I had no intention to comment on the film insulting the Prophet Mohammed. I do still believe it is not worth writing more than one word, stupid. What needs to be looked at is the riots and violent protests against the provoking film spread across the Arab World. The fierce debates on Twitter and the shocking level of violence - excluding the killing of the American Ambassador in Benghazi who apparently was targeted in revenge of assassination of al-Qaeda deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi in a drone attack last June – made it no easy to let go.
One should be clear that insulting religions, faiths or religious figures can’t be tolerated under the act of freedom of expression. Maybe many people in the West don’t understand why such acts provoke Muslims that much. A Western friend asked me once: ‘why don’t you just ignore it!’ It may sound a simple thing to do but I have to say it is beyond that. Muslims, even not committed ones have special respect to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). This is for no one else but for him. So, it’s not comparable to other figures, simply put. This is one fact.
The second fact is, in this case this anger shouldn’t be linked to any other reasons as quite few Western commentators like to link it to ‘frustration’, ‘poverty’ or extremism. A quick look to actual and virtual protestors they are of all society classes. Although the black flags adopted by al-Qaeda supporters were present. But it doesn’t mean necessarily it protests were lead by extremists.
However, this is not an excuse for the worrying level of violence accompanied those protests. Violence is never acceptable. However, we should stand on the deep and overseen reasons behind this violence against ‘American interests’. A question may arise here, why it wasn’t so violent before the Arab Spring? Does it mean Arab Spring has released the monster out of the box? In my opinion, the answer is:
Firstly, the level of freedom in the Arab Spring countries is much higher than before. People can express their opinion with much less fear of being arrested and tortured.
The anger against American foreign policies in the Middle East has reached red levels before the Arab Spring but people wouldn’t dare to bring it out fearing the brutally suppression of the regimes’ security fist. The political support shown by U.S. administration to Arab revolutions, especially in Libya and Syria (although it wasn’t at acceptable level in the case of Syria) succeeded to slow down the waves of anger against U.S. foreign policies among young Arabs. However, it was much bigger to be forgotten. The unlimited support for Israel against Palestinian, the war on Iraq and deliver it later on to Iran on a golden plate, Afghanistan and the killing of thousands of innocents by drone attacks and the unforgiveable mistake, supporting the totalitarian regimes in the Arab World.
So, the film has just pulled the trigger, although the U.S. government has nothing to do with it. But it has made it easier to those, in the Arab World waiting for such thing to take angry Arabs to the street.
Secondly, let’s not forget the timing of publishing this film. It was actually produced about 6 months ago. The question is who, on the American side, is responsible for ‘reviving’ awareness of its existence coincidently with anniversary of 9/11? Who is benefiting of triggering anger in the Muslim/Arab world, seeking overreactions of Muslims or Arabs, known from similar incidents in the past? Questions need to be answered.
Thirdly, on the other hand, who benefits from such incidents in the Arab Spring countries? One can easily point out more than one party can get its goals achieved by showing excessive violence against Western interests, more specifically U.S. Simply to prove Arab Spring is a disaster for Western interests or the new leaders are inefficient to deliver security and stability to the region.
There are possibly more but this is the main ones I came up with after engaging for almost 4 days in Twitter debates.
Remarkably, there was a significant rejection among those watching the scene either on the ground or across social media platforms. There was a real battle between supporters and opponents of those acts. Opponents’ had simply overcome the accessions of being ‘pro-Western’ or ‘pro-American’. They opposed the violent way of showing support for the Prophet but at the same time they considered these act as a free promotion for a nonsense film. This battle indicates a new, under creation, environment in the Arab World, in which, fierce debates about almost everything are taking place, encouraging wider margins of society gradual democratisation process that has never existed before.
Last thing, maybe the time has come to look into legislations prevents insulting faiths and religious figures. That will have a significant impact in Arab World to believe that they are equal with other humans in the eyes of ‘Western law’.
(The writer is a Journalist at al-Quds newspaper online and new media researcher based in United Kingdom.