“Innocence of Muslims” – Taking the Bait and Having a Field Day

14 09 2012

Writing on flags say: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”

No one has learned anything from past lessons.  The senseless violence snowballing throughout the Muslim world, supposedly in reaction to an amateurish 14-minute YouTube trailer for a film that no one can find in full length, is a stain on the 21st century.  The news media are presenting the cause of the violence as solely stemming from the anti-Islamic film, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.  However, there is much more behind the causal factors of this epidemic violence than the simplistic headlines convey.  Here are some variables, based on my assessment, pertaining to this outbreak of violence, and all of them are interrelated:

  • Genuine emotions
  • Extremists Pulling Strings and Having a Field Day
  • 9/11 Timing
  • Grievances against People’s Governments
  • Taking the Bait

No doubt, many Muslims are expressing genuine hurt feelings and passionate emotions in reaction to insults and offenses targeting Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam, in the film trailer.  If we look back at the Salman Rushdie affair in the 1980s, we see that such sensitivities have not changed, and on the part of more orthodox and conservative Muslims, they have only intensified.  In addition, this film comes in a long series of anti-Islam expressions, like the Danish cartoons, the threat of Quran burning by Terry Jones, the accidental Qurans burned in Afghanistan, etc.  These recent incidents have only reinforced the narrative among many Muslims that the West is against Islam and permits such offenses with impunity.  That’s the perception fueling the anger and hatred.  Yet, there is no condemnation of killings in response to these perceived offenses, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh, for example.  Objective parity is not part of the narrative in this case.

Such hurt feelings and anger never justify the violence and vandalism that the recent protests have generated.  In the big picture, so many films, TV shows, art exhibits, and popular culture programs and performances have insulted Christianity and other religions.  Consider “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “South Park,” and “Monty Python,” to name a few, which are film producers and programs that have repeatedly ridiculed Christianity and other faiths with the sharpest irreverence and mockery, yet we never see violent reactions to them.

Among Islam’s ultra-orthodox and extremist elements, resorting to violence and calling for the death of the offenders are all too quick to the draw.  No one seems to pause and consider the consequences and damage to Islam’s image as a whole, as they become so consumed by their emotions and hatred.  There have been calls for peaceful protests by some, but mob mentality is hard to control especially once it gets out of hand.

This brings me to extremists pulling strings behind the scenes and having a field day.  Undoubtedly, extremist leaders at local levels see an opportunity in manipulating and exploiting the emotions and passions of the masses, especially those who embrace common extremist ideologies.  It is no coincidence that the attacks on the US consulate in Libya and the US embassy in Egypt fell on September 11th, which reinforces the theory that there is more to this violent fervor than just emotive reactions to the offensive film, which most protesters have not even seen (and for the record, the trailer is not worth one’s precious time).  Some analysts are also pointing to the revenge factor, especially in the case of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his security detail.  In June Al Qaeda’s number two leader in Yemen was killed, and he happened to be Libyan.

Furthermore, the extremist Islamists are dismayed at being sidelined and even delegitimized upon the 2011 uprisings and revolutions that toppled decades-long secular dictatorships.  For just as long, these extremist groups spread throughout the region, although small in numbers, were forced to operate underground.  Once the revolutions took place last year through mostly nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, the extremists had the rug pulled from under them.  Even the Islamist parties that have come to power following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have to balance their respective Islamism with moderate secular and liberal ideals and policies.  This also angers the extremists, who feel that these Islamist governments are “too soft” in their Islamism.  Particularly in the case of Egypt and Sudan, Islamist hardliners are pressuring the governments to capitulate on some of their demands to implement stricter Shariah rules and policies.  These Islamists constitute major political constituents in some cases, and so the governments cannot be seen as leaning too much toward secularism and liberalism.

Similarly, the protesters, especially the young men, continue to hold grievances against their own governments for failing to meet their needs, especially providing jobs and a better future for the next generation.  Thus, woven into this discontent about the anti-Islam film are the underlying grievances against respective governments, especially for socioeconomic reasons.  Change is not occurring fast enough for many, and this has been an opportunity to express their multi-layered anger.

Anti-Western and especially anti-American sentiments are also being exploited by various elements.  Many people in the region, but certainly not all, see Western values, especially freedom of expression, as “boundary-less,” meaning that these freedoms and rights have no limits.  This is not exactly true, because we have laws against “hate speech” and of course the exception to the First Amendment right to free speech and expression exists for the sake of public order and safety, prohibiting incitement of violence.  The “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” phrase aptly describes this exception.

But, most people in the region are not aware of these provisions and exceptions.  They simply see that an American national has funded and produced this vile film, and that the US government should take action against such offenses, and place boundaries or “reasonable limits” on free speech and expression.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have unequivocally condemned this film, as well as the violence in the Muslim world.  But, they have no authority to undo the constitutional laws that grant all Americans First Amendment rights and freedoms.  The First Amendment embodies the fabric of American values, and, by the way, it also grants everyone the freedom of religion.  We should never compromise on that.

The last few days have been extremely sad, tragic, and disheartening.  Too many breaches have occurred, including the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.  Also, the loss of life of protesters is, in my opinion, such a waste.

