By Jamal Khashoggi
|Khartoum protest from The Guardian|
The author is a leading Saudi media figure and one-time editor-in-chief of the Saudi daily al-Watan. He served as media aide to Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud while he was ambassador to the United Kingdom and to the United States. He has been named by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud to head his upcoming AlArab TV news channel. Khashoggi wrote this think piece in Arabic for today’s edition of pan-Arab al-Hayat.
I just finished viewing on YouTube the longish trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” which is overtly insulting to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and thus caused outrage and waves of violent protests in the Muslim world.
May God forgive whoever tweeted me the link to the trailer on YouTube in the hope I could intervene to have it removed. I wish he didn’t.
In a way, he was inducing viewing of the trailer, much as did the ignorant and dimwits who attacked U.S. embassies in Cairo, Benghazi and elsewhere.
I was extremely angered – or rather disgusted – by the film excerpts. I didn’t think insolence could push anyone on the face of this earth to be so abusive to God’s Messenger and my beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Nevertheless, I won’t join or support calls for any uncontrolled protest, let alone attack an American embassy.
On the contrary, because of my fervent commitment to the beloved Messenger of Allah and his teachings, I urge that all assailants of the foreign embassies and those behind them be severely punished.
We, Muslims, must have the courage to condemn our people’s crime before condemning the crime of our enemies.
Surely, the film is neither the first of its kind, nor the last. A researcher can write a doctoral thesis on the history of abuses by Jewish and Christian individuals against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Islam grappled with Judaism and Christianity – more precisely, with leaders of the two faiths – straightaway. But followers of the two religions deemed budding Islam to be exceptionally tolerant in victory, leading many of them to convert to the Muslim faith. That’s how Islam spread across Bilad al-Sham, Iraq, Egypt and the rest of North Africa.
The continued existence of Christian communities in such a Muslim expanse attests to Islam’s tolerance. Had Islam spread by coercive conversion, an exodus of non-Muslims would have ensued.
The opposite happened in Spain in the late 15th Century, when the victorious Christians offered Muslims the choice of baptism or exile.
The historical face-off that lasted 14 centuries, and was both military and cultural, took twists with attacks on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in books, essays and poems, starting with the Critique of Islam by monk John of Damascus, who died in 749.
John of Damascus’ “critique” derided God’s Messenger as a false prophet and impersonator who plagiarized from the New Testament and the Torah. Much of the venom in his writings is repeated in the film.
Strained relations between Islam and Christianity lasted from the Siege of Damascus in 634 until 9/11 in 2001, if not until this day.
Many in our ranks and in theirs refuse to acknowledge changes in history and the human race. But tackling this complex philosophical issue requires a book, not an article, to address.
The torrents of abuse against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – at times on official papal directives and at others by overzealous fundamentalist monks – were non-stop.
Even enlightened people fell into the Islamophobia trap, people like “reformer” Martin Luther, who led the most renowned disputation movement in Christianity, and Dante, the Italian who disparaged Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his epic poem The Divine Comedy.
In the 9th Century, Christian activists such as the Martyrs of Cordoba and the “suicides of Andalusia”, insisted on slandering God’s Messenger in public even at the risk of being executed.
This went on unabated until modern times – with The Satanic Verses of Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoons controversy, the film “Submission” by Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and to cap it all the new film “Innocence of Muslims.”
I reiterate: the vilifiers won’t stop.
Modern day works -- donning the Western cloak of “freedom of expression” – have also defamed Christian and Jewish sanctities, save for the Holocaust. The Holocaust is protected from any misgiving by “laws” smartly introduced by Jews and approved by legislative bodies across the Western world.
The issue of denigrating Islam is not one of creativity and freedom of expression. Most works critical of Islam are politically motivated.
While there is no more a pope at the Vatican directing a monk to write a book satirizing the morality or personality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), there is a conservative far-Right that detests foreigners and emigrants and encourages such works.
The latest film is a point in case.
It is the brainchild of an alliance that brought together an Israeli filmmaker, an American producer and extremist Coptic scriptwriters.
Those who put the film together are not innocent. They too have their political agenda. Their unholy alliance to cram the film with unparalleled bad-mouthing of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) knew exactly what they were doing. They deliberately made the film to evoke the reaction they intended.
The other side to the saga concerns the conservative far-Right Muslims, who also hate foreigners and followers of the other religions and sects. They too abhor openness and forgiveness, even within their own societies.
Theirs is a strange mix of cultural, religious and ethnic bigots bent on violence and the use of force. Al-Qaeda represents some of their lot; hence its flag on the perimeters of the U.S. embassy in Cairo last Tuesday.
Politicians in the West often find it difficult to cope with their extremist groups. They can pass laws to restrict or ban them, such as in the case of the Nazi movement. But, in other instances, these politicians find themselves in a situation where they have to cajole national and legitimate far-Right movements, such as France’s National Front.
In his effort to capture the far-Right National Front vote in the presidential runoffs, for example, former President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to get tough on immigration and security. But National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s followers refused to back him.
Our Arab politicians, chiefly in the Arab Spring countries, are repeating Sarkozy’s error by cozying up to extremists in the hope of winning their votes or avoiding their evil.
Either way, the extremists will end up turning against them and biting the hand that feeds them. It’s what they did to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last Tuesday and to other Arab leaders who thought they could “Dance with Wolves.”