Columns / Discourse / September 20, 2012

World Politics Corner: A Muslim student’s take on “Innocence of Muslims”

The trailer of “Innocence of Muslims” succeeded in inciting the people of the Middle East and Western media alike. At its heart, this is a problem of definitions.

The YouTube trailer of the anti-Islam movie has sparked protests all over the Middle East resulting in the deaths of eight people including US ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.

And as usual, the same issues are repeated by news media on all fronts.

To be honest, this was not my topic of choice for this week’s column, but a number of factors have led me here.  The biggest issue, though, was the reaction of the media.

All the ridiculousness aside, media reactions are big issues for healthy internal democracy (given that it’s an election year and foreign policy needs to be debated) and for a realistic policy going forward.

So why is it that at the outset of any so-called Muslim protest, the main topics are “should certain things be censored?” or “why can’t Muslims take a joke?”

I leave it to others to discuss the censorship issue and it is important to discuss in general not only when the gates of Muslim-land are shaken.

The “can’t they take a joke” articles—notably one from the Washington Post by Fouad Ajami — are as ridiculous as if a protester from Libya or Egypt wrote an article entitled, “Why can’t the West take a hint?”

As for my point… At the end of last year, I wrote an article against labels such as “The West” or “The Islamic World” or “Africa” as homogeneous nations of their own.

So while some saw the reaction to the trailer as predictable (such as The Associated Press’ “Five other incidents that inspired rage in the Muslim world”) the reaction of the news media, particularly in the U.S., was just as expected.

Get this straight: you cannot expect to make changes or have effective policies based on a lump-sum-view of complex issues.

If the perception is that there is a united irrational and emotional Muslim front, then there is no reason to debate with them.  Shouldn’t we just do what many xenophobes want and nuke those animalistic Muslims?  I use the terms “we” and “us” liberally, though I am Muslim too.

The news, which seems to adhere to the “white man’s burden” in these cases, plays exactly into the cycle of vilification and guilt explained aptly by Khaled A Beydoun at UCLA. Muslims are first vilified collectively then guilt tripped about being associated with the crazies they didn’t make themselves.

At the end of the day, what are we discussing? Are we discussing the real grievances of both Muslims in and outside United States? No.

We are discussing, in even the most highly regarded American news outlets, “why Islam seems to routinely answer such desecrations with violence.” (The quote is from The New York Times.)

These questions do exactly what they’re supposed to: hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of a few to paint all followers of Islam as intolerant murderers. This is just what Islamophobes want: to point out the hypocrisy of “Western” coverage on the “Muslim world” as further proof of the odds being stacked against Muslims by “the West.”

In the end, the extremists on both sides win.  Maybe they should team-up more often?

Tags:  column innocence international muslim western

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