, while in their minds, denying the existence of God is not directed against any one in particular, and is based on philosophical research, and often concerns the individual.

There is no such law in America and Britain, because of the sensitive issue of freedom of speech, yet the absence of this law did not lead to the spread of Holocaust denial. On the contrary, they frown upon this denial, and it is one of their social and political taboos, but not punishable by law.

In other words, the West’s much subdued racism toward the Jews does not mean it would automatically alleviate their racism toward Arabs and Muslims, but perhaps one day it will.

On the Arab-Muslim side there are intertwined tribal, sectarian and regional prejudices, in a nondemocratic political framework, the issue of freedom of opinion is absent, in addition to the problematic relationship between religion and state in this aspect, and compare this with the absence of this confusion in the West.

In this context, where constitutional standards are missing, and the political status-quo is dominant, at the moment of ideological clashes becomes the open door to many probabilities. It is probable that feelings boil over, so some succumb to the instinct of violence, others are opportunistic, while others are naive, and some use political manipulation — and so on, each for their own purposes.

Defending the Prophet’s (pbuh) dignity and the sanctity of Islam is a duty, but how should we understand this duty? What are the limitations? What are the requirements? Is victory for the Prophet (pbuh) a victory for righteousness, for humanity and for freedom? Is it wisdom in thought, expression and behavior? Or is it a triumph that is exploited by some as an excuse to cover their political objectives that are contradictory to the principle of victory?

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as the rest of the prophets, was and is a symbol of humanity and the value of man, which transcends the time and place in which he appeared. Thus it is sad that the humanity of the Messenger of God, as well as the value of freedom, was absent from the protests.

The worst example of this, was the Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah’s call for continued protests in the name of Islam, and trying to mobilize the Arab street against the United States.

However, the real goal of Nasrallah is not the United States, and is not championing the support of the Prophet (pbuh), but his goal is to distract the street so as to cover up the Syrian regime’s daily massacres, otherwise how can one explain the poignant silence of Nasrallah on these massacres and his full support for that unjust regime? Nasrallah’s goal was in fact revealed to all at the first moment, and therefore no one responded to his call except his ardent followers.

The question is: How can we translate our efforts in support of the Prophet into legal provisions that can protect the rights and religious beliefs of everyone? Is the Arab and Muslim world ready to accept such laws, if issued, that religions are equal? Would the call for supplications against the followers of other religions and non-Islamic sects in mosques, be in line with the demand for the prohibition of attacks on beliefs and sanctities?

There are many caveats and obstacles to such demands in the West as in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but the importance and seriousness of the demand makes it worth trying again and again.

Courtesy of Al-Hayat newspaper

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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