The recent reaction of Muslim protesters to the Internet film mocking the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is, to many Muslims, as legitimate as American’s reaction to the terrorist acts of Sept.11, 2001.
Many in the West view the protests as a disproportionate response to an unfortunate exercise of free speech, whereas Muslims view it as just another example of daily discrimination and humiliation toward Muslims and Arabs across the world but mainly in the United States.
Although anti-discrimination laws exist to protect persons of different religions and national origins, these laws often conflict with freedom of speech in America. Many times, these laws are not enforced unless the hateful speech constitutes a “clear and present danger” to public security.
One simply can cruise the Internet to see many examples of hateful and disrespectful speech against all ethnic groups. Even for black Americans, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech calling for tolerance has not been realized in the 50 years since he uttered his famous words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Seeking to achieve this dream of tolerance and understanding among all peoples remains unfulfilled, but all of us must work toward the goal.
We need more closely to examine this issue of protesters and embassy attacks, as these are symptoms of a clear pattern in the American media to discriminate against Muslims by highlighting radical groups that spew hatred against Islam. Simply reporting the activities of these radical hate groups is not enough; the media must condemn their activities in the strongest terms.
I don’t think this issue will be solved completely, as President Obama wisely is trying to do, by just bringing people to the United States to stand trial for murdering the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. We still have no idea what prompted the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, but if it was stimulated by the Internet video against the Prophet (peace be upon him), then the cause must be eradicated, not just the result.
As every reasonable person knows, it is against Islam and the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to intimidate or kill anyone. Islam is a peaceful religion, and violent protests are inconsistent with its teachings. Using a video as an excuse to destroy property and harm people is simply wrong. We need to have tolerance, respect for each other, and above all respect for everyone, especially those who are different from us in religion, race, or culture. This foolish and offensive action by the maker of the Internet video and the subsequent reaction by the protesters require us to promote the basic issue of human equality and justice with appropriate action taken against all who have exploited this tragic situation.
We are all guilty if we ignore hate and discrimination, because it will simply get worse and more explosive in the future. Today more than ever, our world urgently needs stability, ethics, tolerance and peace. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught the followers to be an example of love, not revenge. (The word revenge is one of Allah’s 99 names so no one should try to have it). The story is told of when the Prophet used to walk daily in a city where a Jewish person repeatedly dumped garbage on him. In spite of this insult, he didn’t do anything to retaliate. One day the Jewish person didn’t do his daily habit of dumping, so the Prophet asked about him and was told that the Jew was sick in bed. Instead of rejoicing for the Jew’s misfortune, the Prophet went and visited him and prayed for his recovery and a healthy life. This is an example of tolerance and forgiveness we all should emulate, and we must stand up to condemn all forms of discrimination against whoever is attacked.
Although it is true that Arabs have been singled out unfairly for scrutiny when traveling abroad, there is no question that Muslims should be treated with the same respect as members of other religious groups, especially when Muslims number more than 1.5 billion in comparison with around 16 million Jews worldwide. Recent events such as the burning of the copies of the Holy Qu’ran in Florida and the Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet (PBUH) are more than simply troublesome. They require condemnation, but not by violence against persons and property. This is not a freedom of speech issue at all. When such events occur, they cause dangerous consequences that must be addressed with tolerance and forgiveness.
Current anti-discrimination laws must be better enforced so that those who spread their hateful lies will be brought to justice and held to account for violating basic human rights. Let us hope we can move past these protests in the streets and push for more legal protections for all those who are the victims of these hateful films and media broadcasts.
The writer is a columnist at the Saudi-based Arab News, where this article was published on Sept. 19, 2012