- By Ameen Izzadeen
The killing of the US ambassador in Libya and the protests across other parts of the Middle East over an incendiary movie appear to have vindicated the anti-religionists. They say religion gives one an identity and divides humanity, but the believer says the scriptures call for peace and unity.
As the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks were being observed in the US, the killing of the US envoy Christopher Stevens and three others in a mob attack in Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution, indicates a dangerous trend that had once led to centuries of wars between Christians and Muslims.
True, the Arab awakening has empowered the masses and freed them from the grip of ruthless dictators, some of whom were puppets of the West. But the new found freedom needs to be checked. People’s power does not mean anarchy. It should submit to organised society where one’s assertion of rights is reciprocated by one’s commitment to be a responsible and law-abiding citizen.
The Benghazi incident and protests in Cairo, Tunisia, Algeria and other parts of the Arab world over a crudely made movie, which heaps insults on Islam’s holy prophet Muhammad in the worst possible manner that a wicked and slanderous mind could imagine, indicate that the new rulers have little control of the affairs of the state.
This dangerous trend needs to be checked, regardless of the provocations, however intense they may be. We cannot let the world drift towards another Crusade. We should condemn the killing and those who made the film — abusing the right to freedom of expression provided in the US constitution.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she said, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
The despicable murders of diplomats must surely have driven the Americans to rethink their Middle East policy, especially their support for the Syrian rebels. Like in Libya, the Syrian rebel movement is spearheaded by Islamists with Salafi credentials. Learning about Salafis is essential for every student of Middle Eastern politics. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was a staunch Salafist.
Salafism or Wahhabism is a puritanical interpretation of Islam. In most instances, they prefer the literal meaning to the spiritual interpretation of the Quranic verses. For them the context under which a Quranic verse was revealed matters little. In their zeal, little do they realise that they are causing only harm to Islam and Muslims.
Salafism is the state ideology of Saudi Arabia which is committed to promote it across the Muslim world. But the fact that there is little Salafism or Islam when the Saudi rulers collaborate with the US makes one wonder whether their commitment to Salafism is a cover to perpetuate their hold on politics. There was even speculation when the Ottomans ruled the region that Salafism or Wahhabism was a creation of British intelligence to weaken the Turks. Though the Saudi regime is playing politics with Salafism, the followers of Salafism are not. They are zealots like the hardline fundamentalists in Christianity.
It is the Salafis who led the war against Gaddafi. During the Libyan revolution, the US was warned of the Salafis and hardline Islamists among the rebels but it ignored these warnings. Even in Syria, the US knows that the Salafis backed by the Saudis and other Gulf states are playing the lead role. But it ignores the possibly disastrous long-term consequences for the sake of short-term political gains – in the case of Syria the ouster of pro-Iranian President Bashar al-Assad. The question the American people are asking today is: Why are we supporting these guys who will one day turn their guns on us?
In Libya, the Salafis are heavily armed. The new prime minister elected on the day of the killings depends on the support of the Islamists in the Assembly. The Libyan government has so far failed in its efforts to disarm the various rebel groups and tribes that joined the revolution. The government fears that if force is used to disarm the rebel groups, it will lead to another internal war. So the Salafis have a free rein in Libya. They go on destroying shrines, because they believe that a Muslim should only worship Allah -- not any saint. Like in Libya, it is happening in Mali where Salafi rebels have demolished even mosques designated by the UNESCO as part of the world heritage. Years ago, the Salafi Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.
The ranks of Salafi hardliners are filled by youths with little education. Thus it came as no surprise that they attacked the US consulate in Benghazi instead of hacking YouTube or countering such anti-Islam movies or diatribe with means that are more effective than violence.
Insulting Islam’s holy prophet is nothing new. Islam grew in Arabia amidst insults, persecution and threats.
Provoking the Muslims is an old game of the West. Dante’s Inferno, for instance, puts the prophet and Ali, the Fourth Caliph of Islam and revered Imam of Shiite Islam, in the eighth circle of the Hell. Dante and others who heaped such insults on Islam and its prophet throughout history did so because they were misled by the prophet’s early biographies written by European monks, who saw Islam as a threat to Christianity. These biographies taught the European Christians that Islam and Muhammad were the anti-Christ mentioned in the Book of Revelation. To prove their point, they wrote that Muhammad died in the Christian year 666, the anti-Christ or the Beast’s symbol, though the recorded Muslim history says Prophet Muhammad had died 38 years earlier. The anti-Islam literature came to be written as an answer to a disturbing question in the Christian mind of that era: How had God allowed this impious faith to prosper? Could it be that He had deserted His people?
Commenting on these early apocalyptic biographies, Karen Armstrong, once a Catholic nun and now a world renowned authority on the history of religions, in her book Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet says: “In this fear-ridden fantasy, Muhammad was an impostor and charlatan, who had set himself up as a prophet to deceive the world; he was a lecher who had wallowed in disgusting debauchery and inspired his followers to do the same; he had forced his people to convert to his faith at swordspoint. Islam was not an independent revelation but a failed form of Christianity. It was a violent religion of the sword that glorified war and slaughter.”
The highly inflammatory film, a pornographic trash, reportedly produced by an American-Israeli at the behest of Quran burning Pastor Terry Jones, had all the disinformation found in the scandalous biographies written by the early Islamophobic Christian monks. Two decades ago, Salman Rushdie heaped such insults on the Prophet and other Islamic icons in his book Satanic Verses. The West hailed him as a hero. Two years ago, Danish cartoonists drew the Prophet as a terrorist. The West defended this insult, saying the cartoonists had the freedom of expression.
However, the Muslims say such freedom of expression is selective. In the western media, one can portray Muhammad as a fierce terrorist with grenades hanging from his turbans and horns protruding from his head but none can raise even academic questions about the holocaust or criticise the Jews. One cannot even ask whether the figure was right when the media, books and movies repeat the statement that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. If anyone dares, he will be labelled an anti-Semite and sent to jail as the recent case of historian David Irving proves.
Laws preventing insults to Jews are good. But such laws should apply to all religious groups and people – not only to the Jews.
The attitude that matters Jewish are holy while matters Islamic are base and a target is not only hypocritical; it also smacks of ingratitude, because the West, to a large extent, owes its intellectual renaissance to Islam which produced the greats like Avicenna regarded as the father of medicine, Averrose the philosopher, and mathematicians who gave the world numerals, algebra and zero. Besides, it is through Islam that the West rediscovered the lost philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek greats. The people behind the movie apparently did not know the Muslims’ contribution to the knowledge revolution in the West. How can they when the American marines during their shooting practice fire at targets which are named Muslims? The ground reality appears to be that Islam is the bogey in the post-Cold War era.