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Michael Jansen: Freedom that hurts
September 17, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The tsunami of protests over a US-made film denigrating Islam that have swept across Muslim communities from Britain in the west to Australia in the East are yet another manifestation of Muslim resistance to Western political, economic and cultural “imperialism.” 
 
This time round, the imperial imposition is cultural:

Lessons of hatred

By Leila Macor

The makers of an anti-Islamic movie were influenced by a southern California-based Coptic preacher, who made a business out of insults to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.

The newspaper said this preacher named Zakaria Botros Henein teaches offensive and anti-Islamic material. He has not been directly linked to the film Innocence of Muslims, but the three men behind the movie were all supporters of his views, the report said.

Steve Klein, a Christian who worked on the script, said Botros was “a close friend” and compared him favourably to US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, the paper noted.

Joseph Nassralla, the head of a Christian charity in Duarte where part of the movie was shot, praised Botros’s website, FatherZakaria.net.

Meanwhile, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who organised the production, spoke openly of his devotion to the cleric while in federal prison, The Times pointed out. Botros’s son, Benyamin, said his father was unavailable, according to the report.

“I cannot tell you where he is because his life is in danger,” The Times quoted the son as saying. However Botros defended the movie on the Arabic satellite TV station Alfady that he runs in California — and criticised the violent reaction to the film, the paper said.

According to the report, Botros was jailed several times in his native Egypt for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity and eventually was exiled.

Agence France-Presse
it is all about freedom of speech. The West, particularly the US, wants the Muslim world to accept a deeply offensive insult to Islam, the faith of a billion people, as a legitimate expression of free speech.  Well aware that the freedom of speech argument would prevail, the makers of the film, allegedly expatriate Egyptian Coptic Christians backed by US evangelical protestants, believed themselves to be immune from prosecution and went ahead with a project which was deliberately designed to incite Westerners against Muslims and Muslims to respond by taking to the streets in their homelands.

The man behind the film, an anti-Muslim Copt called Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, is being questioned by the police on another issue while rapid response teams have been dispatched to US embassies in Tripoli and Sanaa to provide protection from protesters.

While continuing to uphold that freedom of speech, enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, it is significant that the White House, recognising the video as hate speech rather than free speech, asked Google to reconsider posting the film’s obscene trailer on YouTube. Google refused but has made the video clip unavailable in Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, India and other countries affected by protests.

Furthermore, Chairman of the US Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey telephoned Terry Jones, an insignificant anti-Muslim pastor of an evangelical church in Florida, and asked him to cease promoting the film.

Security threat

Writing in the low-brow daily newspaper USA Today, Anthea Butler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, makes the case (against the editorial line of the paper), for prosecuting Nakoula. She states, “Clearly, the military considers the film a serious threat to national security. If the military takes it seriously, there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk.”

The US-is-the-victim point of view adopted by the USA Today is that the film is “bigoted” and “inflammatory” but it is “also free speech.” Then the editorialist observes, adding a fresh insult to the insult embodied in the film, by saying that free speech is “a value that many Middle East Muslims neither understand nor accept.”

The editorialist blames Muslims for resisting “Western values” while honouring their faith “while the internet [the vehicle for the promulgation of an incendiary trailer of the film] feeds a clash of cultures that no government can control.”

Instead of dealing with the film and its makers, the proximate cause of the current “clash of cultures,” the paper says the US must recognise Muslim “passions and be prepared to cope effectively with the inevitable outbreaks they unleash” — presumably by dispatching marines, naval flotillas, and missile-armed drones. Military responses do not resolve the problem of the kultur kampf between the Muslim world and the West.

Even Third Worlders who should know better fall into the Western mindset that holds free speech to be sacrosanct but cherished religious beliefs are fair targets of extremists.

For example, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, a South African of Indian descent, characterised the film as “malicious” and called on political and religious leaders to restore calm. She condemned violent protests against the film which, she said, “portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims.” But instead of suggesting suppression, Pillay said it is better to ignore such provocation because “deliberate and obnoxious acts of this type should be deprived of the oxygen of publicity.”

Double standards

Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa spoke sense when he asserted, “Freedom of speech does not mean desecrating sanctities.” He called on human rights activists to fight against the desecration of all religions. The issue is not freedom of speech versus censorship but freedom of responsible speech versus hate speech. The White House and Dempsey obviously recognised the film as hate speech and sought to limit the damage it is certain to inflict on US relations with the Muslim world by curbing circulation of the trailer on YouTube and promotion by men like Terry Jones, notorious for burning the Holy Qurans at his church.

There is also the usual double standard at work. If the film had been targeting African-Americans, Latinos, or Israelis, defenders of free speech would have made exceptions. It is supremely ironic that Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the chief deniers of free speech critical of Israel, should stand up for free speech on the film issue.

After all Israel is one of the main causes for Muslim resentment against the West which planted this alien state in Palestine and fosters, protects, and constantly placates its demanding leaders and Western supporters.

The insult inflicted by the film is one of many heaped on Islam and Muslims over the years making Muslims far more sensitive than they might have been. Furthermore, these insults come on top of constant injury, notably Israel’s colonisation of Palestine, expulsion of Palestinians, and repeated wars on neighbouring countries. Muslims have been further alienated and angered by US-led wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, US military intervention in Pakistan and Yemen, and attacks by US drones that kill civilians as well as Muslim militants in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In spite of all these injuries, White House spokesman Jay Carney dared to say that the protests were not over US policies. He could not have been more wrong. While the film may have been a trigger for anti-US demonstrations, 60 years of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim policies provided powerful, enduring motive force for the protests.

The abusive film did not “happen” in a political vacuum but was thrust upon Muslims by men who intended to do harm to already deeply troubled relations between the global Muslim community, the Umma, and the Western world.
____________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict
 

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