KARACHI, September 30 - An amateurish short film “Innocence of Muslims” made with the clear intention of ridiculing Islam and hurting Muslims by insulting their beloved Prophet Muhammad resulted in a wide spread violent protests across the Muslim world. The filmmaker is reportedly Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who initially used the pseudonym ‘Sam Bacile’. Nakoula has a prior criminal record and was arrested in Los Angeles on September 27 for violating his terms of probation.
The video was first uploaded on YouTube in July. At first nobody knew about this spiteful “experimental film”. It was shown to less than ten people in a rented theatre in Hollywood, California. The film was turned into an “experiment” of sorts, when anti-Islam content was added in the post-production through overdubbing. Later in September, it was translated into Arabic by an Egyptian Coptic Christian, Morris Sadek, who was instrumental in spreading it. An Egyptian Islamist television channel made a blunder when it showed part of the video on September 9. Consequently, riots against the repugnant content of the film broke out in Egypt and Libya. Two days later on September 11, the entire Muslim World was lit on fire fueled by anger on its blasphemous content.
YouTube refused to take off the film’s 14-minute trailer saying that it is within their policy guidelines. Strangely, YouTube said that the video is not against Muslims, but against Islam and thus it will not be considered ‘hate speech’. YouTube’s owners are mixing criticism with mockery. As a result, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan blocked YouTube in its entirety and will not unblock it until the viral film is removed.
Blocking YouTube is not the solution. It is in a way taking away the right of an internet user who might choose to access the site itself and not the video. Knowing that most of the Muslims around the world question the dual standards practiced by the U.S. government, it is again a proof of U.S. insensitivity not to strictly order the removal of the video from YouTube.
The anti-Islam film received outright condemnation from all corners, but so far nothing more has been done to quell the rage. It is heartbreaking to see the filmmaker’s obvious intent to incite actually take place.
Chants against the U.S. and Israel were heard during protests. Protestors burned U.S. flags and raised anti-U.S. slogans.
Unfortunately, many protestors targeted their indignation toward U.S. embassies and consulates in their countries and faced a strong resistance from security police forces. Subsequently, the U.S. embassies and consulates in Muslim countries were shut down temporarily and high-level security was put on for protection. Many protestors were killed, injured and arrested in the process. The Benghazi attack in which the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens was killed has been confirmed by the U.S. officials to be unrelated to these protests.
Muslim leaders have condemned mockery of all religions and religious symbols. The U.S. government condemned the denigrating video, but also stressed that violence is not a justified reaction. The protestors demand that their countries reverse relations with the U.S. and American products should be officially boycotted. The U.S. is engaged in strategic dialogues with many of the Muslim countries currently and such uncontrollable material being released in the U.S. does not help foster relations and understanding that the U.S. hopes to receive from Muslims.
For the U.S. merely being supportive of the ‘Arab Spring’ is not enough. To advocate democratic changes in Muslim states only to install a puppet government, that does nothing for the public but for their own interests, has always been a point of criticism for the U.S. It is better that the U.S. gets out of its ‘exceptionalism’ and make proper engagement with Muslims and not just the Muslim states for its vested interests.
As Hilary Clinton stated, the purpose of U.S. diplomatic missions is to bridge gaps between people and bring better understandings across cultures. The fact that attackers targeted a U.S. diplomatic mission starkly illustrates that they have failed in this purpose. Embassies and consulates are treated as external territorialities in International Law, which means that they are not part of the country they are located in, but part of the country they represent. But the protesting mobs in their madness not just destroyed and damaged these U.S. diplomatic channels, but also harmed their own public property and people. It was unnecessary on part of these protestors to try to reach the U.S. embassies and consulates, the symbol of the U.S. on their soils, to only then have their protests registered as if otherwise they will not be taken notice of.
The worst kind of protests took place in Karachi on September 21, when Youm-e-Ishq-Rasul (Day of Loving the Prophet) was being observed by the government as the day of Pakistan’s official protest day. Even the title of the day seemed unsuitable, because a Muslim is supposed to love the Prophet every day just as he or she is supposed to pray to God every day. Such days are not celebrated. They are part of one’s religious aspect in daily life.
