Egyptian protesters tear down the US flag at the US Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. (Photo courtesy AFP)
This story appeared in the 20-26 September, 2012 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly
Gulf citizens upset at the US-made film mocking Islam have called for worldwide bans on attacks on Islam and PR campaigns to explain the religion better, reports Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
The trailer for the US-made film mocking the Prophet Mohamed, The Innocence of Muslims, has upset Muslims across the Gulf, who have condemned the movie but have also called for a calm and united front in the face of such slanderous attacks and for a worldwide ban on attacks on Islam.
The Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Ibn Abdallah Al-Sheikh, denounced the attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic missions across the region that have taken place in the wake of the film’s release, saying these were un-Islamic.
“It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction,” he said in a statement in a clear reference to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was set ablaze on 11 September leading to the deaths of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US staff.
Both the Saudi and the United Arab Emirates governments have condemned the attacks, but they have also criticised the film. ‘Saudi Arabia has expressed its condolences to the United States for the victims of the violent actions in Libya that targeted the American consulate in Benghazi,” reported the Saudi Press Agency. “The kingdom also denounces the irresponsible group that produced the film.”
“I was extremely angered, or rather disgusted, by excerpts from the film. I didn't think that insolence could push anyone on the face of this earth to be so abusive of God’s messenger and my beloved Prophet Mohamed (PBUH),” wrote Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Al-Hayat daily.
“Nevertheless, I won’t join or support calls for any uncontrolled protests, let alone an attack on an American embassy. On the contrary, because of my fervent commitment to the beloved messenger of Allah and his teachings, I urge all assailants of the foreign embassies and those behind them to be severely punished. We Muslims must have the courage to condemn our people’s crimes before condemning the crimes of our enemies.”
Professor Abdallah Al-Shayji, chair of the political science department at Kuwait University, called for a global ban on attacks on all religions. “The US would do itself, the Muslims and the relationship between the West and Islam a big favour if it addressed the real causes for discontent and grievances among Arabs and Muslims, in order to avoid a real clash of civilisations. The US should be as vocal, resolute and vehement about criminalising those who defame and denigrate faiths and religions, as it is about anti-Semitic expressions,” he wrote in Gulf News.
But many of those interviewed admitted that a ban on blasphemous attacks would be, if not impossible, then very hard to implement and probably not effective.
“A call for a global ban on attacks on Islam is unnecessary,” said Hasnaa Al-Mokhtar, a Saudi journalist. “There is nothing new here. The man who carried the burden of the message was fought, attacked, ridiculed, tortured and went through severe hardships 1,433 years ago. Islamic history is rich with incidents that highlight one major fact: no matter how oppressive or offensive any given situation is, Islam always stands for tolerance and peace.”
“This is an old call made by the mufti and the king four years ago,” said Khashoggi in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “The king called for a ban on all blasphemous attacks against all religions and not just Islam. But it is very difficult to pass such laws in Europe. It is a philosophical question. Most Muslims did not grow up in democracies and don't know how to interpret freedom of expression.”
He added that he had searched online for videos criticising Jesus Christ and had found plenty of material.
Saudi commentator Abeer Mishkhas agreed, saying “it’s not possible. You can’t stop everyone from criticising religion. The people in the Gulf region have to accept and understand that the rest of the world is going to criticise us. Protesting is fine as long as it is peaceful. You shouldn’t set buildings on fire, killing diplomats, and then wonder why they call us terrorists.”
Khashoggi believes that Muslim leaders must come out and calm down their populations. “The Tunisian leader came out and explained that the US could not ban the film. President Mursi and our other leaders should come out and say the same thing, even at the risk of being criticised by more extremist elements of being puppets of the US government.”
In his Al-Hayat column, Khashoggi went further and accused Arab leaders of cosying up to extremist elements in the hope of gaining their votes or avoiding their wrath.
Both Mishkhas and Mokhtar believe that the best way to counteract such anti-Islamic films is to launch films and public-relation campaigns that explain and defend Islam and its believers.
“Just try to have a PR campaign,” said Mishkhas. “Israel hired a PR company after the Gaza invasion of 2008-2009, and it got much good publicity out of it. This is what we should be doing.”
“Muslims need to strive to become better human beings morally, ethically, socially, culturally and politically, and fight their egos,” said Mokhtar.
“They need to lead by example. Chaos doesn’t bring about change. A united, productive and intelligent Muslim nation can definitely spread a more positive image of Islam in the world. In this time of social and digital media we need to educate people and raise awareness about the true essence of Islam.”
“One online campaign called ‘Inspired by Mohamed’ (www.inspiredbymuhammad.com) is a brilliant example of a fun website designed to improve the public’s understanding of Islam and Muslims.”
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