by Ramzy Baroud / June 5th, 2010
“Any depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemous by
Muslims,” wrote Agencies, as reported readily by Aljazeera.net English.
The above statement is meant to fully summarize the reason behind the
outrage that arises in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world
whenever some provocative ‘artist’ decides to express his freedom of
expression and ‘expose’ Muslims as anti-democratic.
Such a simplistic interpretation of such an intricate issue.
There is no denial – and no shame – in the fact that most Muslims
hold their Prophet in the highest regard. Despite the continued decrease
in the number of faithful in increasingly secularized Western
societies, Muslims are clinching even tighter to their faith. However,
while the outrage over the latest transgression by some Facebook user
and his “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” may appear as a straightforward
news story – that of Western values vs Muslim narrow-mindedness – the
true underpinnings of the outrage is suspiciously missing.
The naïve depiction by Western media makes it easy for ‘freedom of
expression’ enthusiasts to condemn Muslims for yet again failing the
The latest Facebook episode is a remake of the same old story. Some
ill-intended ‘artist’, under the guise of freedom of speech, takes on a
confrontational mission, knowing fully the response such an act would
generate, and perhaps the lives that would be lost. Muslim masses,
predictably, respond through angry protests, burning flags, denouncing
America, Israel, Zionism, Facebook, Youtube and so on. Strangely, the
very governments that are considered US allies tend to be on the
forefront of condemning the ‘blasphemous’ provocations. Muslim masses
are thus exploited on all fronts – by the media, by anti-Muslims, by
rightwing forces in the West, and their own governments.
This, in turn, gives more ammunition to the Islamaphobes who
constantly try to fan the flames in order to validate their racist
perception of Muslims. The likes of Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, and
other ‘experts’ invade our TV screens and take on the responsibility of
lecturing the world on Islam. They use the same reductionist and racist
language that they have utilized for years in the guise of academic
Why, though, are these ‘academics’ and ‘intellectuals’ eager to
discredit Islam? And why are Muslims playing right into their hands?
It behooves us all to remember that some of those who champion
freedom of expression are selective in their advocacy. Freedom of
expression becomes important when the holiest symbols of Islam and its
Prophet are paraded, ridiculed and stereotyped. However, these very
advocates are enraged when the opinions being expressed are inconsistent
with their own agenda, which is overtly militant and hegemonic, and
refuses to take into consideration any honest opinion on Israel and its
war crimes against Palestinians. One needs to repeat the way that the
respected South African Judge Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish, was
depicted for pointing out the horrendous crimes committed in Gaza during
Israel’s most recent war. More, these individuals seem completely
oblivious when Muslims are denied the right to express their own values.
When, for example, was the last time a rightwing fanatic stood up for a
Muslim woman’s right to cover her hair or face?
It must be stated, however, that discrediting Muslims and Islam is
not a random strategy. It is very much in tandem with an overriding
agenda that has occupied the thinking of many rightwing and Zionist
ideologues for years, especially following the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, and the rising of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fervor in various
Western countries. The aim is to dehumanize Muslims, to make them seem
less civilized, and thus less worthy of equal human rights. In other
words, Muslims cannot be treated using the same standards that apply to
Westerners, because they have failed to subscribe to Western values. The
angry protests in Pakistan are supposedly proof of this. This makes war
easy and sanctions morally justifiable.
Why are Muslims playing right into this scenario? Actually, they are
not, although it would seem otherwise. The fact is, many Muslims nations
are caught between two layers of oppressions: that of outsiders – wars
and occupation, interference in their countries’ affairs, all forms of
humiliation and exploitation – and internal pressures – corruption,
oppression and denial of rights, including, yes, freedom of expression,
speech, assembly and democracy itself. These rights are also denied by
the very countries that are seen as ‘pro-American.’
Under these external and internal pressures, Muslim societies embrace
even tighter their everlasting Islamic symbols. Islam, for many
Muslims, represents more than just a way of life and an answer to
unworldly questions. It also provides a sense of hope, and it helps to
maintain a level of solidarity and societal cohesion. The harder
people’s lives become, the more impoverished, oppressed and abused, the
stronger their faith grows.
Considering all of this, insulting Islam, depicting the Prophet in
degrading (or any other) ways, bashing Islamic symbols and values is
equivalent to denying Muslim masses with their last and only chance at
dignity and hope.
Those who are under the impression that Muslims are opposed to
freedom of expression are only seeing a small part of the picture. Those
versed in history understand that it was Muslim advancements in
science, art and literature, and their most impressive translations of
the great works of ancient civilizations that allowed Europe to bask in
the sun of its renaissance.
Moreover, those who are sensible enough to see the big picture will
understand that when a Pakistani woman chants “Death to Facebook” – as
pitiful and confusing such phrase may sound – she is not actually
referring to a social networking website. Far from it, especially since
numerous Muslims have utilized Facebook to share their own ideas with
the rest of the world. What the woman is chanting against is the
manipulation of freedom of expression to further humiliate her people.
She is standing in solidarity with European Muslim communities who are
under a most intense attack on their civil rights and liberties. She is
angry at the war in Afghanistan, the constant bombing of innocents in
Pakistan, the occupation of Iraq, the rape of women and the parading of
naked prisoners, the siege in Gaza. She is angry about the Western
double standards regarding democracy, about her own oppression and her
people’s misfortunes. And so much more.
Ramzy Baroud is an author and a journalist. His
latest volume: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a
People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London) is available from Amazon
and other book venues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read other articles