Ayatollah Khomeini began the battle in 1988 when he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of the author of a book that not man many people had heard of until then. However “The Satanic Verses” is still on sale today, whilst its publisher has made millions of dollars in sales and its author, Salman Rushdie, has become an international star, even though prior to this book, he had only written three novels that were not well-known outside of Britain. Colonel Gaddafi and others then entered the fray when it became clear that they could use this issue to gain popularity.
This was followed by a series of similar events and clashes, such as the Danish cartoons that were published 5 years ago, a Dutch short film, not to mention calls to burn the Quran in Florida, and others. However today, an anti-Islam film has managed to represent a greater danger than at any time before. This is because this film was reportedly produced by an Egyptian Copt; whilst it is being seen at a time when Egypt’s sectarian scene is on the verge of igniting. In addition to this, we are now passing through the post-revolutionary era, namely the Arab Spring, which the Americans have lauded, saying this will open a better world in terms of communication between peoples, rather than dictatorial government.
Anybody who believes that clash of civilizations, or religions, will end in the next decade is wrong, for this is something that will only get worse! This is not because of an increase in the number of people who want to insult and abuse the religion of others, for such figures have always been present, but rather due to the growing means of communication and activism.
For example, just a few weeks ago a documentary about the history of Islam was broadcast which was far worse than the cheap – in terms of production and content – YouTube film that has sparked protests across the region. The host of this documentary claimed that Islam and the Quran came into existence only 100 years after the Arabs occupied most of the Middle East, however not many people paid attention to this because it was not promoted on YouTube. In addition to this, there is another American film – made with high production values – that insults Islam, however nobody has paid attention to this because it is outside the radar of popular culture and political controversy.
This abuse is not just limited to Islam; Christians, Jews and Hindus are fighting their own battles against hostile literary and artistic projects. The difference is that Muslims are afflicted with the presence of armed extremist organizers – such as Al Qaeda – that believe it is their duty to defend Islam. Catholics protested against and indeed tried to ban the “Da Vinci Code”, which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Prior to this, large controversy focused on Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” movie, particularly its portrayal of the Jews. These all resulted in controversy that sparked disagreements and tensions and hatred at a time of intellectual, political and cultural turmoil.
In comparison, nobody is paying any attention to those who are working to confront this phenomenon by producing films or books that defend religion and how it in a positive light, not to mention counter negative stereotypes that have abounded with the spread of the culture of hatred. Dr. Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti national, is the creator of the 99, which aims to extol the history and culture of Islam to the youth around the world. There are a few others who are trying to do the same, however we have not seen any demonstrations to thank or support them! The problem is larger than it seems today, and this goes far beyond anger directed at the producer of a film that insults Islam. Discord and hatred is rising between different religions and communities. Just two weeks ago, we saw two guests on an Arab television show get involved in a physical confrontation live on air over the tensions between the Sunni and Shiite communities. Whilst Libya is experiencing a crisis due to the demolition of Sufi shrines, something that almost led to the eruption of full-scale hostilities between the Sufi community and the Salafists responsible for this. Whilst in Morocco, semi-literate people have been keen to announce that their country is only for followers of the Maliki Islamic madhab, and there is no room for followers of the Hanbali school. This demonstrates how relations can deteriorate and sour if we do not pay attention to this and fail to understand how this will risk our own future. We have seen how religious conflict led to the recent division in Sudan, whilst it also threatens Iraq with the same. In addition to this, northern Lebanon lives under the specter of war and God only knows what will happen in Syria!