I intended to sleep later this morning, but I couldn’t. I woke up with so many thoughts bouncing around in my head that I had to get them all down. Of course, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s going on here in the Middle East; protests (although none here in Saudi Arabia, that I know about) at embassies, and of course, the tragic and reprehensible killing of the American ambassador and others in Libya. I’ve also seen the “trailer” for the “movie” that is supposedly causing all this.
I’m tired of thinking. I should really force myself to go on a media fast, because reading about all of this from the American media is really frustrating. Beyond the inaccuracies in the actual coverage, there are also the ignorant comments of others that add to the frustration. But writing helps me vent my frustrations, and I feel better after I do it. So here are some of the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head. And then I’ll go back to working on other things.
I am so fed up with the media characterization of Muslims as angry, irrational psychos. Yes, there are protests against America happening in this part of the world. But as an Egyptian friend of mine wrote on my Facebook wall a few days ago, at maximum estimation, there are two thousand people protesting in Cairo. The population of Cairo is about 10 million. The population of Egypt is about 80 million (and about 90% of them are Muslims). The vast majority of people in the Middle East are not on a witch hunt for Americans. Really. They’re not. Are lots of Muslims upset about this movie? Sure. Are they offended? Uh-huh. But are most of them pretty good at being offended within their homes and then getting on with their lives? Um, yes.
There is a story about Prophet Muhammad that I’ve heard continual references to since these protests broke out, and I think it’s important to share it, because it’s certainly not one that you’ll hear about from the American media.
There was once a man who despised Muhammad so much that every morning when he walked by Muhammad’s house, he would drop his garbage in front of it. Every morning he did this, for years. Muhammad never said anything to the man about it. But one day, the man did not come by, and there was no trash in front of the house. Muhammad went searching for the man to make sure that he was okay, and found that the man was at home, in his bed, ill. He told the man that he was worried about him and offered to help him if he needed anything.
There is debate about this story’s authenticity, and I’ve heard several different versions of it. Some say the man was Jewish. Some say the man was a woman who actually threw garbage at Muhammad every time she saw him leave his house. Some say the person in question converted to Islam after the visit from Muhammad, and others say the person simply apologized for the rude behavior. But the point is, this is the story that comes to countless Muslims’ minds when they hear or read about the film, and the protests it has sparked–not tales of infidel-slaying. In the past few days, I’ve heard so many Muslims cite this one story of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in all its different incarnations, a story of tolerance and care for one’s fellow human being, even when that fellow human being really hates you. They are citing this story instead of inciting riots.
The Constitution protects Americans’ right to peaceably assemble. Why is such a right important enough to codify in our own sanctified law books but shouldn’t be acknowledged for people in other countries? No, I don’t think that the protests consist solely of gentle, peaceful people. Embassies are being burned, people are angry. There is destruction of property going on, and it’s indefensible. But where was the alarmist media attention when the mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned down? Where is the media attention now that a mosque in Harrisonburg, Virginia has been vandalized, spray painted with phallic images and such poetic gems as “Iraqi fucks” and “This is America, bitches”? Where was the media attention when a mosque in Chantilly, Virginia had all its windows shattered by thrown rocks? No one got pictures of the vandals doing that, and no one talked about it much; it wasn’t really news. But if you check out the Washington Post, you’re going to see lots of pictures of crazy, angry Muslims throwing stuff. And that is news.
But these American incidents are just a small sampling. You can find a lot more with the help of our good friend, Google. I also happen to know of one very serious threat on an American mosque that got zero media attention, even though the FBI had to get involved. And yet we don’t consider these acts to be representative of all Americans–or at least, I don’t. We treat them as the work of isolated angry nutcases, even groups of nutcases, and we move on. But when a Muslim does something wrong, it’s “symptomatic of a larger problem.” People point to ayahs in the Qur’an that supposedly encourage and/or condone violence, while giving no context at all to the ayahs. Yet people conveniently ignore the violence in the Bible. Such verses are never cited as the reason that Christians sometimes do awful things. Nope, only Muslims have a holy text that’s full of hate and violence, and when one of them–or a group of them–does something awful, they are the only ones who are truly following their religion. When the Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, a Republican, forwarded an email that actually cited a violent verse in the Bible (from the Psalms) and added a little note that he had finally found “a Biblical prayer” for the President that he could “honestly voice,” there was no wave of harsh judgment that branded him a radical, dangerous person whose faith taught him to be so terrible. It barely got any media coverage. And this is an American lawmaker! Could you imagine if Rep. Keith Ellison, the only Muslim lawmaker in Congress, had forwarded an email that had cited one of those oft-repeated ayahs about slaying infidels and added that he’d finally found a Qur’anic prayer that he could honestly voice about Mitt Romney? Well, that would be the end of his political career. But when a Republican guy does it with a Biblical citation, it’s barely a blip on the news radar.
