The Middle East, Free Speech, Religion and The West

It has taken a long time for me to get my thoughts in order on the subject of the Innocence of the Muslims video. I have a natural sympathy for the Middle East, after my 1500-onwards Middle Eastern history class last year. (The ultimate feeling one came out of that class with was: much of the hatred and dislike for the “West” is fully justified. From traditional colonialism, to economic colonialism, to plain, old embroiling itself in politics that aren’t their business, the West has been treating the Arab world badly for centuries.)
I was having difficulty reading the reactions that many of the newspapers were printing saying, “It’s not about the video” or otherwise writing off the effect of the video and of the history of “us” and “them”. Yes, ultimately, I think a lot of it is political, and I think it got out of control the way it did because of the political instability in the region. But I could not get out of my mind one of the pictures from the Atlantic:

stop the bullshit

Kuwaiti protesters

In comparison to many of the other signs (the American flags ripped away to reveal Stars of David with the centers twisted in swastikas, in Iran, come to mind) this one seems to be delivering a completely isolated message, but it’s not an unreasonable one.

To me, this comes down to a very serious question: When are we going to address the rampant Islamophobia that exists in the West?

(Please note that while “islamophobia” is in the dictionary, and has its own Wikipedia article, when you type it out, it shows up with the red “spelling error” line underneath.)

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entirety of the video, partially because my computer had a hard time streaming the HD video, but partially because it was so blatantly hateful and purposefully incendiary I could feel myself becoming insulted; first, the idea that someone would take the time to make something so purposefully vile, and then, the idea that it would be written off as “mockery” rather than “hate speech” were equally reprehensible to me.

The Onion‘s (NSFW) satirical response seemed to me not so much funny, but rather an instance of unchecked privilege.

Someone posted to our Wiki the Al-Jazeera article The Fallacy of the phrase, ‘the Muslim World’ which picks apart the concept of there being a unity across all Muslims, which when phrased as 1.5 million people seems completely ridiculous. I particularly liked her comment about the Libyans who protested the violence against the American embassies,

They gave the rare apology that Western commentators often encourage Muslims to make on behalf of others who commit violence in the name of Islam. But while the sentiment of the protestors is appreciated by many Americans – and the photos likely assuaged some prejudices – such explanations should not be necessary. Ordinary people should not be assumed to share the beliefs of violent criminals who share their faith.

If the world were truly equal, and we demanded that everyone of a faith apologize for the actions of their madmen, far more Americans would be marching in apology for the actions of fundamentalist Christians in this country, perhaps even over the video posted to Youtube (it pays to remember that the man who made it was Coptic, which is a sect of Christianity).

Finally, I’d like to draw people’s attention to the article that finally helped me feel calm enough to write this entry: Islamophobia, Left and Right. In it Jeff Sparrow, compares the outrage felt by Muslims, as an oppressed group, to the actions of the sepoy, in 1857, against their British officers, that lead to the Great Indian Rebellion.

It’s not really about the video, the New York Times is right, but it’s not really about current politics, either. It’s about a long standing tradition of fear, hatred, and colonialism.

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