According to a Reuters article (9/14/2012), entitled “Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over Film” –

“At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.”

The article also explains the balancing act that Egypt’s President Mursi must play regarding the Cairo protests and US relations (Egypt is the second highest recipient of US foreign aid):

“Mursi must tread a line between appealing to an electorate receptive to the appeal of more hardline Islamists and maintaining ties with Washington, which long funded the ousted military dictatorship.”

The Salafists are involved in most if not all of these violent protests.  I have repeatedly written about the dangers of Salafists, even in Tunisia, as the Reuters article describes:

“Further west along the Mediterranean, a Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell an assault in which protesters forced their way past police into the U.S. embassy in Tunis. Some smashed windows, others hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside the embassy and started fires. One threw a computer from a window, others looted computers and telephones.

A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. Two armed Americans in uniform stood on a roof.

The protesters, many of whom were followers of hardline Salafist Islamist leaders, also set fire to the nearby American School, which was closed at the time, and took away laptops. The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook by Islamist activists and endorsed by militants.”

This is shameful, disgusting, and criminal behavior, not much different in measure than the film producer, and in fact is even worse because lives have been lost.

This behavior also exhibits extreme immaturity at so many levels.  Islam is the youngest of the Judeo-Christian faiths, and its internal ideologies and diverse compositions and manifestations are still evolving.  As one student put it, Christianity used to be very puritanical, with the Inquisition, the Crusades, witch-burnings, and the like.  Islam is going through its phases and evolutions as well, some aspects of which are still very medieval in their outlook.  It’s imperative for the world’s Muslims to reconcile the internal conflicts and facilitate enlightenment and stamp out the extremist ideologies that are so harmful.  Puritanism serves no purpose, especially in the modern era.  It is extremely counterproductive and threatens regional and global peace and security.

Another point for the Muslim world to ponder is this:  given all the anti-Americanism and knee-jerk emotional and violent reactions that we’ve been witnessing throughout the Muslim world, Western powers will think twice before helping Muslims again, and that might include the opposition in Syria.

Finally, why people continue to take the bait is beyond comprehension.  Clearly, this film was intended to provoke anger and emotions.  Yet, it seems that repeatedly Muslims fail to transcend the temptations to react, especially so destructively.  Consider that the Prophet Muhammad’s own reputation and character should speak for himself.  Does he really need people to defend his name violently?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  It only gives perpetual license to the world’s provocateurs, who are probably rolling on the ground laughing, at the expense of global peace.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views

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Holocaust Denial versus “Insulting” the Prophet Muhammad

11 02 2012

I am terribly annoyed by something I am seeing in online comments about the issue of and punishments for “blasphemy” in Islam, as compared to “censorship” against Holocaust denial.  The debate is in reference to the 23-year-old Saudi journalist, Hamza Kashgari, who is about to be extradited from Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia to face punishment (possible death) for tweeting comments that have been perceived by many as “insulting to the Prophet” and blasphemous.

I’m annoyed by the comparison because the analogy is completely illogical and offensive.  Let’s analyze this:  denying the well documented slaughter of 6 million Jews, non-Jews, gypsies, the disabled, nonconformists, and homosexuals by the Nazis, as compared to the words of a young man that are subjectively perceived as “insulting” to a mortal man (Muslims are quick to remind everyone that the Prophet was a mortal man), who died in the year 632 A.D. – Really, does that make any sense?

The Nazis killed millions, plunging Europe into a horrific set of wars and atrocities, and occupied free lands in their neighborhood while imposing a rabid, terrifying fascist ideology on everyone, and anyone who did not embrace it faced death; the Nazis also conveniently created scapegoats for their sinister agendas.

Hamza Kashgari has harmed absolutely no one.  He has committed no crime.  He is only 23, and has his whole life ahead of him.  And, he apologized for and retracted the comments he tweeted.

There is NO balance in the argument that intolerance of Holocaust denial equals the perceived gravity of the subjective comments (words, no less) of one individual towards another (deceased) individual.  That is a ridiculous argument.  I am not discounting what the person of the Prophet means to Muslims, but the analogy still defies logic.

And, as much as Nazi ideology is considered repulsive, the right of Neo-Nazis to demonstrate in public is still upheld as a First Amendment right in the US.

I counted at least 12 reports of Neo-Nazi public marches in the US in the year 2011 alone, and I didn’t even get through the entire list.  In my search I also saw numerous references to “Nazi terrorist groups” and how law enforcement in the US and Europe is trying to crack down on them.  This is not because of Holocaust denial, but because some of them are truly violent, targeting minority groups, attacking and in some cases killing them.

And as much as censorship is repulsive to First Amendment loyalists like me, I can still understand, as a political scientist, why Germany has to uphold a law that prohibits Holocaust denial.  Look at the context, that’s where Nazism was born.  Not only does Germany feel guilt for that, but also bears a responsibility never to allow such violent hate-mongers to rise again.  It’s too bad that it infringes on the rights of average citizens, but nonetheless, German sensitivities are understandable in this context.

