SEPT 22 — The Islamic Renaissance Front views the recent murders and uproar over the film “Innocence of Muslims” with much sadness and bafflement.
All available facts suggest that “Innocence of Muslims” is not even a film. What is currently known about it was available in the widely circulated YouTube clip which ran for a total of some 13-odd minutes. What is worse, most critics are in agreement on the film’s utterly poor quality — cheap sets, mediocre actors, bad voice-overs and incomprehensible narrative — all of which explains why no one had even heard of the so-called film until Muslims decided to make a fuss about it.
Indeed, the added tragedy is not so much that the film is Islamophobic, which it clearly is, but that the unnecessary attention given to it by angry Muslims, eventually gave the film far more publicity than it deserves.
The question is why. What is behind the apparent trend of Muslim hypersensitivity? For the protests is just one occurrence out of countless others before, whereby masses of Muslims occupy public space to pressure some form of censure, punishment or banning of some product for insulting Islam. Rather than to reflect, negotiate or dialogue the tenor has often been to confront and suppress.
The most well-known case to date was the furore over Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”. More recently there were the Danish cartoons. Even the rather well produced “The Message”, directed by Moustafa Akkad in 1976 with Anthony Quinn as the main actor, which did not portray the Prophet at all was deemed by many Muslims to be offensive. A Muslim group staged a siege against the Washington DC chapter of B’nai B’rith, threatening to blow up the building and its inhabitants under the false belief that Quinn portrayed the Prophet.
We now witnessed the needless deaths of dozens of innocent civilians as a result of violent protests that only reinforced the distorted image of Islam as a religion of violence and intolerance. It portrays the vicious face of a religion that was supposed to be a religion of peace and compassion.
When one observes the discourse closely, one will find that what underlies the narrative is a sense of defeat and insecurity upon being overwhelmed by what is often broadly termed as “the West”. This sentiment is an obvious continuation of an earlier resentment against Western colonialism, which almost all Muslim-majority countries today experienced in one form or another. Daily life in the age of globalisation too has seen an increase of presence by Western products as well as political and cultural values. Geopolitically, the presence of Western military forces in Muslim countries is all too apparent and overwhelming.
All this has somehow been viewed by Muslims as a sign that Islam is left behind, in one way or another, as a civilisation. That in turn further reinforces the anxiety of powerlessness before fearful imaginations of a monolithic behemoth called “the West”. From there, everything Islamic is juxtaposed against it, giving rise to a mood of scepticism against anything and everything that comes from the so-called “West”.
Towards openness and dialogue
But the situation is not that simple. While there has been much decline in science and learning in the Muslim world, which is undeniably tied to a history of colonial exploitation, Muslims must learn to take responsibility for the course of their own progress. Thus, rather than to recoil in defensiveness against everything Western or offensive, there must be instead, an attitude of critical reflection and openness to ideas.
Progress requires freedom, for no genuine learning can proceed when power is imposed from without on what can be said and heard. To embrace this is not to embrace or justify Islamophobic or racist sentiments. It is rather to affirm that racist or Islamophobic sentiments are best dealt with through dialogue, learning and empathy rather than brute force or coercion.
Hate must be combated. Oppression must end. But Muslims will only fail themselves if they proceed in a stupor of insecurity and anger.
Islam is a religion of patience and compassion
There is nothing in Islam that says hate must be combated with more hate. Recall, when the Prophet Muhammad was just beginning his mission, a woman placed faeces at his door in hatred of Islam. Muhammad endured the humiliation peacefully, neither choosing to retaliate in anger or violence, to exemplify that ethos of calm and compassion that defined the eventual success of Islam in Mecca.
Conservative Muslims tend to regard such instances as inevitable given that Muslims did not get in power until Medina, but they forget the historical fact that it was Muhammad’s exemplary character as a clear-headed leader in Mecca that compelled the Medinans to turn to him as an arbiter and leader for their fragmented city in the first place.
Calm and compassion needed in Malaysia too
Yesterday, thousands gathered outside Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru and the US Embassy to protest the “Innocence of Muslims”. Interestingly this saw members of the Islamist party (PAS) and the main ruling Malay party (Umno) marching for a similar cause for once, even prompting the Umno Youth chief to invite PAS to join the ruling coalition.
It is too early to say if this will lead to anything but it does reveal again an age-old fact about Malay politics, namely in how the vagueness of “Malay and Muslim unity” is used as a pretext to overlook other more concerned issues, such as socio-economic justice and multiracial solidarity. Emotions and passions reign ahead of clear-headed rationale and human values.
The Islamic Renaissance Front once again calls for all Muslims to focus on the central agenda of Islam and that is the end of oppression and the establishment of a just society whereby all citizens irrespective of race and creed are treated equally. Enough lives, time and effort have been wasted over this film. It is time to move on and wake up.
* This Islamic Renaissance Front statement carries the names of Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Ahmad Fuad Rahmad, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Rizqi Mukhriz and Ehsan Shahwahid.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.