Category: EDL News Published on Sunday, 16 September 2012 17:29 Written by Pyrus Hits: 5512
For some, the memory of how the Muslim world responded to a Danish newspaper’s decision to print cartoons of the prophet Mohammed appears to have faded – which may well explain their shock that a short, low-budget film by an unknown amateur American filmmaker could have somehow managed to provoke such rage.
But the memory’s clearly fresh enough for most people to conclude that Muslims really need to ‘chill out’ (in the words of a work colleague I overheard this week).
Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. However offensive the film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ may be (I lasted about two minutes before concluding that it wasn’t worth watching a lot more), it couldn’t really be accused of much more than causing offence. It didn’t incite violence, it didn’t endorse terrorism – you know, the sort of things that the Muslim world really ought to get round to protesting about. What it did do was criticise, insult and ridicule.
No one’s claiming that the film wasn’t offensive – that was no doubt its intent. And few would claim that the intimidation and violence perpetrated by Muslim ‘protestors’ could in any way be justified. But the overwhelming press reaction appears to have been to obsess about the multitude of different ways in which they could condemn the ‘anti-Islamic’ video whilst saying very little about why it has provoked such an extreme reaction.
Condemning both the “disgusting and reprehensible” video and the violent reaction (thank you Hilary Clinton) is considered to be a ‘balanced’ response to the controversy. But what is it most important to condemn? Someone who puts offensive content on YouTube or the literally thousands of people who think that violence is justified in response?
Go too far in condemning the ‘hate speech’ that ‘provoked’ the riots and you end up getting dangerously close to implying that you think the ‘protestors’ really might have a point. Even if they’re not burning flags or attacking Westerners, do we really think that mass protests are justified? Is this really a proportionate response?
Some commentators have done their best to argue that the real story here is that the Muslim world isn’t particularly good at cherishing freedom of speech. Even in Britain we know that the Muslim community isn’t always particularly receptive to criticism, so we should certainly be looking at ways to change that. But while these are important points (more important than appearing to be ‘balanced’), I think the reaction of the Muslim world can be broken down a little further.
Despite wholeheartedly condemning the violence, many Muslims still regard the film in question as an ‘attack’ on their religion (in a similar way to the Mohammed cartoons). Of course, in a way, it is. But your or my beliefs will be ‘attacked’ every single day. I wasn’t particularly happy when Muslim extremists burned a poppy on Armistice Day, but you didn’t see me torching the local mosque in response.
I’m also not particularly happy when I see ‘protestors’ burning either of our flags either. The flags of our nation mean far more to me than any religious text, so surely my reaction to seeing someone burning the flag of St George should be on a par with how Muslims would react to seeing someone set fire to a copy of the Qur’an…. right?
The problem here isn’t that religious views are given some kind of protection that isn’t afforded to political or other deeply held beliefs (look at how Christians are being treated at the moment). It’s more a case of our being terrified to question or criticise anyone that the political establishment has decided is part of a ‘sensitive minority’. They’re due respect, we’re told. Period. But if the community in question happens to be particularly sensitive, while at the same time continuing to harbour extremism and doing an awfully good job of making the need for criticism all the more pressing… well then we have a problem.
Common courtesy and a generous helping of human decency are due to everyone. But respect has to be earned. Somehow it seems our politicians managed to forget this important distinction. Islam, we’re told, is due respect. But what has it ever done to earn it? At the very least, it should be able to accept criticism without recourse to violence. It should be able to reform, to modernise and, ultimately, to learn how to take a joke.
So when I hear Muslims condemning the violence but claiming that the film was still ‘an attack on Islam’ I really have to wonder what that means. If violence is off the cards how then should they respond to ‘an attack on Islam’? Should views that they find offensive be censored or even criminalised? Unfortunately you can still find that someone may well abhor violence but still be incredibly intolerant of views they consider offensive, blasphemous or ‘anti-Islamic’.
Another recent news story that brings this into sharp focus is the reaction to historian Tom Holland’s ‘Islam: The Untold Story’ which was recently broadcast on Channel 4. The documentary attracted a lot of criticism from various Muslim groups, but also a flood of complaints from ordinary Muslims. In particular, the complainers seemed to take issue with the programme’s portrayal of Islam as a ‘made up religion’.
As an atheist I think that calling a religion ‘made up’ is stating the obvious. An atheist is someone who, by definition, believes that religious texts are not the work of the Almighty or the result of divine inspiration. If the Qur’an wasn’t actually written by Allah and ‘revealed’ to Mohammed then of course it was ‘made up’. I happen to find the questions of how and why quite interesting, which is why I watched the documentary.
But, of course, I didn’t need to watch the documentary to come to the conclusion that the Qur’an might not be the most reliable source when it comes to ascertaining its own reliability. What we actually know for certain about Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, is shrouded in mystery. Muslims may claim that we actually know a lot more than the documentary claimed, but how much of that is just their wanting to believe? After all, what Muslim isn’t convinced that Allah exists?
As an atheist it’s easy to be dismissive. But the important point is this: since when was simply failing to believe in religion a controversial position? Of course I don’t believe in the claims that the Qur’an makes because I don’t believe that it is what it says it is (the word of God). Even if I don’t ridicule some of its ridiculous claims, even if I don’t describe the ‘prophet’ it describes as little more than a vicious warlord, does merely demonstrating some level of scepticism about the accuracy of Islamic scripture mean that I hold views that are ‘anti-Islamic’?
As it happens, I believe that the character of Mohammed may or may not have existed. If he did, I find it highly unlikely that he was anything like the character described in Islamic scripture and, of course, I take it as given that he wasn’t a prophet of God.
If that view is ‘controversial’ or couldn’t safely be expressed on television without the unlucky broadcaster receiving a torrent of complaints then what on earth would happen if I actually began criticising Islam or its supposed prophet?
Whether or not Mohammed existed may be an interesting topic for scholars, but what most people are more interested in is what needs to happen to stop Muslims getting it into their heads that their religion commands them to strap bombs to their bodies or fly aeroplanes into buildings. Or, more to the point, what needs to happen to stop Muslims engaging in an orgy of destruction whenever they manage to come across something they find offensive?
We could do all we can to make sure we never do anything to offend anybody ever again. Or we could all learn a valuable lesson: the more the Muslim world responds to being offended with violence and extremism, the more criticisms we will be forced to make, and the greater potential for causing more ‘offence’.
It’s time Islam began to accept that it must tolerate criticism. And it’s time our leaders realised that they must not be afraid to make these criticisms. The fear of ‘causing offence’ cannot be an excuse.