Shouting fire in the global theater

  • Article by: AHMED THARWAT
  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 6:40 AM

The rage isn't always informed, but Americans should learn its complexity.

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Kashmiri Muslim protested an anti-Islam film called "Innocence of Muslims" that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Photo: Mukhtar Khan, AP

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Everywhere I go, people ask for my reaction to the Muslim reaction to the so-called "film." What do I think of the attacks on American embassies in the Muslim world? Why are so many Muslims angry with America? (As if there were one explanation that covered all misbehaving Muslims' motives and grievances.)

I finally decided to watch "Innocence of Muslims." I wanted to see how this particular film "degraded our beloved prophet" -- who is to Muslims a perfect man and not a divine one. I wanted to find out why some Muslims around the Islamic world went berserk, as portrayed in the Western media's 24/7 news frenzy.

"Attacks on American Embassies around the Muslim world" screamed headlines, along with images of angry Muslims burning the American flag and attacking embassies, and stories about the unfortunate killing of Chris Stevens, American ambassador in Libya. "He even speaks Arabic," marveled a media friend.

Most of the people America kills in the Muslim world speak English and more.

I made sure to watch the film alone, late at night. I wanted to give it a fair shot. It was easy for me to do it. I see tons of videos and websites dedicated to insulting Islam and our prophet.

Most of the people who are angry about this film haven't watched it or even read any review about it. I interviewed more than 10 Muslim Americans after Friday prayer. Not one of them had actually watched the film, but that didn't stop them from giving their opinions. The only one who claimed he watched it said he watched only 50 minutes of the film.

But it is not even a film, it is trailer, 14 minutes long, that looks like a high school project that went from bizarre to absurd -- a presentation with a small budget and a small mind, a typical view of Islam and Muslims among western males when they get drunk and free of the political-correctness crabs.

The film portrays the prophet as a decadent, immoral sex maniac -- very much a self-image of Western culture itself. It is more laughable than outrageous. Just as the West turned Jesus, the man of Nazareth, into a white man, the prophet in the film seemed more of a white man than a colored one. The film seemed on a mission to please every right-wing fanatic and Michele Bachmann supporter.

The acting is as bad as the narration, and you can't take it seriously, or even react to it. The film/trailer is one of these things that you find on Facebook pages to incite some Muslims, who already have grievances with the West, especially America, from invading their countries and bombing their cities and villages.

The amateurish film/trailer caught the Arab world in a bad mood. With the Arab Spring fading away into a hard winter, people have been demonstrating in the street for almost two years. After toppling their dictators, nothing really had changed in their lives; it's business as usual, and the new regimes are using the old, oppressive means of keeping order.

The anti-American demonstration started in two countries -- Egypt and Libya -- where Americans thought that they had supported the people against their dictators -- a naive view of the complexity of politics in the area. Most of the demonstration was peaceful in the beginning, then turned to violence for domestic political and security-breaching reasons.

In the Muslim world, when people get angry at America, they burn American flags and attack embassies. But when Americans get angry with Muslims, they burn Qur'ans and attack mosques -- which tells you that Americans are more religiously fundamentalist than Muslims. There are more attacks on mosques in America alone than attacks on American embassies around the globe.

The reaction to the reaction is stunning. People are saying and repeating the same thing: "Muslims are attacking American embassies because of a film about their prophet." But to put the angry Muslim reaction in perspective: In the light of the freedom-of-expression issue that the West is holding as an axe over Muslims' heads, what about the freedom of expression of an Arab to wear Arabic T-shirt or pray at an airport? In America, it may be OK to desecrate the prophet, but not so much if you desecrate the flag, or insult a company brand or trademark.

Muslims' frustration is increased by the fact that they believe in and respect Christian and Jewish prophets, while their prophet doesn't get the same respect. They can't retaliate with just an insulting film.

The Western media loves to discuss, in time of need, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death fatwa (religious decree) against author Salman Rushdie. But it doesn't discuss for an instant President Obama's kill-list fatwa, in which the assassin-in-chief is sending his invisible executioner to kill at will -- no due process, no court, no reliable information.

The self-righteousness of Westerners is more fundamentalist. The non-Western values of other cultures are fair game for an onslaught of freedom of expression. But when it comes to their own so-called Western values ... those are sacred.

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Ahmed Tharwat is a public speaker and hosts the Arab-American show "Belahdan" at 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on Twin Cities Public Television. He blogs at www.ahmediatv.com.

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