Tuning-in on Nasrallah and Ibrahim

 A suicide car bomber has killed 12 people, nine of them foreigners, officials said, in an early-morning attack claimed by an armed group which said it sent a female attacker to avenge an anti-Islam film. Armed group, Hizb-e-Islami, on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by a woman to avenge the controversial video deemed insulting to Islam. Al-Jazeera, 9-1812

It seems to be me that there are two sets of trends evolving in many Muslim countries at the moment; one trend has to do with armed conflict aimed at using the United States’ policies and September 11th to create social unrest.  Sometimes, as in Libya, it may be an effort to unseat the current government; other times it may be Al-Qaeda or other organizations attempting to further their specific agenda and raise their visibility.

The second trend is the demonstrations against the film The Innocence of Muslims and the role of the American government in permitting it to be made.  Americans want to frame the issue in terms of freedom of speech, but the participants on the ground refuse to accept our definitions of freedom and are framing the issue as blasphemy.  There are those that believe some people and some things are more important than personal freedom and those people are deeply offended by the film. That feeling of offense is fueling many demonstrators around the world.

Americans, too, consider certain words and activities to be more important to our nation and its stability and security than the rights and freedoms of individuals; such as the activities and speech of terrorist, traitors and hate-crime perpetrators.  This is not one of those times for us however, no more than Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoons were; each of those cases was an example of freedom of speech in our national consciousness.  We may not like what they say, but damn it all we are ready to defend their right to say it.

That position makes grasping the emotional significance to Muslims of the Rushdie book or Danish cartoon beyond our understanding. In truth, this reaction to The Innocence of Muslims only differs from what happened with each of the other two works of expression by degrees; there were fewer demonstrations and less violence.  But there was not less expression of hate or outrage within certain segments of the Muslim community.  In fact, Iran has reissued its call to have Rushdie killed, in one statement an official said if Rushdie had been killed 15 years this film would never have been made.

Rushdie touched on the same issue on September 17th; he said his book would never have been published today because of the atmosphere of fear that exits. There is an ongoing stream of reactions and restricts that have resulted from demonstrations of September 11th.  Germany is considering banning the showing of the film, as is Russia.  In England a documentary said to be critical of Islam was cancelled because of fear of reprisals. Saudi Arabia is threatening Google with boycott and the king of Jordan has approved a law requiring internet licensing.

The video clip of the Innocence of Muslims is not worth our time, it is poorly made and should have been thrown on the scrap heap of history with thousands and thousands of other bad, stupid and bigoted books, films and cartoons. – Were it not for one very angry Islamic fundamentalist in Egypt, it might well have died the death it deserved.

I have been struggling to understand the recent events rationally, logically.  There may be logic behind some of the events, the cold calculating logic of the leaders and manipulators, but not behind the actions of the masses, or rather those that massed to protest.  They are reacting emotionally to the defamation of Mohammed and Islam.  The degree of emotional reaction is simply outside of my personal experience.

Maybe, I have never believed in anything that much; I have never wanted to burn down houses and kill people because of what they believed or what they were.  But it has happened here, hasn’t it?  Haven’t we lynched black men for being black, bombed churches and paraded around in shrouds? And we do have our own versions of hatemonger – pick any talk radio station you want and listen for a day or day – they preach hate and disrespect as much as any Middle Eastern demigod.  I resist the American version just as I resist the Middle Eastern version, but that does not make them go away or deprive them of a willing and agreeing audience.

Those that preach with emotion and not logic have an advantage over calmer voices.  They are able to move people with feelings, bring forth tears or gritted teeth; calmer ones want you to think carefully, the others only ask you to feel.  It is difficult, but I try to listen to talk radio and to speeches from around the world as often as I can. The words I hear are not ones I might like to hear, but they the words that other people want to hear. Those words are emotional and sometimes (but not always) hate-filled and resonate with many people, not just in the Arab world, but around the world.

I invite you to listen with me to parts of two speeches from September 17th; Ahmed Ibrahim in Egypt and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Their words started me, frightened me and unnerved me.  How can we ever have universal peace when we have such fundamental disagreements about right and wrong?  I want to talk about freedom of speech and they want to talk about loving the Prophet.  I want to defend our system and they want to protect their Prophet.  To me individual freedoms define my world, to them the words of Prophet define the world.   It would be accurate to say, “we do not see eye to eye!”

From Egypt:

At this very moment,  Americans are piling into movie theaters, cheering through their popcorn at the notion of the Islamic prophet as a goat-romancing child molester, and sending “The Innocence of Muslims” to the top of the box office charts. This evil must be stopped at all costs, or at least, “before the film is released in European cinemas,” urges Ahmed Ibrahim as, behind him, three of his colleagues collect rocks off the rubble-strewn street and dump them onto an improvised sling — a tattered and stained Egyptian flag.

Like the hundreds of young people surrounding him, 23-year-old Ibrahim claims to have spent the last three days hurling rocks at — and surviving lethal attacks by — the security forces that have not only “prevented the Islamic population from defending their honor,” but, worse yet, chosen to “align themselves with the American pigs, rather than remain loyal to their own religion.”

 As the four young men each grab a corner of the cloth and rush off with a fistfull of ammunition, they pick up on the chant roaring over the scene, a holdover from the 2011 revolution, mutated to fit the occasion: “The people say anything but the prophet.”

Misguided as their efforts may be — like most protesters at the scene, Ibrahim believes “The Innocence of Muslims” is a Hollywood production that, like any local or international film released in Egypt, and presumably elsewhere, passes through several rounds of censorship and receives official state approval from its own government before seeing the light of day — there is little doubt over the severity of the situation, and its potential fallout.

What do you mean ‘smart’ course of action?” one protester roars at Egypt Independent’s suggestion. “The film has already been made; it exists. Our only course of action is war, because this was an act of war.” Ali Abdel Mohsen, Al-Masry Al-Youm, 9-17-12

 From Lebanon:

 “This is our prophet, our religion. Or are you not Muslim?” Nasrallah challenged. “We want a formal apology from [US President Barack] Obama, we want the filmmakers executed, and we want all copies of the film destroyed,” another protester cut in. “All those tapes must be burned.”

“This is the start of a serious movement that must continue all over the Muslim world in defense of the prophet of God,” he said to roars of support. “As long as there’s blood in us, we will not remain silent over insults against our Prophet.”

“Prophet of God, we offer ourselves, our blood and our kin for the sake of your dignity and honor,” said Nasrallah.

“O Prophet, we die for you, my soul and my blood are for you,” the leader of the powerful Shia movement said, urging the crowd to repeat the words after him for the whole world to hear.

“America must understand … the US must understand that releasing the entire film will have dangerous, very dangerous, repercussions around the world.

“The world does not understand the breadth of the humiliation. The world must understand the depth of our bond with our prophet.” Al-Jazeera, 9-17-12

1 Response to “Tuning-in on Nasrallah and Ibrahim”

  1. 1 Rex Douglas Stock (@RexDouglasStock) September 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Thoughtful writing, Ken. The last two paragraphs (right before you “…invite us to listen…” are very powerful, and, I think captures the dilemma: guys like you and I have never been so single-minded in our beliefs to blow people up we don’t know, kill ourselves in the name of something ethereal, or deny that other perspectives exist, regardless how much we may not like them. Having convictions, as you once told me, is the essence of integrity; and instead of being baffled by what we think is irrational, we need, I think, to know how powerful those convictions are, and not spend our time trying to convert them…

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