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The lost concept of tolerance - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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One may disagree with America on many of its policies, and understand the controversy it has aroused and the anger it has caused, but this does not justify the nature of the recent protests against a US-produced anti-Islam film. The protests quickly deviated and did not focus on the real culprit responsible for the production and distribution of this crude film that only serves to abuse and insult Islam, Muslims and the Holy Prophet. Indeed, those few who resorted to violence and murder, targeting diplomats and attacking embassies, have inadvertently served the producers of this film and everyone who stands behind it or supports its attempts to discredit Islam and Muslims, provoke sedition and unrest, and in the process keeping the region ablaze. The creators of this malicious film undoubtedly wanted to make a noise to attract attention to their work, which is poor by anyone’s standard. This film had been posted on the internet in English for more than two months without receiving any attention, and the attempt to screen it in a cinema also had very little impact, so the producers sought to dub certain sections into Arabic, less than 14 minutes in total, and uploaded this version onto YouTube hoping to attract attention and provoke the feelings of Muslims, in order to ignite sedition.

Perhaps it is important here to remember that some of the expatriate Copts behind this work have in the past sought to ignite strife between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. They lodged bizarre demands for Coptic secession, called for foreign intervention under the pretext of protecting the Christian minority, and they even led a fierce campaign against the late Pope Shenouda and attacked the Coptic Church because they considered it to be too conciliatory and peaceful. Many Copts rejected these positions and considered these extremists not only to be insulting to Muslims, but also to the Coptic Church. They warned that their stances were a danger to coexistence and tolerance, and warned against turning a blind eye to any attempts to ignite the flames of sedition.

No wonder then, that the whims of these extremist Copts found fertile ground with the goals of other extremists known for their raw animosity towards Islam and Muslims, such as American Pastor Terry Jones, who sparked widespread outrage when he insisted on burning copies of the Koran and held a mock trial for the Prophet Mohammed, or Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, who also caused an uproar four years ago when he released the anti-Islamic film “Fitna”. Jones announced that he had cooperated with the film’s producers in order to promote it, whilst Wilders was quick to upload the film, with its strange title “Innocence of Muslims”, on his personal website. This was nothing more than a posturing move, because the film was readily available anyway on YouTube, and there is no doubt that the many other extremists promoting the film, whether individuals or organizations, are doing so to pour more fuel on the flames of discord and hatred. All of them know that there is no hope of their voices being heard or their sick message resonating unless they can create an uproar. They also know that their intentions can never be achieved unless they can ignite wider strife between the West and the Muslim world and drag various forces into it.

In this respect it can be said that America has found itself in the midst of a crisis manufactured by a group of people with minds full of animosity and prejudice, with an underlying hatred against Islam and Muslims, who want to create crises to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of the world and ignite what is sometimes called the clash of civilizations. As happened in the crisis created by the extremist Pastor Jones in 2010 when he insisted on burning copies of the Koran, the US administration has found itself facing Muslim anger simply due to the work of individuals supported by extremist entities, who have gained greater notoriety because of the media focus and the power of the internet. In both cases the US administration expressed its condemnation of those seeking to offend the feelings of Muslims and insult what is sacred to them, demanding the immediate cessation of such acts, but its voice has been lost amidst a crisis where protests of anger against the pastor [or film] have transformed into anger against America.

There are those who believe that America’s stance is insufficient, and that it is implicated in the matter because it does not take steps to prevent the broadcast of such insulting works, or prosecute those behind them, but the question is can America actually do that? The fact is that it cannot, because the constitution prevents such action and the US administration does not have the right to change it, because touching the “Constitution of the Founding Fathers” is not possible no matter how great the pressure. How many earthquakes have shaken America following every massacre committed in a school, university or cinema, followed by widespread calls to reconsider the issue of guns and weapons? Yet every time the constitution stands in the way, for it cannot be amended and one of its fundamental articles stipulates the right to bear arms, just as it stipulates the freedom of expression, even if some misuse it.

So what is to be done?

The protests alone will not achieve what is desired, especially when they deviate from the intended target, or if they are hijacked by some entities that want to incite violence or inflame discord and hatred. Islamic organizations, which are not few in number or resources, can play an active role here. Rather than waiting for the reactions from the street, these organizations can lead the way through the continuous monitoring of all extremist movements that are working against against all that is Islamic. They should address each act aiming to discredit a religion and insult its sanctities by using existing laws, correct misconceptions, support inter-faith dialogue and spread the concept of tolerance to challenge and defeat extremism. Here one might say that this is difficult, and the Muslims cannot afford to prevent a recurrence of these abuses as long as there are extremists, and in light of such feelings of hostility towards Islam, but those who talk like this do not tell us why the Jews and their organizations can monitor and track down everything they consider to be hostile against them, and yet the Muslims are unable to do that?

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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