Oh what a bandwagon that noxious little anti-Islamic video has set in motion. There seems to be no end of people eager to hop on it for personal and political gain, no matter how many lives it costs.
There’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut, reeling from backlash against his support of Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing massacre of Syrian civilians. What a perfect opportunity to deflect criticism by calling for more and larger protests — not against the Syrian regime, but against America, in the name of “defending the Prophet.” Except that’s not what he’s doing. To cite the headline of Nick Kristof’s NYT column today, he’s exploiting the Prophet.
There’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she of the soft voice and the compelling back story, who just can’t stop talking about what she calls “the Muslim mentality.” (Pop quiz: if someone who generalizes about a stereotyped “Jewish mentality” is an anti-Semite, what’s someone who generalizes about a stereotyped “Muslim mentality”? Click here if you don’t know.) Hirsi Ali told her story yet again in Newsweek‘s “Muslim Rage” issue (to which the best answer was the often hilarious #MuslimRage meme on Twitter). Strange to think that the rapidly failing Newsweek was once a reputable publication.
There’s the sophomoric French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose idea of cutting-edge humor is cartoons of politicians with their pants down around the ankles. This week they ran similar cartoons of Muhammad in order to inject some life into their plumetting circulation by creating controversy. Oh, and as a beacon of free speech, of course.
There’s Pakistan’s Minister of Railways — the man responsible for the system’s chronic debt, constant strikes, and devastating crashes. What better way to distract people from his total failure than to make himself out to be a “defender of Islam” by offering a $100,000 bounty for the life of the director of that inane video? There’s nothing quite like incitement to murder to cover up your own corruption.
There’s more — there’s always more of such people, including of course the miserable little bigots who made the video in the first place — but that’ll do for now. Because none of this reflects the real Muslim rage: the palpable outrage not only at the killing of Ambassador Stevens, but also at the blatant attempt of Islamic extremists (and their Islamophobic counterparts) to hijack Islam.
Listen, for instance, to Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey, who was one of the voices of 2011’s “Arab spring” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Violent protests over the video are “more damaging to Islam’s reputation than a thousand so-called ‘Islam-attacking’ films,” he writes, and calls on Egyptians to condemn Islamic fundamentalists as “a bunch of shrill, patriarchal, misogynistic, violent extremists who are using Islam as a cover” for political ambition.
Twitter is spilling over with similar protests and disgust from Muslims all over the world at the way the “defenders of Islam” are destroying it from within. And this disgust was acted on in Benghazi on Friday when 50,000 Libyans marched to demand the disarming of the extremist militias suspected of attacking the US consular buildings, then stormed the headquarters of two of the biggest militias and forced them out of town. Two other Islamist militias instantly disbanded. Yes, if you unite, you can face down the thugs, even well-armed ones. This, of course, is not something you’ll see on the cover of Newsweek.
As Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, and with especial pain, Syrians know, the “Arab spring” is not a matter of a single season. The moniker itself is a product of Western media shorthand, of the desire to label a “story” and assign it a neat, self-contained timeline. But this was no mere story for the people living it. It was and still is the beginning of a long process. But one that once begun, cannot be undone.
All over the Middle East, real voices are making themselves heard, unmediated by government control whether in the name of “security” or of an extremist travesty of Islam.
And this is surely the real manifestation of that much abused principle: freedom of expression.