The Princess, Pink Spray Paint, and the Protest
By Nadia B. Ahmad
When a photographer Valerie Suau captured topless shots of Kate Middleton, the royal coupleâ€™s lawyer Aurelian Hamelle argued in French court that they shared a â€œhealthy and profoundlyâ€ intimate moment while vacationing in the south of France. The couple sought an injunction against the French tabloid The Closer and filed a criminal complaint for the intrusion on their privacy. The venerated public image of the royal couple remained intact, but slightly marred, as they continued on their multi-country Asian tour because of their stealth handling of a PR nightmare.
On the other side of the Atlantic, derogatory depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (s) made their rounds from America to the Muslim world. Protests ensued. It was calamitous.
Yet stricter blasphemy laws will only embolden hate speech. What is needed to counter hate is the onslaught of knowledge and enlightenment, a tradition not unknown to Muslims. The trouble is that between our own bickering and trivial debates, the true essence of Muslim scholarship and good will have been cast aside on a corner of a bookshelf or buried deep within our own nafs and mass discontent. The problem is not about East or West. Muslim or Christian or Jew. Hindu or Sikh. It is about preserving our common humanity.
I cannot speak for Muslims in the East. I cannot apologize for a situation I did not create, but I can as a Muslim in the West say that I benefit from unprecedented freedoms to practice my religion, to express myself, and to live without governmental intrusion. I also have no reason to be offended unless I allow myself to be offended. Regrettably, as Muslims we must admit that the image of Prophet Muhammad (s) is less hallowed because of our own failures and not that of a shoddy video depiction.
Hearing the broken record of Islam-does-not-preach-hate is tiresome. I have grown weary of listening to Islam-condemns-violence in the face of hate. Terrorism, anger, rage, and conflict are symptoms of deeper societal problems. What does exasperate me, though, is the loss of life due to hunger and preventable diseases, dismal literacy rates, deteriorating infrastructure, unreliable energy, lack of womenâ€™s rights, and the list goes on.
It is easy to trounce on an image. Throughout her life, Princess Diana was marauded by the media. I remember when I first learned of the death of Princess Diana and was upset. Princess Diana was a loss to the world because of her unrelenting work on fighting AIDS and campaigning for removal of land mines. Kate Middleton has heavy shoes to fill of her mother-in-law. In understanding the British royals, we must look beyond the pomp and glitz to the barrage of unrealistic expectations and senseless commitments. We are all the same whether we want to admit it or not, more specifically whether we like it or not.
In a similar vein, it is helpful to look at the Muslim protestors through the lens of dreams deferred and shattered hopes. Economist Jeffrey Sachs in his 2008 book, Common Wealth: Economies for a Crowded Planet, highlights the importance of reinvigorating global cooperation. He points out the disparity of American spending on foreign aid ($2.3 trillion) and military expenditures ($17 trillion) in the last 50 years. Imagine if those two figures were switched. What if the U.S. had spent $17 trillion on eradicating worldwide disease, hunger and poverty instead of protecting its geo-political interests and killing? For one, there would be fewer protests. The Muslim protestors are demonstrating against a racist worldview, a worldview which considers them less than human.
On Wednesday Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for defacing anti-Muslim subway ads with pink spray paint. The inflammatory ads were posted this week in 10 New York City subway stations after the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) lost a court battle on the basis of agency policy against demeaning language.
â€œOur hands are tied,â€ New York subway spokesman Aaron Donovan told The Guardian. â€œUnder our existing ad standards as modified by the injunction, the MTA is required to run the ad.â€
Ironically, Eltahawy hands were cuffed.