Over the past few days, we have witnessed yet another act of uncalled provocation and repulsive assault on what Muslims hold dear – the final Messenger of Allah, Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. The reaction from Muslims, as expected, has been one of utter disgust, anger and frustration. From Indonesia and Bangladesh, North Africa and Middle East to Europe, Muslims have protested against this latest caricature and distasteful depiction of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. The film, 'Innocence of Muslims', essentially depicts Islam as a religion of violence and hate and Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم as sexually perverse, a blood thirsty and power hungry man. It dishonours Khadija (ra) and further depicts the beloved Companions of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم as savage killers, hungry for wealth and bent on killing women and children. Such repulsive portrayal of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and his Companions has outraged even many non-Muslims, who condemned this film.
There are, ironically, a minority of Muslims who, predominantly due to vested interests and infatuation with their liberal masters, have chosen to condemn the protesters for protesting against this film. One such comment said,"How can we expect non-Muslims to believe that Islam is a religion of peace, when Muslim mobs around the world make liars of us all, Muhammad included?" Such self-hating Muslims fail to address the real issues at hand and instead turn the table against the victims rather than the perpetrators.
This article explores the real motives behind this type of gratuitous attacks on Islam and its sensitivities. It examines the historic context of Western cultural aggression against Islam and how it has evolved into the 21st century. Finally, it concludes by explaining what practical actions Muslims should undertake in the face of such provocation, which has become all too common these days.
The 'War on Terror' (aka War against Islam)
This film should not be viewed in isolation to the West's war against Islam, which has manifested in the past decade differently across the world, namely, as military invasion, e.g. in Iraq and Afghanistan; as proxy war, e.g. in Somalia and Sudan; as diplomatic and economic aggression, e.g. in Iran and as intellectual and cultural aggression, e.g. in the West against their own populations.
Although the history of Western attacks did not begin with 9/11, the intellectual and cultural aggression has intensified in the past decade and the West's bigotry against Islam has become ever more apparent, as though there is now a competition amongst the 'Islam-bashers' about who could win the trophy for being most daring and vociferous in their hateful anti-Islamic inventions.
Just to name a few, the Danish cartoon caricatures of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم were published in 2006, followed in 2010 by a Florida preacher, Terry Jones, who called for the burning of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and in February 2012, US soldiers at Bagram prison in Afghanistan burned 315 copies of the Quran and other religious materials. All of these had similarly outraged Muslims around the globe.
Western sponsored demonization
Since the release of Innocence of Muslims, American politicians have made token gestures, supposedly condemning the filmmakers. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the film which gave rise to the protests as "disgusting" and "reprehensible". As though the US was granting a favour towards Muslims, the White House merely "asked" YouTube to "consider" whether the film breaches its own guidelines but Google, which owns YouTube, said in a statement that the video was "clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube". Yet, Muslims perceive such hollow statements as meaningless, especially when viewed in the context of the West's aggressive history vis-à-vis Islam.
Whether or not directly sponsored by Western states, such provocative misadventures by Western groups or individuals are far from autonomous acts. Clearly, such perpetrators receive tacit support and ideological encouragement to carry out these provocative deeds. Bred on a daily diet of hatred and propaganda that seek to malign Islam and Muslims, there is no doubt in the minds of Muslims that these perpetrators are sponsored by the West directly or indirectly. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says,
قَدْ بَدَتِ الْبَغْضَاءُ مِنْ أَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَمَا تُخْفِي صُدُورُهُمْ أَكْبَرُ
"Hatred has appeared out of their mouths, but what their breasts hide is far worse." [Surah Al-Imran, 3:118]
The West's history of bigotry and vilification
A cursory examination of the history of the West demonstrates that hatred towards Islam has been propagated for centuries. Although historically the Anglo-French colonialists had spearheaded the West's attacks against Islam, this agenda was adopted by the US since the Second World War and today the US acts towards Islam just as her colonial predecessors did.
Much of today's discourse in the West vis-à-vis Islam has been shaped by the Orientalist tradition. Professor Edward Said (deceased) explored the depth of Western hatred towards the East, and Islam in particular, in some of his renowned books. This Orientalist tradition perceives and portrays Islam as a primitive and barbaric civilisation, which required subjugation and control. "Orientalism was itself a product of certain political forces and activities. Orientalism is a school of interpretation whose material happens to be the Orient [i.e. the East] its Civilisations, peoples, and localities". [Edward Said, Orientalism, 2003, Penguin Books, p-203]
The West's vilification is partly motivated by Islam's formidable challenge to the West's capitalist hegemony and partly by Islam's non-Christian roots. Hence, the West is trigger happy to depict Islam as the villain. In the context of the Orientalist intellectual discourse, "It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist and most totally ethnocentric... As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth and knowledge". [Said, Orientalism, p-204]
Insofar as the West was concerned, the East, and the Muslim world in particular, was a place of barbarity and backwardness. The Whiteman had a sense of duty and mission to civilise such people and in the case of the Ottoman state, the Whiteman had a civilising program. "Since the Oriental was a member of a subject race, he had to be subjected: it was that simple". [Said, Orientalism, p-207]
In much of Western academic and intellectual discourse, there was a consensus that certain types of biased views, statements and comments regarding the East were correct and acceptable. As Said stated, "For most of the Middle Ages and during the early part of the Renaissance in Europe, Islam was believed to be a demonic religion of apostasy, blasphemy and obscurity ... Muhammad was a false prophet, a sower of discord, a sensualist, a hypocrite, an agent of devil". [Edward Said, Covering Islam, 1997, Vintage, p-5]
Islam's challenge to the West meant that the West, instead of understanding Islam and its message, consistently demonised it. As far as the West is concerned, "Other civilisations of the East – India and China among them – could be thought of as defeated and distant and hence not a constant worry. Only Islam seemed never to have submitted completely to the West". [Said, Covering Islam, p-5]
Such perceptions, coupled with the West's relentless search for external threats, make Islam the perfect enemy. The West has been facing socio-political and economic crises in the recent past, as exemplified by the current financial meltdown. Professor Noam Chomsky asserts that in the face of such domestic calamities, "You've got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this, they may not like it, since they are the ones suffering from it. Just having them watch the Superbowl and the sitcoms may not be enough ... Over the last ten years, every year or two, some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against. There used to be one that was always readily available". [Noam Chomsky, Media Control, 2002, Seven Stories Press, p-43]
Therefore, observers of today's Western vilification ought to take into account the above historical context to appreciate why the West demonises Islam. The West cannot deal with Islam intellectually and hence resorts to slander and vilification. Demonising Islam today helps the West to perpetuate its age-old enmity towards Islam whilst deflecting attention from its domestic woes and systemic breakdown.
