OPINION: Let's not fall into the trap

Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - Once again a depraved and dangerous game is being played, one with the aim of increasing religious tensions across the globe. This time it's a film that seeks to defame the Prophet of Islam. Predictably, too many Muslims have reacted with fierce intensity, and with deadly consequence. Angry demonstrators have attacked American embassies in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. In Benghazi, Libya, the American ambassador, three other embassy officials, and several Libyan security staff members were tragically killed.

We deplore and condemn both the audacious bigotry of the film-maker as well as the inexcusable violence of the protestors. The protesters cannot counter the fraudulent claims of the obscure film, Innocence of Muslims - no matter how profane and bigoted it is - with behaviour that itself harms the image of Islam and its Prophet and Muslims everywhere. Ironically, the world came to know about this film only after American embassies were attacked and the ambassador to Libya was killed. By engaging in violence, the overzealous Muslims are falling into the very trap set up by the bigots.

The Islamophobic campaign is nothing new in America. It is even worse in Europe. The film made by Sam Bacile (who it now appears is actually Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a California man who was convicted in 2009 of bank fraud) is not the first effort to denigrate Islam and Prophet Muhammad, nor will it be the last. There have been countless attempts by Islamophobes to incite a fierce reaction in the Muslim community. In some cases, the provocateurs succeeded in eliciting a violent response. On other occasions, their hate-mongering plots faded into obscurity, especially when Muslims decided to ignore them or chose to counter/correct them through dialogue and other civil means. The results were predictably positive: the challenges soon turned into opportunities where Muslims were able to present the truth of Islam to their fellow citizens.

Those who seek to inflame passions will continue their incitements, hoping that Muslims will take the bait. They can then say: "See how violent the Muslims are." The incitements will remain unabated; but Muslims must stop reacting and instead respond to the evil with something that is civil and intelligent and put the bigotry to shame. In fact, the Quran itself commands Muslims to "repel evil with what is better" (Surah 41: Verse 34). The Quran also says: "O you who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people's enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do" (Surah 5: Verse 9).

The overzealous Muslims, who claim to be defending the honour of the Prophet by attacking the embassies and committing acts of destruction and even murder, need to reflect on how Prophet Muhammad would have responded to a provocation like Sam Bacile's film. The Prophet was a man of patience, peace, and mercy. Even though he was attacked and insulted many times throughout his life, he responded with a high-minded and measured perspective, always inclined to compassion and forgiveness, and never actied out of revenge or in a violence-driven way. Engaging in wanton acts of violence and senseless killing can only serve to defile his sublime legacy in the minds of those who don't know him. Muslims in the Middle East and around the world must remember this: We honour the Prophet by following his example of tolerance and patience in the face of hostility.

It is also important for Muslims to recognise that the actions of a person who reviles or mocks the Prophet, or even goes so far as to insult or ridicule God Himself, is responsible for his or her own actions. There is no justification for collective blame, whether of the perpetrator's national, religious, or political group, or of the government of the nation he resides in (let alone the ambassador or other embassy officials or staff). Regrettably, many Muslims across the world have little or no idea as to how American democracy functions and its society operates. They think the American government is behind, complicit in, or endorsing any Islam-bashing action or statement broadcast from its soil. This is a serious misperception and myth about America that must be dispelled and debunked at every opportunity.

It is true and unfortunate that some biased individuals and organisations are stirring up hatred against Islam and Muslims with unrelenting persistence. The film that is centre stage in the current turbulence is a manifestation of exceeding ignorance and the most ignoble foolishness in its scandalous attack against the Prophet, Islam, and Muslims. It aims to tarnish the image of Islam and spoil the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. However, there are huge numbers of people in America who have condemned this film, and among them are leaders of various faiths, especially Christianity and Judaism. Some non-Muslim academics have even called for Sam Bacile's arrest.

Muslims must think deeply before reacting tempestuously. For overreacting to such provocations will only make things worse. Resorting to violence shouldn't be an option at any time. The maker and sponsors of the anti-Prophet film have undoubtedly put forth a piece of propaganda promoting the worst kind of bigotry; still, this should never be an excuse to commit any act of violence against a person or any destruction of property.

We are certainly not suggesting that Muslims stop defending the Prophet. But the best way to defend the Prophet is by conveying to people who he really was, and by emulating his sublime character. We cannot become emotionally overblown and act irrationally every time an Islamophobe insults Islam. We should act with utmost maturity and deal with caution, care and prudence. The Prophet is loved and respected by hundreds of millions of people around the world, and no one can take this veneration from our hearts. So we should not fall into the trap of those who wish to incite our anger and instill hatred in the minds and hearts of non-Muslims. Indeed, there is no God-conscious faith or love for the Prophet in reacting in a brutal and destructive way.

As we mourn the loss of lives, we call on Muslims around the world to "repel evil with what is better." That might entail ignoring a provocation, like the film in question, that is ugly in its purpose but supremely foolish in its content. It might require in presenting a reasoned argument as to why some anti-Islam talking point is erroneous. In all cases, however, repelling evil with what is better demands speech and behaviour that is wise and judicious, with sober awareness that everything we do and say has consequences. If only "Sam Bacile" had observed such prudence.

The writer teaches Political Science at North South University.

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