The sad event that occurred in Karachi was an example of how Pakistani government often puts its own interests ahead of the public. If it was not deliberate, then it was completely a misjudged move by the Pakistani government. There are political reasons why the situation was allowed to get out of hand. The protestors were peaceful and had the intention to rally calmly reaching to their destination. But it was “hijacked” out of nowhere by elements that want unrest in Pakistan. Some of the people were identified as those who were from ‘foreign agencies’ and were specially sent to disrupt the gatherings. There were also people from banned organizations.
Arsonists were sent with petrol to burn down places and damage public property. The government security did not stop them at first, but allowed them to move with the rest of the peaceful protestors. Common sense says that they are trouble makers and should be kept away as they are always on a lookout for such a gathering which they can easily disturb. Since mobile communication was blocked, the Pakistani media is contributive to the destruction that occurred during these protests as they were telecasting live all the chaos that was taking place, which assisted the banned outfits in their coordination.
The government should have not called for this day to be observed. Even if they wanted to make an official stand on this issue, they should have not conceded to protests taking place on the same day, which was supposed to be about ‘loving the Prophet’. Love to the Prophet means following his acts and words. His name and message was clearly abused that day by the miscreants amongst the protestors, which also marred the entire rallies’ peaceful means of trying to convey their hurt to the government and to the entire world. On September 29, the largest religious political party took out a rally of around 15,000 in Karachi to protest against the film to show that religious rallies could be peaceful and there was not a single untoward incident.
The First Amendment right in the U.S. Constitution has been wrongfully applied in this case, calling the video freedom of speech. Hate speech cannot, and should never, be justified under any constitution. It should be made certain that no misinterpretation is done to spread such violence. There has to be a limit to the freedom of speech as there is to freedom of other acts under the laws. It is an intellectual corruption, which indicates the kind of atrocity of mind and barbarity of spirit that can be disguised under freedom of speech. It is a distortion of its interpretation and the U.S. government must take action. Not taking any action sends an incorrect message to religious and political extremists in the U.S. who won’t hesitant to make another heinous attempt to ridicule Muslims, Islam or even other communities by taking First Amendment right for granted.
It will serve the U.S. government well if it is vigilant about such future challenges as posed by this hateful video. There must be a proper strategy and legislation against misusing American citizen’s constitutional rights, which the rest of the country practices with sensibility. In this particular case, knowing that this anti-Islam film has blazed such a devastating fire across the Muslim nations, at least it should have been banned in the interest of keeping matters under control. The video censorship will be rightly placed as no one wants to see their beloved prophet or a religiously revered figure being ridiculed in this heartless manner.
The fact is a lot of these protestors have not even seen the film and just have heard about it. They stand in principle against such ‘hate speech’ and do not feel the need to see for themselves their beloved Prophet being mocked. Such incidents are also taken up by the extremists in the West to spread hatred for the Muslims. The film was made by an extremist Christian group, yet nobody is making these protests against Christianity, because everyone realizes that what the filmmaker did is not the voice of Christians neither of Christianity.
A valid questions remain about the media choosing to pick only negative images of Muslims to portray in the West on how ‘angry’ and ‘uncivilized’ Muslims are, whilst the majority not only condemns the kind of violence that takes place in the name of Islam, but also is peaceful and understanding of the West. It is media that portrays Islam as the ‘radical Islam’ as if that is the only form of Islam, whereas the truth is far from it. There is an urgent need to understand Islam and not take the radical version into consideration when conjecturing an image of Islam or Muslims from any country or continent.
Media, both at home and abroad, shows misrepresentation of Islam to be the voice of the entire Muslim world. The moderate voices of the majority are ignored. The media is responsible for giving undue coverage to these radical Muslims. Since when has it become standard and reasonable to focus on narrow-minded views of the few over moderate approach of the majority? The western media is completely wrong in calling these protests anti-West or even against the freedom of expression.
The protests and stand are only against misuse of freedom of expression and against the abuse of the right guaranteed under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Even though there were anti-U.S. slogans, they were for the U.S. government’s duality in standards, not against the American people. There is nothing more pleasing for a Muslim than seeing a non-Muslim taking interest in reading about Islam or Muhammad or Muslims. At least amongst things one would find disagreeable in Islamic philosophy, there will be some to admire.
Instead of bridging the gap the media has been ripping people apart. In today’s world of fast communication, it is unbelievable to just rely on the mainstream media, which is known for its own agenda and bias. It is very strange that despite all of these options available, people on both sides are equally ignorant, except those who make an effort to understand something outside of their own history, culture, country and belief systems.
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