Freedom of speech – a familiar tale of duplicity
The oft repeated mantra of free speech has been deployed to explain why Westerners are free to abuse and insult what others may hold dear. Just as liberals have become accustomed to ridiculing Christian symbols and characters, which Christianity now silently endures, such fanatic secularists expect the same response from Muslims when they abuse Islam. However, the West does not apply the same standard of free speech when it comes to its own sensitivities. Let us examine two contemporary examples, which occurred this week.
Topless pictures of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, have been printed in a number of European magazines and newspapers. The British Royal family adopted a hard-line stance, condemning such publishers and threatening them with legal action. On this occasion, freedom of expression vanished into thin air! No doubt, the publisher will be pursued in the courts shortly.
Similarly, it was reported by the BBC that a Muslim teenager from West Yorkshire, Azhar Ahmed, was convicted this week for making "offensive remarks" about British soldiers in Afghanistan. The judge said his comments were "derogatory" and "inflammatory". Once again, free speech could not protect Ahmed and the prosecutors did not afford Ahmed the same right to free speech.
Both of these examples demonstrate that freedom of expression is a convenient instrument the West deploys as and when necessary to achieve political aims. It is clear that every nation has sensitivities and redlines, upon which limits are imposed to protect such redlines. Alas, the West preaches to Muslims that which it does not practise at home!
The collusion of the rulers of the Muslim world
Whenever there is an unprovoked aggression against Islam and the Muslims, it is now an established practice that there is a stark contrast in reactions between the Muslim masses and their rulers, whether democrats or dictators. Whilst Muslims protest tirelessly, their rulers continue to wine and dine with Western leaders in a 'business as usual' like manner.
In this present uproar, not a single ruler has sincerely taken any steps to repel the current wave of aggression against Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. The president of Egypt, Muhammad Mursi, the so-called 'Islamist revolutionary', merely paid leap service by condemning this film. His prime minister, Hisham Qandil, said it was "unacceptable to insult our Prophet". However, far from taking any positive action or severing diplomatic relations, Hisham Qandil said, the link between the US and Egypt was "a relationship that we need to make stronger based on mutual interests and respect for sovereignty". Such comments from the rulers highlight the spineless nature of these rulers whose stance towards their colonial masters is a stark contrast to the masses who demand positive action. Little wonder that Muslims the world over feel that nobody represents their opinions.
It is evident that there is a historical context in which the present assault against Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم is taking place. It is further evident that the West applies duplicitous standards when it comes to their own sensitivities. However, we need to respond intellectually to these attacks whilst bearing in mind the following:
1. Islam is the truth and its intellectual strength has endured for centuries and will continue to do so. All manmade values are based on falsehood, destined to vanish. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says,
بَلْ نَقْذِفُ بِالْحَقِّ عَلَى الْبَاطِلِ فَيَدْمَغُهُ فَإِذَا هُوَ زَاهِقٌ ۚ وَلَكُمُ الْوَيْلُ مِمَّا تَصِفُونَ
"Rather We hurl the truth against falsehood and it cuts right through it and it vanishes clean away!" [Surah Anbiya, 21:18]
2. We must not compromise in our deen, as Allah سبحانه وتعالى warns us.
وَدُّوا لَوْ تَكْفُرُونَ كَمَا كَفَرُوا فَتَكُونُونَ سَوَاءً
"They would like you to be kafir as they are kafir so that you will all be the same." [Surah Nisa, 4:89]
3. Islam does not permit the destruction of property. We must continue to uphold the truth of Islam and promote its sublime values and message. However, our approach has to be candid, uncompromising and intelligent, just as Allah سبحانه وتعالى ordained for us,
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ
"Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way."[Surah An-Nahl, 16:125]
4. Western gratuitous aggression fuelled by malice against Islam, our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, his family members and Companions and the Quran is not tolerable. Whilst Muslims welcome sincere debate on all aspects of Islam, insincere assaults cannot be tolerated.
5. The West continues to prosecute wars in the Muslim world in the name of freedom and democracy. We need to absolutely reject such disgusting values which permit assaults on people's sensitivities. Moreover, we must reject those values which allow double standards.
6. The real criminals are the rulers of the Muslim world who are in collusion with their Western colonial masters. These rulers have sold Allah and His Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم decades ago and have no desire in upholding the deen of Islam. Moreover, they do not share the sentiments of the Muslim masses and only represent the Westernised elites.
7. As long as manmade systems prevail in the Muslim world, whether in the guise of "Islamic" democrats or secular dictators, Allah and His Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم would not be protected and Muslims and Islam will continue to be violated.
8. It is only a sincere Islamic leadership manifested through the Khilafah that can protect Islam and Muslims against repeated military and cultural aggression by the West. We must work for this cause and re-establish the Khilafah in the Muslim world.