With widespread anti-western violence and protests in the middle-east over the past month, Evan O’Quigley examines the so called ‘clash of civilisations’ between Islam and the West
It is a strange coincidence that this month, during a sudden break of uproar in the Muslim world, that Salman Rushdie’s memoir of the nine-plus years he spent in captivity after Iran’s then supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death, has been released. The Rushdie affair incident famously caused a furore in the western media, which then began and his continued to portray Islam as a violent religion ever since.
There are some similarities between Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses caused uproar in the Muslim world for its portrayal of Islam, which was considered to be highly offensive, and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian born Coptic Christian from California, who released a film on YouTube entitled The Innocence of Muslims. However any comparison between Rushdie’s work and the YouTube film would be unfair. Rushdie himself has stated that he does not “feel particularly pleased to be bracketed with that absurd, pathetic and clearly malevolent YouTube piece of shit”.
It also should be noted that while some at the time such the Labour MP Keith Vas, who led a march with thousands of British Muslims calling for the banning of Rushdie’s book, criticised the author for purposefully offending a great monotheistic religion, it could be seen that most people sympathised with Rushdie’s benevolent intentions to write a piece of fiction that dealt with Islam. This piece of internet propaganda on the other hand, has received, with the exception of the lunatic fringe, more or less zero sympathy. And none is deserved.
Unlike Rushdie’s novel, which was intended as a literary novel and considered an artistic product, the crude and offensive 14 minute film released on YouTube is nothing of the sort. It has caused an uproar leading to mass civil unrest and violence and the death of over twenty people, including the murder of the US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. It seems to have been made for no other reason than to cause offence and anger in what is a very volatile part of the world. Added to this was the egregious lie that it was originally made by an Israeli and backed by ‘100 Jews’ (oddly specific, that), Since Israel, considered largely to be a western and democratic state, has been in violent conflict with the Arab world since its creation in 1947, a contributing factor for anti-western feeling in the middle-east.
There is no excuse for censorship, and this is not a case one should be making in response to this crude right-wing hatchet-job internet video. We should most definitely allow these people, whose views are abhorrent and ridiculous, to air them in public so that we can laugh and ridicule them for what they are. It is also unfortunate that a very loud and violent minority of Muslims in the middle-east react in such a moronic way to what is clearly a fringe opinion from someone nobody has even heard of.
It would also be wrong to suggest that the Islamic rage against the west is a purely grassroots movement. It is nothing of the sort. Salman Rushdie pointed out of the recent events “how politically manufactured this rage of Islam is; this isn’t some spontaneous outburst of the people rising up, it’s run by politicians and religious leaders for political purposes…this isn’t Islam versus the west, this is about Islamic leaders manipulating their own people to gain more power in their countries”.
It is true that continuing hatred of the west is a major help to religious fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood which has stalled the democratisation of much of the middle-east, particularly in Libya and Egypt by attempting to turn the countries into theocracies, post revolution.
Some issues need to be addressed in trying to understand the nature of Islam in the world today. The religion itself is 600 years younger than Christianity. It has not yet gone through any major reformation. Christians, if people recall, 600 years ago were still killing people for blasphemy and a lot less. So must the nature of middle-east politics. Most of the countries by and large are stricken by poverty and inequality, and are not democratically run. It has become accepted among many, mostly due to propaganda from political leaders, that their situation is the fault of America, Israel and the West.
It would be wrong to frame the last few weeks’ events simply as a clash of civilisations. There is far more than religion that has caused such disruption between the West and the Muslim world. There is no excuse for the actions that have been taken out by the mob of the past month but trying to understand the situation could help to calm tensions in future and avoid unnecessary violence and killing. The USA and Europe should make attempts to implement policies that will be beneficial to Muslim countries, not just to millionaire oil executives and private military contractors.
President Obama’s support of the Arab Spring last year, although it may have come late, was at least for noble cause in that it supported democratic protesters from the grassroots up. Such an angle of policy could be furthered, instead of forcing democracies on countries ruled by tyrants by barrel of a gun, supporting internal democratic movements like last year’s Arab Spring would show the middle-east that the West is serious about trying to improve their livelihood. Forget the idiot who made The Innocence of Muslims, and work towards creating peace. That would be progress.