By Asghar Ali Engineer
A Coptic American, extreme right winger and Islam hater made an anti-Islam film and put it on internet. Its reaction was very violent in the Muslim world beginning with Libya wherein an American ambassador Christopher Steve along with four other consulate staff was killed in violent demonstration. It was followed by violent demonstrations in Egypt, Yemen, and other places. Saudi Arabia which normally remains officially silent also had to strongly protest on Government level.
Of course some countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and others remained comparatively peaceful though signs of unrest are there in these countries too. In other words the countries covered by Arab Spring were mostly affected. And on this occasion a private agency in Iran once again renewed the prize offer (with increased amount of 3.3 million dollar) on Rushdie’s head.
Rushdie of course reacted characteristically by saying that blasphemy should be one’s right. It is difficult to say what shape this renewed offer on Rushdie’s head will take. It may remain only a formal announcement. It seems difficult that it would become a raging controversy as it did when Ayatollah Khomeini had declared price on Rushdie’s head. Politically it was very different context.
Ayatollah Khomeini then was a great hero for the Muslim youth as he had declared America a great Satan (Shaytan-e-buzurg) and America all over the Muslim world then was seen as an evil incarnate who had tried to stop an Islamic revolution and Rushdie was seen as a western agent who had, in the name of human rights, insulted the Prophet of Islam thus trying to weaken Islamic revolution. One cannot expect that kind of reaction from the Muslim youth anymore.
But as for the anti-Islamic film Innocent Muslims there is a different political context (i.e. the Arab Spring), no less significant than Islamic revolution of Iran. The only difference is that Iranian revolution was actively opposed by America whereas Arab Spring was seen as favourable by American rulers under the pretext of bringing in democracy to the Arab world.
In Libya America and NATO forces had played an active role in overthrowing Gaddafi who had played an anti-American role throughout his life except perhaps during the last phase when he had tried to reconcile with Western powers. In Syria too America, like Libya, is interested in what it chooses to call ‘regime change’. Needless to say both in Libya and Syria America had not played so innocent a role as it would like the world to believe.
Today both in Libya and Syria Al-Qaeda has become hyper-active but even at the cost of making al-Qaeda quite active, America’s priority is to destroy Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the old enemies of America and the only obstacles in total domination of Middle East by America. Both of them have been anti-Israel too and with their elimination, America will be free to promote its interest in the area.
For al-Qaeda too it suits well as both Bashar al-Assad and Gaddafi have been enemies being revolutionaries and seen as anti-Islamic forces by them (i.e. al-Qaeda) Thus both the regimes, ironically, are seen as enemies both by America and al-Qaeda. Thus the violent demonstrations against the film are result of number of factors. What is to be understood is that these demonstrations are less Islamic and more for down to earth factors – political, economic and sociological.
The media, especially western media, is portraying these demonstrations as purely a violent religious act, act of fanaticism particularly because it is Islamic. It is not so simple as the media is portraying it. First of all we must reckon with the oil factor. America’s sole interest in this region is neither Islam, nor democracy, nor dictatorship, for that matter. It is oil, pure and simple.
There is as yet no alternative to oil and most of the oil resources of the world are in this region. America wants to maintain its grip on this region at any cost. The first danger it smelt in the region was the Islamic revolution of Iran. U.S. was exceptionally hostile to Iranian revolution. Not because it was Islamic revolution; it was because Iran was emerging as challenge to American leadership in the region. It was equally hostile to Fatimi’s democratic revolution in early fifties of the last century and to undo that revolution it had used Ayatollah’s against the Fatimi’s secular democratic revolution.
After the then Iranian revolution of 1950s number of left-oriented regimes emerged in Middle East i.e. Iraqi and Syrian (Baath Party-led revolution) and Libyan Revolution in 1969, apart from Jamal Abd al-Nassir’s Young Officers’ coup in Egypt in mid-fifties. Nasser’s revolution was no less dangerous than that of Iranian revolution in 1979. It nationalized Suez Canal and France, Britain and Israel invaded Egypt morally supported by USA. It was Soviet Union which threatened these powers and made them retreat.
The Arab Spring, was also seen similarly an opportunity by America to intervene and do away with ‘enemies’ like Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. But like before, it is not as simple as America thinks. The demonstrations are aimed politically against American interests in the region. Of course it is utterly foolish to make such film which has been described as ‘idiotic’ or utterly simplistic.
It is true the American regime, much less the people, had anything to do with making of the film and so one wonders why kill its ambassador and consular staff or why demonstrate against America. These demonstrations do not mean that people put responsibility of the film on America. It clearly means that they have utterly hostile feelings towards American domination and repeated interference in the region. They want America to get out of the region.
Unfortunately America does not want to learn lessons. After Libya it rushed to the aid of rebel not for its love of democracy in Syria but for its hatred of the enemy i.e. Bashar al-Assad. America is fully aware of the fact that al-Qaeda is trying to capture the rebel forces. But it thinks Bashar al-Assad is much greater enemy and it can take care of al-Qaeda later. Let not America think that the rebels in Syria would feel grateful to America after success of rebellion. These rebels too carry anti-American feelings hidden in their hearts and when time comes they will manifest it as it happened in Libya.
Many moderate Muslim intellectuals are saying that moderates should speak out against violent demonstrations. I fully agree with this viewpoint. We must oppose violence anywhere and in whatever form. Moreover it is not people of America who are to be blamed for events like anti-Islamic film. It is after all small number of right wingers who are compulsive haters of Islam.
Also, people of America like any other people of the world, are manipulated by the powerful media to think that American foreign policy is right in the Middle Eastern region. For them the principles, and not the interests, play role in framing these policies. Also, hatred is not the right answer for hatred. As a Muslim and as a Gandhian I think love and understanding is the right answer.
To prevent such violent demonstrations the Imams should play creative role in Friday sermons. They should explain to Muslims what are Islamic values and why they should desist from such demonstrations. Also, as a value we oppose US policies, not America or American people. American principles are as great as any other principles. Among those principles are freedom of expression and freedom to follow ones dictates of conscience. There can be no compromise of that.
But this is possible only when our Imams are highly educated and capable of analyzing facts as they are. The kinds of Imams we have are illiterate in matters other than Islamic Shari’ah and Islamic theology. Imams play very significant role in lives of Muslims, especially in Asian and African countries. Muslim intellectuals and moderate Muslims should see to it that Imams should not only be Islamically educated but also in other matters as they influence Muslim thinking on socio-political matters through their sermons on Friday.
The Muslim media also has to play highly responsible role in such matters. We see that Muslim media also, like Imams of the mosques, play to the gallery. Today we are living in the age of democracy and in democracy media plays very important role. We know western media too does not play responsible role. On one hand it displays deeply rooted prejudices and on the other, it guards the interests of multi-national corporations.
But if we believe in Islamic values of justice and peace we have to suppress our anger and display more patience failing which “Islam stands for peace” will become mere rhetoric and such display of violence on all such occasions does show it is mere rhetoric. As good Muslims we should go beyond mere rhetoric and show in action that we stand for justice and peace.