So, back to Holocaust denial, which seems to be the default argument that many grab onto, how would you like it if the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were denied?  How about the genocides in Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, Rwanda, and let’s throw Libya in the list, since the entire R2P mandate was invoked to prevent a “genocide” at the hands of Qaddafi – what if all of these well documented cases were denied?  Not only do such denials fail to disprove that these atrocities actually occurred, but such denials are also offensive.  But yet, we don’t hear about anyone lobbing death threats at someone who has denied the Holocaust, even though it’s terribly offensive.

Hamza Kashgari, on the other hand, has received thousands of death threats (see my earlier posting “Saudi Specter in Syria” for more details about Kashgari’s tweets).  According to the Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 10) –

Kashgari’s harassment is not out of the blue, nor, apparently, based on these tweets alone. He has been the target of religious Twitter users for months. ‘Public shaming through hashtags is now a common Saudi pressure tactic, especially against public officials and government scandals,’ said his friend.

Saudi Arabia‘s information minister has commanded that no one publish any of Kashgari’s writings. Prior to this incident, he was a columnist with al-Bilad, a newspaper based in the eastern city of Jeddah.

‘I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write anything and we will take legal measures against him.’

Gee, that sounds a lot like religious fascism to me!  In case you’re wondering, this is how the dictionary defines fascism:  “A governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing aggressive nationalism and often racism.”  We can certainly throw “religious intolerance” into that description, especially when it comes to the Saudi regime (and we can’t ignore the Iranian regime – e.g., Rushdie death sentence in the 1980s).

If you want to deny the Holocaust, knock yourself out.  I can practically guarantee that you will not receive any death threats for it.  But, just don’t presume that Holocaust denial and blasphemy in Islam are issues of equal measure, because they definitely are not.

Muslims who espouse death for “blasphemy” and “apostasy” – all highly subjective notions – need to transcend the Medieval Europe mindset.  Otherwise, the world will see them as having no value for human life, and will only reinforce the terrible negative stereotypes that already exist about Islam and Muslims.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





The Saudi Specter in Syria and the World

10 02 2012

My recent post about Syria, the Russian bear, and Iran passionately describes the plight of innocent civilians being killed in Syria.  While my supportive sentiments for the human rights of Syrians remain steadfast, there are some developments and stories within the stories that are not reaching the mainstream press, and are alarming signs that Syria may be spiraling into another Lebanon (i.e., the civil war in Lebanon, 1975-1990).

One of these signs is the sectarian strife, where reports about Sunnis and Alawites targeting each other, as well as kidnapping for ransom and release of detainees, are surfacing.  Of course, the Assad regime itself has most likely intensified such sectarianism, but nonetheless, the fierce sectarian violence witnessed in the Lebanese civil war is a potential scenario in today’s Syria.  I have already seen at least one anti-Shiite posting on Facebook in reference to Syria.

This brings me to the other specter pertaining to Syria:  the Saudis, with their Wahhabi and very anti-Shiite (read “anti-Iran”) agenda for the region.  No one should be surprised with Saudi propositions for the need to end the slaughter in Syria.  But, we should read between the lines very carefully, considering the source.  Al Arabiya quotes Saudi King Abdullah as calling for “‘critical measures’ to be taken on Syria, warning of an impending ‘humanitarian disaster’.”

Uh-huh.  This is the same Saudi monarch who sent tanks and troops into Bahrain and viciously cracked down on and killed and abused countless civilians to quell the uprising there.  But you see, the Bahraini protesters were mostly Shiites, and once the dust settled in Pearl Square, Shiite shrines were systematically bulldozed.  Starting to see the picture folks?

In my book, the Saudi “government” is never sincere about humanitarian issues.  Look at their own track record inside the kingdom; it’s the epitome of intolerance.  The Saudis are one of the creators of the Taliban, and the supporters and exporters of the most intolerant, ultra-orthodox / literalist, violent, misogynist, and militancy-inspiring ideology in the world, that is, Wahhabism.

If you have any doubts about the Saudis’ human rights track record, go to the Human Rights Watch website and read the country report on Saudi Arabia (http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia).  And, here is another example of Saudi intolerance, reported in David Keyes’ article in the Washington Post (Feb. 9):

“Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

‘On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,’ he wrote in one tweet. ‘I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.’

Another reads: ‘No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’

The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. ‘I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,’ he said. ‘Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.’

… Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government’s repressive policies. ‘It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.’

The young writer surmised that the threats against him were, in part, a result of the tens of millions of dollars the Saudi king allotted to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in the past few months and are terrified of the ascent of Crown Prince Naif, who has served as interior minister for decades.”

Reports are indicating that Saudi King Abdullah has personally demanded Kashgari’s arrest.  If Kashgari is extradited, he faces the possibility of execution for blasphemy.  This is coming from a strong US ally.

All of this does not in any way exonerate the crimes of the Assad regime.  But, we must remain vigilant about scrutinizing sources of information and news, and read between the lines when heads of state in the region so vociferously call for action to help the Syrian civilians.  Clearly, they have their own agendas, and that couldn’t be more the case when it comes to the Saudi king.  Hypocrisy, intolerance, and systematic anti-Shiite agendas constitute the Saudi specter concerning Syria.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.