The biggest current affairs story of the last few weeks has been the outrage that we have seen in response to a movie called Innocence of Muslims, a “bio-pic” of the prophet Mohammad that is being criticized as being offensive to followers of Islam.
At its worst, in the Libyan city of Benghazi, the protests ended in the death of the US ambassador to Libya and three staff members. Deaths were reported at rallies in other countries in the Muslim world, and well over 200 people were injured in riots in Cairo, Egypt. Of course, these protests and the violence coming with them is nothing new. We have seen this before.
The big ignition for this round of protests that have spread far beyond the Middle East and North Africa appears to be the trailer to this movie that popped up on YouTube. If you have seen it, I’m sure you can agree that the movie is pathetically and laughably horrible. It is a low-budget, poorly-written, terribly-acted film that most people would have seen as a complete joke if they had managed to see it before all hell broke loose.
Now, without a doubt, the vast majority of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world were not involved in any violence and did not take part in any protests whatsoever. Many Muslims have denounced the violence. So, in no way is what I am writing attempting to be a blanket statement painting all Muslims with the same brush. The Muslim world (for lack of a better term) is complex and diverse, with a wide range of views and opinions. Not everyone is the same, and I know that and want to make this point clear.
The fact is that many of us have been watching and shaking our heads as embassy walls have been breached, buildings have been burnt out, flags have been ripped by frenzied crowds and burned, and rocks and bottles have been hurled at police. Frankly, these are scary images and there is no getting around it. Along with this, the rhetoric has been harsh and equally as scary, with calls for the director to be jailed or killed, for worldwide blasphemy laws to essentially be introduced and for the video to be censored and pulled down by the American government.
Here is what makes me mad about the backlash over this little trailer – there is no shortage of videos posted by various radical religious figures that say horribly offensive, degrading, rude, arrogant and downright dangerous things. These are videos that attack gays, feminism, the Christian perceptions of Jesus, atheists, theories of evolution and Darwinism, and, of course Jews.
The fact is that protection of free speech, a concept that varies from country to country, also helps protect some of these ideas and the people who say them, and that seems to be lost here. Without free speech laws, who decides what is acceptable to say?
Now, in terms of the content of the Innocence of Muslims, well, in my opinion, I don’t really believe that Mohammad was the perfect person that some believe he was. Although crude, rudimentary, crass, and horribly done, this movie does actually touch on ideas that have been put forth by some academics, questioning Mohammad’s mental state, the violence he was involved with, and his relationships with various women, among other things.
Why shouldn’t some of the grandiose, rose-colored glasses views of him be challenged? This movie trailer is a pretty pathetic attempt at making a good challenge, and is hardly literary or academic in any way, but it still presents some valid questions.
At the same time there have been calls for “respect” of religion, including from the White House. But, what does “respect” for a religion mean? To me, this is absolutely naïve and arrogant. I will never accept religious admonishment of gays. I reject many of the more sexist ideas that permeate many religious sects around the world.
Of course, there are the more extreme views that we see from some radical followers of Islam that are downright scary: depriving girls and women the right to education, forced covering (different than choosing to cover) of women, killing/jailing of gays, stoning of adulterers, killing or jailing of blasphemers or apostates. Obviously, I am not about to “respect” any of these ideas. Many Muslims don’t like these ideas either.
There are interpretations in the more liberal spectrum of Islam that, yes, I can support. There are also ideas on the conservative end of the scale that I fully oppose. A blind respect for a myriad of disparate and varying world beliefs doesn’t make any sense.
Those who have the freedom to be able to insult or offend a religion are pretty determined to hold onto that right and justifiably so. As the cliché goes, people have fought hard and lost their lives for this freedom. Likewise, there are also people so devoted to their prophet they are willing to fight hard and lose their lives for him. As for me, I will not stop fighting for the freedom of speech and expression that we enjoy in this country.
Because in a country with blasphemy laws, what I’ve written here could get me put in jail.