Video and virulence
Despite the US justice system somehow finding a way to arrest the fraudster behind the horrific hate-video Innocence of Muslims there seems to be something sinister about the regularity with which hate propaganda against the Prophet of Islam is emanating from the West. That the mischief-mongers there are leaving no medium unexploited to arouse passions is evident from the vindictive publication of abusive cartoons depicting the Prophet in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo even as protests were spreading in Muslim societies against the despicable film.
Surprisingly, such extreme anti-Islam acts come under the umbrella of free speech in countries where even a genuine criticism of Zionism is considered an anathema amounting to anti-Semitism. Less than about a month ago, in a blatant attempt to circumvent the First Amendment, the California State Assembly passed a resolution titled HR 35 asking educational institutions to ensure that Jewish students were protected from anti-Semitic discourses on their campuses such as those that project Israel as a racist state “guilty of heinous crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide…” HR 35 also urged universities to neutralise “student-and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonising Israel…”
One fails to understand why American lawmakers who otherwise make no attempt to conceal their pro-Israel bias are so unwilling to differentiate between genuine criticism and defamation. Innocence of Muslims is not a critique of Islam but a bundle of outrageous lies about the Prophet, therefore cannot enjoy protection under free speech laws. Article 12 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary attacks upon his honour and reputation. Similarly, Article 19(3) of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights lays down that the right to freedom of expression is subject to certain restrictions to protect “the rights or reputation of others” and “for the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”. If so much care requires to be taken to safeguard the reputation of living persons, are not dead people — who cannot defend themselves — entitled to equal if not more protection?
Defenders of absolute freedom should also consider that fact that the tremendous reach of the social media has made geographical boundaries irrelevant with the result that the consequences of events happening within a given country are no more confined to its borders. They have global implications. In other words, the US can no longer shelter under the First Amendment defamatory material that is produced within its borders but available through the Internet all over the planet. Refusal to recognise this reality would only aggravate the anti-US sentiment across cultures.
On the other side, Muslims have every right to protest against condemnable attempts to defame the Prophet. But they must refrain from violence, for it is the very antithesis of Islam, which means peace. Any reaction in defence of the Prophet has to be in accordance with his exemplary conduct, the Sunnah, which was entirely based on the Quran. And it may be pointed out here that the Quran took note of some of the offensive insinuations hurled at the Prophet by his detractors (25:41 and 38:4-5). But it exhorted him to, “Have patience with what they say, and distance yourself from them with noble dignity” (73:10).
The Prophet meticulously followed this divine instruction and did not allow cowardly insults or physical attacks to come in the way of his great mission. Once on a visit to Ta’if, a small town about 60 kilometres from Mecca, he was mocked and stoned to the extent that he started bleeding profusely. Yet he prayed for the well-being of people of Ta’if and
hoped that their next generation would accept his message.
The Prophet displayed his characteristic tolerance and peaceableness even during the signing of the Treaty of Hudaibiya in year 6 AH (628 AD). when he agreed to all its conditions, including the Meccans’ demand to sign in his personal capacity and not as the Prophet. The Muslims were incensed and rejected the blasphemous exaction. But the Prophet in all humility, and in the larger interest of Islam, endorsed the pact as “Mohammed, the son of Abdullah” thereby proving his greatness. It is no wonder that the Quran praised him as the possessor of the most exalted standard of character (68:4).
The Hudaibiya treaty proved to be a big victory (fathhan mubeen) for Islam when within a period of two years the Muslims captured Mecca. Here again the Prophet proved true to his divine title Rahmatal lil aalameen (Mercy unto mankind) by declaring a general amnesty. Even his staunchest enemies, who forced him to leave Mecca and subsequently fought wars against Islam, such as Abu Sufyan and Ikrima ibn Abu Jahal, were forgiven. The result was: anti-Islam forces, having come to know of the peaceful nature of the religion, not just gave up their animosity but became its foremost promoters.
There is a great lesson in this for Muslims whom the Quran honours as ummatan wasat (a community that is moderate and takes the middle path). They must realise that the ongoing defamation campaign against the Prophet (apart from being the work of ignorant minds) is part of an attempt to project Muslims as religious extremists by eliciting violent reactions from them. Perhaps one way of countering this would be to popularise the unimpeachable life history of the Prophet and ask those behind the objectionable video to explain how distorting history and spreading lies about a non-vindictive, humane person constitutes artistic freedom.
The writer is secretary general of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org