By Shafey Danish (NVONews.Com)
It would be no exaggeration to say that the brazenness of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi – which resulted in the death of the US ambassador Chris Stevens and several other staff members – shocked the world. Yet it might not be the attack itself but what followed which will become the memorable marker that history will choose to remember.
Immediately afterwards, two things happened. First with the wide coverage of the attack, and the perverted reasoning behind it, suddenly the protests crossed the borders of Libya and engulfed more or less the entire Muslim world. There were deadly clashes in Tunisia and Sudan, an American fast food restaurant was torched in Lebanon, protesters clashed with security officials in Egypt and Pakistan, in Bangladesh protesters suffered scores of injuries in similar clashes. Pakistan probably had the worst of it, with 20 fatalities, all killed in clashes with security forces. This despite the government sanctioning a day for protests, and a cabinet minister offering a bounty of $100,000. The protests displayed a vehemence and violence seldom witnessed, even in cases where the Prophet’ honour is impugned. There were protests against the Danish cartoons, but they were hardly comparable to what we saw this time.
And then there were the counter protests. Crowds numbering in the thousands took to the streets in Benghazi protesting against the attack on the US ambassador. Militias who were suspected of killing the US ambassador were attacked, in the subsequent clashes 11 were reported dead, more than 60 injured. But in the end, the militias had to abandon their headquarters.
Several other militias, who were not directly involved with the killing were also driven from their headquarters and the protests provided the impetus for the Libyan government to start a broad sweep against the militias, which had till then largely remained outside’s government control.
This ‘Backlash to the Backlash’ as the title of a column by Tom Friedman of the New York Times puts it, was heartening to see, for this marks a break with a repetitive tradition of victimhood. It marked probably the first instance of Muslims standing up for victims of Muslim extremism. Those protesters acknowledged that the world is not divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and that principles of justice and fairness, which Muslims have themselves been demanding for so long are universally applicable, to the victims of American missiles as well as Muslim bombs.
The future of the Muslim community in the coming years will largely depend on which of these two competing tendencies it chooses to embrace. Will it decide to fly into a blind rage every time some idiot makes a blasphemous film, in the process attacking innocent victims and quite inexplicably their own security forces? Or will it temper its hurt and anger with moderation and judgement?
Will it come to practise the same principles of tolerance that it demands of western countries, and take its rightful place as a great community or will it slink back into parochialism and double standards? Will it ever develop the nuance to concede that all Americans/Christians/Jews and not evil and Muslim haters or will it continue to divide the world into two warring groups?
As the Arab Spring brings Islam to the world’s political centre stage, these are questions that demand urgent answers.
These questions of course are not only for the Muslims. On the side of the West too, there were two different reactions. There were the French newspapers which published cartoons of the Prophet at the height of the protests, and then there was the generally measured speech of the US president at the UN who roundly criticised the makers of the film.
On their side too, a choice needs to be made, for the thin veneer of advocating modernism cannot anymore hide the anti-Islamism that has suddenly gone mainstream in Western countries. They could either continue to endorse that, or denounce them as the American President did. And by the bye, do a rethink on the freedom of expression, and its inequal application.
Islam has had a long history of rivalry with the West, a history that spans over a thousand years. It is inevitable that this would sometimes take the form of hate speech, of which Dante’s placing of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) in the lowest reaches of hell in his book “Divine Comedy” was an ancient example and the “Innocence of Muslims” is a recent one.
It is a mark of self-confidence and maturity in a community that it is able to shrug off such insults and provocations. They simply do not deserve sustained attention, and certainly not a reaction as horrifying as the one in Benghazi.