x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Protests and the anti-Muslim video raise important issues

Arabic newspapers universally condemn the recent video, but are split on the merits of protests and future of relations with the West.

Anti-Islam film fails insidious mission to stoke sedition among people of faith in Middle East

"After much hesitation, I decided to watch clips from the subversive film that offends Islam and Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, and I have to say that I was disgusted and sickened by the cheapness of its belligerent content," wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, in his front-page column at the weekend.

First of all, the film is below all ethical or artistic standards, the editor said.

"And I'm pretty sure that if those millions of Muslims around the world took the time to watch it, the anger that we saw unfold over the past few days … would look like a walk in the park, a soft protest," he said.

"The producers of this film knew what they were doing and planned for sedition carefully," the editor added. They understood Muslim psychology and its hypersensitivity to the kind of material they presented.

They also knew the significance of Prophet Mohammed for 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe.

But if their aim was to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Egypt and other Arab countries, the outcome is proving to be just the opposite.

"The damage they wanted to inflict … has backfired," the editor noted. "Our Christian brothers and sisters were at the forefront of protests outside US embassies, standing side by side with their Muslim brethren. It isn't an exaggeration to say that some of them were actually more upset and aggravated."

Also, it is a bit of a paradox that this film has, indeed, united Muslim sects and bridged rifts that have deepened in recent months over the Syrian crisis and differences with Iran, the editor observed.

It was quite remarkable to see Iraqis, perhaps the most divided in the region along sectarian lines, taking to the streets - Sunnis and Shiites together venting their fury at the United States, where the film was produced.

Surely, it is sad that people had to die in the backlash.

"We are equally saddened by the fact that embassies - which must be protected and secure as per international conventions - have been stormed," the editor said.

But the fact is that Muslims have had their fill of being humiliated, he went on to say.

"They've got swollen faces to prove it: from an offensive novel and newspaper cartoons to burning of the Quran and urinating on the bodies of Muslim martyrs - not to mention occupying their land and Judaising their Al Aqsa Mosque."

This is not to sanction murder or condone chaos, the editor said in conclusion.

But it is to remind whoever is willing to listen that "the wound of humiliation" is so deep in the collective Muslim consciousness that it can handle no more scraping.

Internet lends itself to 'clash of civilisations'

In 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa making it lawful for any Muslim to kill Salman Rushdie for a book he wrote that was deemed offensive to Islam, wrote columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Rushdie's Satanic Verses, with its questionable literary merit, has since made his publisher rich. And the man is still very much alive.

"Since then, there have been other incidents and clashes," the writer said. A film targeting Islam was released in The Netherlands in 2004; Danish cartoons offending Prophet Mohammed were published in 2005; and, in 2010, an American pastor from Florida called for burning copies of the Quran.

And, today still, here is another anti-Islam film posted on YouTube sending Muslims into riots, some of them deadly.

"Whoever thinks this clash of civilisations, and of religions in particular, will stop in the few coming decades is in the wrong," the columnist argued.

"It will only get worse, but not because there will be more people intent on humiliating other people's faiths … but because mass media will be more omnipresent."

There is material out there that is far more offensive than this poorly made YouTube short. The only difference is: it is not posted on YouTube.

United States needs to look inward after fury

Looking at the outbreak of fury against the United States in a number of Arab countries, it is safe to assume that any rumour or conspiratorial tale posted on a social media will be enough to incite sedition and maybe start a war, opined columnist Rajeh Al Khouri in the Lebanese daily Annahar yesterday.

Following the shocking crime in Libya that left four US diplomats dead, it was understandable that the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, would look baffled. She asked: how was it possible that something like that could happen in Libya, which the US helped to liberate and in a city they helped to rescue.

"Yes, mmam, this and worse things could happen," the writer said. "So the question that needs to be asked now in Washington and in all Islamic nations, especially in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen ... should be: how can we prevent it from happening again?"

A key thing to bear in mind is that prevention should not be limited to the Arab world, where hatred for western policies are fuelled by an upsurge of religious zeal. Western nations have to look inwardly as well.

The West has a responsibility to monitor its own saboteurs who hide under the banner of free speech, the columnist concluded.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk