Friday, September 21, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 22, 2012

Violent love The government’s strategy to declare a national holiday on Friday in anticipation of countrywide protests against the film that insults Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) may have backfired. The day off provided the protestors opportunity to turn out in all major cities of the country, reinforced on the day by rightist and extremist elements out to exploit the situation for their own political purposes. That is not to deny the depth of anger felt across the board and throughout the country on the deliberate and provocative attack on the Prophet (PBUH). But all the appeals to the protestors to remain peaceful while expressing their disgust and hurt at the provocation from the president and prime minister downwards fell on deaf ears. Even the shutdown of mobile phone networks throughout the day, presumably to prevent the protestors coordinating with each other and to avoid the risk of bomb attacks, failed to dent the charge of the charged brigades. Protestors numbering about 45,000 countrywide, a minuscule proportion of the country’s 180 million citizens, in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar were at the centre of the violent storm that overtook the country. Appeals throughout the day to remain peaceful and avoid violence had no effect, not even when religious leaders and ulema added their voices to the calls for restraint. The police and law enforcement agencies’ tactics of blocking access to sensitive sites like the US Embassy and consulates in Karachi and Lahore by placing containers in the path of the protestors failed to stop them. The charged crowds shifted the containers through sheer weight of human numbers and charged through the blockades determined, it later transpired, to destroy, burn, and even loot any and everything that came to hand. The ‘trailer’ of what was to follow had already become visible on Thursday when a crowd of protestors, trying to access the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad to get to the US Embassy, turned when frustrated to the car park of a five star hotel along the way and destroyed many vehicles there. Their assault on the diplomatic enclave proved so difficult to control by the police alone that the army had to be called out. On Friday, with greater numbers on their side, the sites of confrontation between the police and protestors seemed to show the scenario of a battlefield. While the police tried to keep the surging crowds at bay with containers blocking access and, where things threatened to get out of hand, heavy tear gas shelling and even aerial firing, the charged mobs were not to be denied. It seemed their objective was to somehow get close enough to US diplomatic missions to attack and demolish them. In anticipation of the risk, western embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools were shut throughout the country. The police firing was retaliated by armed elements within the protestors’ ranks, particularly in Karachi. The latest available toll of human life speaks of at least 17 dead, 195 injured. In the path of those bent upon violence, the attacks, looting and arson took in its fold cinemas, banks, government offices, police posts, vehicles, shops, etc, despite the fact that markets, petrol pumps and other vulnerable sites were shut. Clashes between the law enforcers and agitators continued late into the evening. The US Acting Ambassador was called in by the foreign office to deliver a protest against the film. The US government, according to the ambassadors’ response, had condemned the film in strong terms, but had nothing to do with its production or dissemination. In an interesting aside, one actress who appeared in the film condemned the deceptive manner in which she and others were inveigled into appearing in a seemingly innocent film, which later was distorted in the direction of an attack on the Prophet (PBUH). She has not only distanced herself from the film and asked for it to be removed from YouTube and the Internet, but also threatened to sue the producer for fraud. Unfortunately, a French magazine added fuel to the fire by publishing blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH) in the middle of the furore. Calls are mounting in the Muslim world and amongst sensible circles across the world to revisit the malign purpose for which freedom of expression is being misused by motivated agents provocateurs. While it is important to safeguard freedom of expression, it cannot be allowed so irresponsibly to be abused to create conflict and divide people of different beliefs. Some version of the restraints on hate speech must be forged to nip this mischief in the increasingly flowering bud. As to our own expression of Love for the Prophet (PBUH) on the day set aside for the purpose, does violence against properties, our persons, infrastructure, and ourselves reflect a mature, considered response to the provocation? Admitted, the issue raises extremes of anger amongst Muslims, but in the aftermath of the day’s events, in the cold clear light of the morning after, should we not be focusing on what we have achieved, what we have wrought, and what will be its consequences? First and foremost, if the provocateur’s purpose was to once again show Muslims as irrational, wild, violent people, we helped him succeed even beyond his own wildest expectations. When we fall into the trap of reinforcing the Islamophobes’ stereotypical image of Muslims, whose cause are we serving? As far as the Prophet’s (PBUH) respect is concerned, one level of approach is to understand that his stature cannot be reduced, depreciated, or denigrated through such clumsy attempts. Second, we should look to the Prophet’s (PBUH) own example in the face of extreme repression and provocation when he started to deliver his (PBUH) message and was rounded on by the rich, powerful and biased of his day. His (PBUH) forbearance, patience, tolerance in the face of extreme provocation and insult, forgiveness, mercy and goodness disarmed his enemies and denigrators and persuaded them to accept Islam. Are we following in the Prophet’s (PBUH) blessed footsteps? Far from it. Today’s Muslim world is as far from the Prophet’s (PBUH) example of tolerance as it is possible to travel. The basic reason is the takeover of the religious discourse over the last four decades by extremists who see violence as the only way to achieve their millenarian dreams. In line with the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah (practice and example), we should educate ourselves and each other on the true message of our religion, whose very name means peace, and defend the Prophet’s (PBUH) person in the manner he laid down as an example for us and all mankind. The benefactor and guide of all mankind would not be pleased with us today if we continue to behave in irrational ways to reinforce our image in the world as a backward, irrational, violent community. The struggle against the provocateurs and evil mischief makers has to be fought in a non-violent, mature, intellectually convincing manner, if the world is to be saved from a debilitating clash of faiths, civilisations, and embittered ‘enemy’ camps. That ‘diversion’ into religion-based conflict would distract the world from tackling the real problems that afflict mankind today: poverty, inequality, injustice.

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