posted 2012-10-05 22:00:56

Anti-Islam Movie Prompts Mindfulness

Tolerance over violence 

Shabnaj Chowdhury

Contributing Writer

As the world witnessed mass outrage throughout the Middle East due to the crude, stereotypical anti-Islam YouTube movie “The Innocence of Muslims,” people were confronted again with questions concerning America’s turbulent relationship with Arab nations, our rights to free speech and in consequence hate speech, and the continuing desensitization to the fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam.

There’s no doubt that when Sam Bacile produced the highly offensive, historically and factually inaccurate movie, he was looking to set off a reaction and provoke rage. He indisputably succeeded, as protests have risen in over 20 nations, including Tunisia, Egypt and Iran. The raiding of U.S embassies in Cairo and Yemen, and the subsequent deaths of innocent Americans including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens, all added fuel to the pre-existing tensions between the U.S and the Middle-East.

President Obama attempted damage control by denouncing the video as “an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.” However, he maintained that Americans’ right to free speech, embedded in our first amendment, was to persist, by stating that “efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.” Before getting to the justifications of these riots, (and there aren’t any), could we possibly expect these uprising countries to understand and accept our right to free speech? If not, is it wise or worth the trouble to defend the reprehensible and provocative movie when the situation is so tense?

As a firm believer of free speech, it takes a lot out of me to shrug off this ludicrous effort to dehumanize my spirit as a Muslim-American. I’m not insulted by the overtly transparent ignorance of the movie, because it doesn’t diminish who Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was, or what Islam is. Nobody and nothing could, nor should, have that strong of an influence. A couple of years ago, one of the Islamic world’s greatest theologians, Nasr Hamid Abu Zyad said, “Why should we feel danger from anything? Thousands of books are written against Muhammad. Thousands of books are written against Jesus. OK, all these thousands of books did not destroy the faith.” Though the movie evidently exhibits hate speech and hate towards Muslims while cowering behind freedom of speech, the best reaction would have been to ignore it completely, as it does not obliterate the faith.

The point of the movie was to incite a response that would prove Muslims to be savage, uncouth warmongers who operate on fits of violence while ironically claiming peace. But I won’t buy into it. This pathetic attempt to uphold antiquated Muslim-hating stereotypes will not merit my anger. In fact, I will reserve my anger where anger is due, and that is towards the protesters who are unwittingly playing into the hand of the provokers. My anger is at the riots and at those who are manipulating simple-minded people into defending the Prophet in ways that would offend the Prophet.

Despite the influx of increased pressure between the Middle East and the US, and the first amendment being an apparatus for hate speech, I’m mostly disheartened that the movie is taken as both truth and propaganda by minds that are too uninformed or fickle to know better. Unfortunately, people like Bacile and Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who provoked international controversy by burning copies of the Quran, have a tremendous impact on religious tolerance. Islamophobia is alive and well in our nation, and the ignorance level regarding Islam is astounding. It is important that we don’t display fury, but rather, approach the situation justly to educate the ignorant with the truth. In response to the movie, an organization called Discover Islam UK distributed over 110, 000 copies of a translated Qur’an and The Life of the Prophet Muhammad for the citizens of London to read and make judgments for themselves. This is the kind of method which we should use to propagate the truth. This is the humility that we, Muslims, should inspire.

A group called Muslims for Progressive Values keenly noted a story in Islamic tradition, called a hadith, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was scorned and ridiculed by a woman who tossed garbage at him and went as far as to heave manure at his head as he prayed. However, he never responded with anger or violence, but rather with tolerance and patience. And when the Prophet noticed the absence of this woman who would torment him, he visited her home to find that she was sick and wished her well.

The actions of the extremists today are not reflective on Islamic teachings. Anyone who knows the facts and is knowledgeable about Islam is aware of that. I encourage those who are privy to Islam to help discern the truth and decrease senseless hate, and to never allow discrimination against followers of any religious group. We must openly incite the spread of religious tolerance, both as a nation and as human beings.