I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the movie, Innocence of Muslims, which has enraged a large number of Muslims all over the globe. Essentially it is a poorly made, anti-Islamic film that is purely made to insult Mohammed. I’ve glanced through the trailer, though not watched it properly, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could even pay attention to it. It’s just too poorly produced to take seriously as any more than the ranting of one (or maybe a small group) of sad individuals. Some people have taken it seriously, however, and although I was originally planning to ignore it as the same sort of thing that always happens it’s escalated to the point where I feel I should say something.
It’s possible that some of those people who were involved acting in and producing the movie may not have known what they were doing. While I certainly can’t say for certain what people knew and why they did what they did I can tell you that some are denying knowledge of the true intentions of Innocence of Muslims. One of the actressess in the movie has her side explained in a post on Neil Gaiman’s blog and a person who provided facilities for filming the movie has also denied knowing it’s true purposes on Pamela Geller’s blog. Both agree that the movie they thought they were filming was going to be called “Desert Warrior” and that at the end the dialogue was dubbed over. They do seem to disagree over what Desert Warrior was about though. Actress Anna Gurji says:
The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.
While Joesph Nassralla claims:
He told me that he was making a film about Christian persecution, and that it would examine the culture of the desert and how it is related to what is going on right now
Gawker claims to have the full script and, while it agrees with the script being titled Desert Warrior and direct references to Mohammed, that it would be obvious to anyone that the movie was anti-Islamic. Whether or not the people involved knew what the movie would eventually become or not has no bearing on whether the reaction has been acceptable. It hasn’t.
As of yesterday at least 28 people have been killed due to the film and many more have held demonstrations. The Wikipedia article has a breakdown of the reactions to the movie sorted by country. Some people might say that there is good reason to be angry when one’s religion is insulted and that may be true. What that fails to address is the scope of the violence. It is one thing to be angry but another to kill innocent people over something they had nothing to do with and march on consulates of countries that do not monitor and control their citizen’s every action. Even if the people were not innocent it would not be acceptable to kill or hurt the makers of the movie over something that they said. You can’t escalate the violence like that. It is completely uncalled for.
While some have called for protests against the film or for more attacks, others have thankfully decried the attacks. Sometimes the wrong attacks. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb from Egypt called for the UN to “criminalise attacks on Islamic symbols and on those of other religions, after the violence against those who provoked challenges to world peace and international security.” That nicely passes the blame from those committing the violent acts onto those that are victims of violence.
It’s a particularly dangerous mindset because “attacks” on religion can be as innocuous as suggesting their wrong. You can’t tell people that if someone reacts violently to them it is their fault. Can you imagine that concept ever being given serious consideration on any other topic? Can you see a group saying that children who are being bullied should be punished for inciting the bully by dressing funny or not giving them money?
The threat to peace is from those that respond with violence not those that challenge a belief system, even if it is done poorly. I’m glad to say a Cape Town mosque was prepared to call out the perpetrators of violence. They claim the attacks betray Mohammed’s legacy and wisdom, and we have heard that before, but it still seems that Islam stands apart as a particularly violent faith. That was the subject of some particularly good (though NSFW) satire at The Onion.
Some people, such as the White House, have asked Google to remove the video which it has, rightly, refused. It has however restricted access in Libya, Egypt, India and Indonesia. If it weren’t so serious it would be funny but while there have been global riots over Innocence of Muslims there are much better-funded anti-Semitic films that are shown all around the Middle East, just as insulting to Judaism as Innoncence of Muslims is to Islam. There is a dangerous double standard at play here and one that needs to be combated. We need free discussion of all ideas, even views that we find offensive to our beliefs. Free speech is too important to sacrifice to appease the bullies of the world. It won’t just be Innocence of Muslims that must be taken down. Next The Satanic Verses will have to be banned. And then any disagreement.
It sounds like an exaggeration but there are places where we can see what happens. For example late last year there was a Nandos commercial in South Africa that showed Robert Mugabe alone and reminiscing about all the his old dictator friends. A group in Zimbabwe saw the advert and had the ad pulled after threatening Nandos workers in Zimbabwe. There can’t be constructive discussions and it doesn’t make for a great living situation when jokes or insults against a figure are criminalised.
Innocence of Muslims may be a hateful, poorly-produced and offensive film but it should nevertheless be protected as free speech. We can’t stamp out debate because we object to the position being put forward. We need to accept that we may be wrong and that we need to engage with viewpoints. Our opponent is either wrong and we can show others that through evidence and discussion or we need to accept that our opponent has a point and perhaps our beliefs need to change. We must never answer words (or videos) with violence, just as we would never want someone to respond to us with violence. We must always keep in mind all the possibilities (What if we are wrong? What if someone else is in power? How would I want someone to respond to me in that situation?) and respond appropriately. It’s the only way we can live in a constructive, multi-cultural society.