Not So In­no­cent

“The In­no­cence of Mus­lims,” an am­a­teur anti-Is­lam film, gen­er­ated mass protests across the Mid­dle East and South Asia, jeop­ar­diz­ing U.S as­sets abroad. But did Mus­lims re­spond to a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy?

Southasia - - International - By Arsla Jawaid Arsla Jawaid is As­sis­tant Ed­i­tor at SouthA­sia. A Bos­ton Univer­sity grad­u­ate, she holds a Bach­e­lors de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, with a fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity stud­ies.

All it takes is a car­toon, an am­a­teur film or a piece of lit­er­a­ture to rile up Mus­lims around the world and pro­voke them to con­gre­gate in the form of vi­o­lent street protests. From Libya to Sri Lanka and many Mus­lim nations in be­tween, vi­o­lent up­ris­ings against a small bud­get, am­a­teur film ti­tled, “The In­no­cence of Mus­lim” that made a mock­ery of the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH), erupted si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

The film made by one Nak­oula Bas­se­ley, who pro­duced the film un­der his alias Sam Bacille, re­mains a du­bi­ous char­ac­ter. Ini­tially be­lieved to be an Is­raeli, Jewish ci­ti­zen, Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties ve­he­mently re­jected all re­ports claim­ing that they could not find any records of this 55 year old man’s cit­i­zen­ship. Though “Bacille” went into hid­ing fol­low­ing the mass protests in the Mid­dle East, U.S au­thor­i­ties were able to track him down and un­cover nu­mer­ous other aliases link­ing him to a 2010 fed­eral bank fraud.

But what­ever the iden­tity of the pro­ducer, the very fact that a crude, dis­gust­ing film was able to pro­duce a vi­o­lent re­ac­tion throughout the Mus­lim world says lit­tle for Is­lam. Protests erupted in Egypt trig­ger­ing a domino ef­fect with Libya see­ing the worst of them all. Young pro­tes­tors, mostly men, stormed the U.S em­bassy with the episode end­ing with the tragic killing of U.S Am­bas­sador to Libya, Christo­pher Stevens and three other Em­bassy staff. As U.S flags were burnt, anti-Amer­i­can­ism reached its peak.

South Asia, the hub of volatile andd sen­si­tivei i ac­tiv­ity,i i off course gave the Mid­dle East a run for its money. Afghanistan and Sri Lanka both saw street protests that sub­se­quently dis­persed af­ter a few hours. Bangladesh il­lus­trated a slightly more vi­o­lent re­ac­tion but that too was quelled by po­lice forces. In Pak­istan as al­ways, the game was dif­fer­ent. While street protests were launched, the gov­ern­ment went one step fur­ther and de­clared a na­tional hol­i­day to mark a “Love the Prophet Day” in hopes that pro­tes­tors would prac­tice tol­er­ance and peace; per­haps too much to ex­pect from a largely il­lit­er­ate coun­try with strong right-wing, con­ser­va­tive el­e­ments at play. Ur­ban cen­ters around the coun­try burned as pro­tes­tors set cars and po­lice sta­tions on fire, burnt Amer­i­can flags and ef­fi­gies of Pres­i­dent Obama and Pres­i­dent Zar­dari. But that was not all. ATMs were robbed and shops were looted. Cinema halls were burnt down but not be­fore pro­tes­tors man­aged to clean the vend­ing ma­chines of all soft drinks. As the mob grew, young men in beards united with those in t-shirts yet hardly any­one could re­ally de­fine why they were plun­der­ing their own coun­try. Few had heard of the film while even fewer had seen a pre­view. In the name of Is­lam, ag­i­tated and vi­o­lent pro­tes­tors de­fended their Prophet’s honor in a way that the Prophet him­self would have con­demned it. Lov­ing and re­spect­ing the Prophet Mo­hammed (PBUH) does not re­quire a day of street protests but rather a life­time of em­u­lat­ing his jus­tice, pa­tience, re­solve, courage and in­ter-faith har­mony. In the realm of mind­less vi­o­lence, it seemed then that san­ity was lost along with a true un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam.

While the U.S gov­ern­ment des­per-- ately­ately is­sued ad­verts and bought air-air­timei on Pk­iPak­istanii chan­nelsh l to ex­press their non-in­volve­ment from the movie, their ef­forts fell on deaf ears. An an­tiIs­lam film pro­duced by a U.S ci­ti­zen and filmed in Amer­ica is au­to­mat­i­cally as­sumed to ap­pear with the tacit bless­ings of the United States since few un­der­stand that we to­day live in a world where in­for­ma­tion can­not be con­trolled or mon­i­tored. The film was pro­duced by a sin­gle Amer­i­can and as the case de­vel­ops, even its ac­tors were duped into be­liev­ing that they were shoot­ing a reg­u­lar doc­u­men­tary, hav­ing ab­so­lutely no clue that it would be dubbed, re-edited and tam­pered to serve as an anti-Is­lamic film.

While anger and frus­tra­tion with such hate speech is jus­ti­fied, the acts of vi­o­lence are not. Reli­gious sen­si­tivi- tyty is tightly tied to na­tion­al­ism in many parts off theh world;ld a con­cept thath UU.S cit­i­zens must un­der­stand and re­spect. How­ever, plun­der­ing one’s own coun­try will not hurt any­one but its own cit­i­zens. No one is ask­ing for Mus­lims to ig­nore such a bla­tant as­sault on the Prophet but it would per­haps be worth our time to chan­nel that anger into a more con­struc­tive di­rec­tion and prac­tice re­straint and tol­er­ance: in­ci­den­tally two traits that a peace-lov­ing re­li­gion like Is­lam im­presses upon its fol­low­ers.

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