Can everyone, maybe, just chill out for a moment? Is that possible? Can we sit down with a cup of coffee and have a reasonable discussion, here?
Seemingly overnight, the entire world went apeshit over this video. If you've been living under a rock this week, it is a 13 minute clip of a movie entitled "Innocence of Muslims", a poorly made, unfunny, and completely pointless dig at Islam. And I say this as someone who has no attachment at all to Islam, or religion in general. The fact is, it's a stupid film. If it had been on any other subject or had any other title, it likely would have garnered a hundred views or so, and been quickly swept into the realms of obscurity, where it rightfully belongs. Instead, this is what happened:
Riots spread across the Middle East, several people were killed, and every news outlet, debate junkie, conspiracy theorist, and armchair journalist on earth flooded every possible medium with their view of the story. Some claimed the storming of the embassy was already planned, some claimed the video had been intentionally leaked to paid protesters, some believe that the filmmakers should be arrested, others have used this as a soap box to defend free speech. What is obvious, however, is that we have a big problem. A really, really big problem.
As you undoubtedly already know, Islam does not generally allow depictions of Mohammed. In fact, Sunni Muslims do not permit depictions of any prophet: this includes Adam, Abraham, Jesus, and many others. What you may not know is why. The Q'uran does not actually forbid it -- in fact, during Mohammed's life and for many years after, paintings telling the story of Islam's beginnings were common, and Mohammed, being its founder, was obviously in many of them. He was, however, often depicted with a white veil covering his face, sometimes out of respect, and sometimes to separate him from others. Mohammed, however, had one main message, and that was the unity, the oneness, of God. To create idols, such as sculptures or paintings, would be a distraction from Allah. It would be too easy to worship an image or a symbol, and this, according to Mohammed, was one way in which the Christians and Jews had gone wrong. Giving physical descriptions, giving human qualities, to the divine, minimized and trivialized the unity of God. Allah, he believed, was beyond human description, and any attempt to do so would be both in vain, and an unnecessary distraction.
Just as with many other religions, however, the original intent was long ago forgotten, and this became a major issue of contention. These are certainly not the first riots over such depictions, and I'm pretty sure they won't be the last. Which is, to me, really pretty sad. Regardless of who you feel is to blame, here, I think the real problem is a lack of basic respect, and a blurring of lines between governments and individuals.
Many nations have a right to free speech. And most of us take that right very seriously -- generations of people have been terrified by George Orwell's 1984, and the idea of thought-crime and heavy handed censorship. It is a right I personally support more strongly than many others, and truly believe that every single person on the planet has the right to express themselves, to put forth their opinions, to mock or support or criticize anything they so desire. Until that speech becomes incitement or action, it is merely that -- speech. Words. Yes, they have an undeniable power, but they are also limited to your willingness to hear them. You can shut off the T.V., close that book, leave that website, or toss that newspaper any time you like. No one is forcing you to hear them. No one forced any Muslims to watch that video. Its existence did not need to effect anyone's life in any way. By rioting, killing people, and demanding arrests and a ban on such things, more attention has been drawn to it than it ever could have garnered on its own. Not only that, but those who already held negative stereotypes of Islam have only had their worst suspicions confirmed.
But that is only one side of this story. I've heard a lot of people telling Muslims to get over it, that they have nothing to be upset about, that they are only serving to prove that Islam is not a religion of peace. And maybe there's some validity to all that. However, I was always taught that respect must be mutual. That I could not expect people to treat me well if I didn't do the same. And that I had the right to behave any way I wanted (short of harming people, of course), but had to expect, and accept, consequences for my behaviour. If one decides to disrespect a very large group of people, particularly when there is no great message or valid criticism being put forth, they must realize how that is likely to be taken. When one decides to do this where tensions are high, in criticism of people who have many reasons to be angry already, well...is this hostility really that big of a surprise? I can only imagine the response if the roles were reversed: if Iraq had invaded the U.S., and then suddenly a movie surfaced depicting Jesus with his head up Mary Magdalene's skirt? C'mon, now. Be honest. How do you think that would turn out? The reaction to this film should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, and I have to assume the makers were well aware of what would happen.
So, who's to blame? Everyone? No one? Religion? The government? It's pretty irrelevant at this point, really, but I believe if everyone would calm the fuck down and step back for a moment, it would become obvious that we're all being taken for a ride. Who do you think benefits most from these conflicts? Certainly not the average citizen of any nation. It is, of course, our respective governments and media that reap the rewards of such issues. Every wedge that gets driven between "us" and "them" is another war justified, another book sold, another distraction from the real issues. Only we as a people can decide not to buy into this shtick anymore. It is up to us to stop rioting, to stop mocking, to stop killing, to stop insulting, to stop being just generally shitty to one another, and to take a stand against these conflicts we keep getting sold into. And it is high time that we stop expecting the other guy to go first.