Islamophobia and the West: No Lessons Learned

By Aijaz Z. Syed

The more things change between Islam and the West the more they remain the same. Ludicrous as it may sound to our friends in the West, many in the Middle East and around the world sincerely believe that 9/11 was an inside job and probably another manifestation of Israel’s ever fertile imagination. Of course, I’ve always dismissed such conspiracy theories with the contempt they deserve.

Over the past few days and weeks though, as the Muslim world has gone up in flames with the US and Western missions attracting the fury of the faithful like never before, I’ve been having my doubts. After all, Israel has been the biggest beneficiary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the resultant tsunami of American wrath targeting the world of Islam.

More than a million lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the mind-boggling mess all across the region. The true cost of 10 years of shock and awe may perhaps never be captured in real terms. And it’s not just the Muslims who have suffered in this conflict. The West hasn’t been any less affected. The empire has nearly bankrupted itself in fighting these wars with the world’s biggest economy still reeling from the backbreaking burden.

The contagion that spread from the Wall Street in 2008 has crippled the world economy.

So whoever started it, they took out two birds with one stone. And the same prolific mind appears to be at work once again behind the latest storm pitting Muslims against the West all over again. The method, timing and the measured execution of the freakish little hate-fest, “Innocence of Muslims,” bear the same distinct hallmarks.

The US presidential polls are weeks away with Barack Obama being streets ahead of his Republican rival. Not because the incumbent has delivered on the “change-we-can” promise but because the alternative is even more unpalatable. A stuffed dummy would be more human than the plastic emotions of Mitt Romney. However, he’s more acceptable to Israel because he never misses an opportunity to grovel before his masters, savaging the Palestinians and Iranians while Obama has ostensibly failed to heed the lobby’s diktats over Iran.

Now with the US missions around the world being overwhelmed by the tsunami of Muslim rage, not to mention the unprecedented lynching of US diplomats including the ambassador in Libya, and Obama being accused of being soft on “Islamist terrorists,” this election could yet see a turnaround before the November showdown.

There’s another reason why Obama earned himself the Zionists’ wrath. Breaking away from the glorious Western tradition of helping their friendly despots torment their people in the name of stability, he has had the audacity to stand back and watch the dawn of democracy in the Middle East. The Arab Spring has seen many of Israel’s loyal allies being replaced by the Islamists and people who are impervious to carrots and sticks.

The winds of change sweeping the Arab world have blown away Israel’s fig leaf of legitimacy and the racist canard that Arabs are intolerant of democracy and incapable of peaceful coexistence with a “democratic and progressive” Israel. More important, the new wave of Arab renaissance is seen as a threat to the Zionist and neocon designs on the Middle East, making them all dangerously desperate.

So what do they do? They return to the time-honored tradition of sowing the whirlwind and anarchy. The 14-minute obscenity produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula aka Sam Bacile and porn peddler Alan Roberts is so crude that calling it a “movie” would be an insult to filmmakers everywhere. Yet it has managed to provoke us like nothing has since the Satanic Verses.

We have been here before of course, repeatedly, with no lessons learned. Any two-bit, loathsome creep can now, it seems, abuse and provoke the followers of the world’s fastest spreading faith. We see a red rag anywhere and we charge in, eyes wide shut, without a thought to the identity and intent of those behind the provocation. Which is what our legion of enemies want. And we never fail to oblige. We hand our detractors the victory and vindication they are looking for by dignifying their cheap and obscene shots with our violent response.

By burning sacred books and attacking someone who came as a blessing for the whole of mankind, the perpetrators only show themselves to be what they are — demented prisoners of their own delusions. The thing about a provocation is it works only when you acknowledge it. You are not provoked unless and until you choose to be.

Of course, it’s easier said than done considering the profound reverence, love and esteem in which the Prophet of Islam is held by his followers.

While everyone loves and reveres his religious icons, the place and eminence he holds in the hearts and minds of the believers remains truly unrivaled. They love and celebrate him in every way possible; they name their sons after him; they remember him in their prayers five times a day and pray for him every time his blessed name is mentioned. You’ve got to be a Muslim to truly understand what Muhammad (peace be upon him) means to his followers.

The spontaneous outpouring of anger and grief across the world over the past two weeks should therefore come as no surprise to anyone although the targeting of innocents and diplomats can never be condoned.

On the other hand, the Nakoulas and Flemming Roses of this world are only too aware of this sensitivity and emotional vulnerability of Muslims and repeatedly prey on it. They abuse the great gift of free speech to promote hatred and bigotry.

As Tariq Ramadan argues, behind the celebration of freedom of speech hides the arrogance of ideologists and racists who feed off the multiform humiliation of Muslims to demonstrate the “superiority” of their civilization and the validity of their resistance to the “cancer” of retrograde Islam.

As Islam spreads its wings in the heart of Western civilization at a breathless pace — it has already overtaken Catholicism as the largest religious denomination in the world — you see a new desperation and viciousness in these attacks on the faith.

This is why now that the storm of protests over the movie has peaked and Muslims have made their point, it’s time to pause and ponder the ways of dealing more effectively with these recurring slurs and bouts of Islamophobia. Instead of waiting for the next round of assault on their icons, Muslim nations and opinion leaders must push for global norms and laws ensuring respect for all religions.
Enough of Western duplicity giving free rein to all sorts of lunatics targeting Muslims in the name of free speech while punishing anyone even remotely critical of its favored few. In many European states, including Denmark, blasphemy is a serious crime. Only it covers Christian and Jewish icons. Islam is fair game.

As if the long history of colonial wars in the Middle East wasn’t enough to spice this relationship, we now have these perpetual, mindless attacks on Islamic icons, fueling a civilizational clash and producing ever new crops of extremists.

The UN General Assembly concluded in 2006 that “defamation of religions is among the causes of social disharmony and leads to violations of human rights.” These noble words, however, like many others emanating from the world body, remain mere words on paper while the world hurtles toward an imminent Apocalypse.

As the world grows smaller and borders become irrelevant, we are becoming more intolerant of each other. Is it too much to ask for a little understanding and respect for your fellow beings in the melting pot that is our world? You are entitled to your opinion as much as I am to my own. Just don’t force it down my throat. As the Holy Qur’an puts it, “lakum deenukum waliya deen.” (To you be your faith, and to me mine!).

In the end, one just hopes the US has drawn right lessons from the whole episode. For much of the Muslim anger directed against US missions is clearly a blowback of the long years of Washington’s wars and lopsided policies blindly supporting Israel. The long simmering volcano of Muslim ire has finally erupted. The empire would ignore the writing on the wall at its own cost.

Aijaz Z. Syed is a Gulf based commentator.


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