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Violence and the sacred: Political significance - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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“Surely We will suffice you against the scoffers.” [Surat al-Hijr; Verse 95] In this Quranic verse, God Almighty is addressing the Prophet (peace be upon him), and most scholars believe that this represents a holy “promise” that the Prophet’s prestige and standing would not be harmed. Well-known Saudi scholar Abdul-Rahman Bin Sa’adi – whom I personally consider to be a truly unique and wise scholar – said in his famous tafsir [exegesis] of this verse, that it is a “promise God Almighty made to his prophet that he shall not be harmed by those who mock him and that He – Almighty God – would protect him against them.”

In this case, it is a grave mistake so say that such a trivial film [as “The Innocence of Muslims”] could defame or insult the prophet. This is because, according to Muslim scholars, a prophet’s prestige is complete and perfect, let alone a prophet’s historical standing. A prophet’s stature becomes further completed as ages and history pass and as people maintain their faith in sanctities, as expressed by present-day comparative religious scholars.

This defamatory anti-Islam film has become a fertile ground for religious transgressions. This is an issue that has been repeated to the point that it is almost a permanent fixture, namely it has become attractive for many fools to exploit this and use Muslim’s reactions as an opportunity for fame and self-promotion, as well as to create major sedition, instability and chaos in Muslim states.

We should not engage in inter-Islamic ideological struggles with our intellectuals, elites, politicians and even the public regarding the handling of this film or the religious reaction to it, rather the most important thing is to analyze the political significance of this incident. “Violence and the sacred” is the title of a very important book by French thinker Rene Girard that touches upon the phenomenon of violence associated with religious zeal. This type of violence functions as a religious cover for the clash of civilizations. Therefore, our reading of the situation should not be dependent on the latent and hidden religious aspects, but rather the obvious political aspects. By examining these political aspects, we will be able to understanding this phenomenon of “sacred violence” and offer solutions to control it.

In order to demonstrate that the crisis surrounding this defamatory anti-Islam film is a political reaction with ideological motives, let me ask this question: Why didn’t we see similar reactions in states that enjoy political stability? Why are violent reactions always associated with areas of tension, chaos and political instability? Why has the person responsible for this film been “magnified” to the point that he is no longer an individual, but a symbol that covers the entire West? Is it logical that the German embassy or a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet should be targeted, so that the entire situation becomes a joke? Therefore this is a situation that must be analyzed according to its political aspects, rather than under a religious guise.

The other issue, which is perhaps more important, is that the public reaction to this “defamatory film” was not dissociated from other preceding or succeeding occurrences that – by themselves – fail to arouse public sentiment. To be clear anyone who observes Western film production would be able to find more than one such defamatory film, some of which are even more shocking that this. However such films failed to receive significant public attention because it is natural for this kind of “sacred violence” to remain latent until it is the time for “sacrifice”. From here, justifications are ready regardless of the selected film or when it was screened or even if it has anything to do with the issue at hand.

There is a state of sliding towards violence that was experienced in Libya and embodied by the killing of the US ambassador, who had been a strong supporter of the “Arab Spring.” Prior to this, Salafist Jihadists had launched attacks against Sufi mosques and shrines in Tripoli and Misrata. However despite this, there had been no reaction to these attacks and no religious symbol had come out to voice an opinion condemning this behaviour. This is because correcting such behaviour would delegitimize these religious symbols and perhaps rouse the reaction of the angry mob. For whilst everybody is well aware that such behaviour is a crime and contradicts Islamic Sharia law, interests must prevail. So if attacking religious shrines could be justified by the extremists and their scholars, then what is the justification for the deafening silence surrounding the bombing of a humanitarian organization such as the Red Cross? Furthermore, turning a blind eye to profound politically significant symbolic issues represents a form of willful blindness. Therefore the raising of Al Qaeda banners and the distribution of literature signed by new battalions that champion Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, not to mention the emergence of small [extremist] groups in northern Lebanon, represent indications that radicalism or extremism is on the rise.

What we are saying about Libya can also be said about Tunisia that saw attacks targeting art galleries, colleges and even mosques whose imams fail to adopt the same ideologies of the armed groups that have now begun to appear. Such groups did not come from a vacuum, and anyone who believes that they are absent from the scene must be living in dream land.

What is certain is that we have now entered the era of major divisions and fragmentation, and this is something that I – amongst others –anticipated after political Islam came to power in our region . Salafist Jihadists, radicals who have adopted hardliner ideologies and even parties such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and others are all now seeking political “appreciation” and a role within society, or at least acceptance from their ex-comrades who are now in power. Those categories are of the view that political Islam’s legitimacy, which their comrades utilized to come to power, was attained through them, for they are present at a grass-roots level through their domination of mosque podiums as well as unofficial religious organizations. Furthermore, any concessions these “new rulers” make towards civil currents – whether secularists, leftists or nationalists – only serves to harm the legitimacy of radicalism on the ground, which is more important to these groups than the legitimacy of elections and polls. This perhaps explains Egypt’s negligence towards the Sinai issue, particularly the assignment of a radical hard-line figure to undertake negotiations. This was also clear in the [Libyan] National Transitional Council’s policy of double standard in its handling of the attacks on Sufi sites, which was characterized by lenience in order not to anger the revolutionary powers with Jihadist backgrounds. As for Tunisia, the Ennahda party is turning a blind eye to the extremists’ actions because it wants to avoid a confrontation with them, whilst the secularists’ opposition to the party is now reaching a peak.

Therefore what is happening now is not merely an enraged reaction due to our deep love of the Prophet (peace be upon him), rather these are all violent expression of the political and security vacuum in our region. This represents a struggle over the monopolization of religious legitimacy; a struggle between armed extremist groups and the political Islamists now ruling in the name of the people.

There can be no development towards a stable country unless we gain control of the violence, in terms of ideology and conduct. This is not dependent on security solutions or direct confrontation, rather this requires a long process of social action. Confronting violence is part of the evolution of human civilization, as expressed by philosopher Karl Popper. In fact, reducing and minimizing violence is a solution that must be undertaken by individuals who must demonstrate the culture of tolerance themselves before this can be imposed by the law. Hence, according to late Algerian thinker Mohammed Arkoun, tolerance in this context is not just a virtue brought about by religious teachings, rather it must be “a reaction to social and political requirements at a time of major ideological tension.” Wouldn’t you agree that this is just such a time?