And let’s talk about the horrible violence in Libya. Western news media outlets are still insisting that the movie had something to do with the deaths, when there is ample evidence that it was a premeditated attack by a radical group. The movie protests made that attack easier, sure…which is why I maintain that the creators of this terrible movie have blood on their hands. But those deaths were not the work of a mob of average Muslims who just went crazy.
But if we’re going to make it about the movie, okay. Let’s talk about the movie. I mean, I’m not a fan of it, at all. But if there weren’t people supporting its existence on the grounds that it actually offers some truth about Islam, then I would be content to just roll my eyes, ignore it, and be on my way. But Steve Klein, the film’s main promoter, went on record saying that the filmmakers’ hope for the film was that by giving it a pro-Muslim title (hence why it’s called The Innocence of Muslims), they could convince Muslims to come to see it, pack ’em into a theater, and somehow show them that their religion is wrong and convert them to Christianity. They actually think that what they are showing is some sort of literal truth, offering some sort of “proof” about Islam, and that it should lead people away from the religion. People don’t think that the episode of South Park where Jesus had a boxing match with Satan offers any literal truth about Christianity, do they?
And more than that, this “film” is outrageously racist. No one seems to talk about the fact that all of the actors portraying Arabic characters are white, and to make them look more Arabic, they are slathered in streaky brown makeup. Yep, they’re in some sick form of Arabic brownface. Why has no one mentioned this?
And beyond the religious mockery and the racism, let me tell you, this movie is stupid. Hilariously so. The thing is so bad, it can’t even really be called a movie. When I was a kid, my brother, my cousins, and I used to take my parents’ Sony Handycam and make movies. Sometimes we made “sports shows”; we would film two of us playing a game of pool, and add commentary on it, as though we were on ESPN. We created commercials, too, for products we found around our house. One of my favorite commercials, which is now buried on a tape somewhere in my parents’ house but which I hope to dig up someday, featured me behind the camera and showed my brother, about seven years old, in an improv commercial in which he leaped around the kitchen like a hyperactive monkey, brandishing a bottle of Jet Dry dishwashing liquid, singing, “Jet Dry, Jet Dry, is a very special thing! Jet Dry, Jet Dry, is a very special thing! Jet Dry, Jet Dryyyyyyy!” Then he jumped around some more, pretended to squirt the bottle all over the kitchen, into the dishwasher, and finally, in his mouth.
It was priceless. It was hilarious. And considering the production value of this much-discussed “film” that’s now causing such outrage, I now want to demand a CLIO Award for that commercial.
I want to make it clear that I am in no way condoning or defending violence on anyone’s part. Anyone who would destroy property or worse, harm another human being over this ridiculous film is an embarrassment to Islam and a poor excuse for a human being. I also don’t think these filmmakers have done anything inherently illegal by creating this film; I believe it is their constitutionally protected right to free speech. Yes, I hate the fact that the film exists, but mostly because I hate the hatred that the existence of the film represents.
Yes, I hate hatred. I’m intolerant of intolerance.
I just want to offer a voice of reason, which can be hard to hear over the headlines like “Muslim Fury At U.S. Spreads” (which is on the front page of the Washington Post today), which not only implies that Muslims are not part of the U.S., but also eerily alludes to the words of the creator of the movie, who claimed that “Islam is a cancer.” Muslims make up about 22% of the world’s population. If we were all murderous nutjobs bent on taking over the world…well, we would have done it by now. Talk to a Muslim about this film. Chances are, they’re going to tell you it offends them. They may even tell you that they wish that President Obama would apologize to Muslims for this film (even though I personally don’t think that is necessary; President Obama didn’t make the movie, and it’s just as ludicrous to expect him to apologize for it as it is to expect my Saudi mother-in-law to apologize for 9-11). But chances are, they’re also going to tell you that they don’t condone any sort of violence in response to it. I know Muslims who are much more angry about the minority’s ugly response to the film than they are about the film itself. It’s also important to keep in mind that the Muslims in these countries where destructive protests are happening also happen to live in countries with unstable governments; there’s a lot more to the situation than just a movie trailer. The movie may have offered a vent for other frustrations with the U.S. and its prior actions, or its complicity with other governments. It’s a straw that might have broken the camel’s back, if you’ll pardon my bad Middle Eastern pun. And it’s important to remember that the enormously vast majority of Muslims, even in those countries with unstable governments, are either sleeping or going about their day right now, living their lives–not standing outside an embassy, angrily protesting against an asinine film with production values that suggest a budget equal to the average American middle schooler’s weekly allowance. But if you look in a newspaper, you’re probably only going to see pictures of the latter.
Hatemongering and fearmongering are the cancers of our society. Not Islam.