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Taking the bait

Published Sep 17, 2012 05:17pm


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The death of the US ambassador to Libya is a troubling and tragic reminder that the pursuit of reform within Muslim countries will not only be challenging, but can easily be derailed by insignificant individuals. Some are already reminding us that the intervention by Nato was a failure. Others are speculating that the project to bring reform to Muslim societies is doomed. Whatever the merits of these claims, there is one argument that cannot be overlooked. While reforming state institutions and the economy is important, such reform must go hand in hand with endogenous social efforts to challenge the sticky, myopic attitudes held by some segments of society as to what merits significant protest.

That is, there must be some questioning of the assumptions held by some people that a) violence is a legitimate form of protest when religious symbols (and that too, only ones own religious symbols) are insulted and b) insults focused on religious symbols are a greater “injustice” in the hierarchy of wrongs than actual physical brutality carried out against fellow man or even fellow co-religionists.

Thus, those serious about promoting democratic reform and tolerance within Muslim countries would do well then to focus their reform efforts on persuading norm producers – religious scholars, elders and community leaders who set much of the agenda for segments of Muslim society – that these assumptions are not watertight and deserve some rethinking.

Let us ask: what precisely was it that resulted in charged mobs in Libya, Egypt and other Muslim states engaging in violence?

Not the grievous injustices of this decade that have often been carried out with state complicity and complacency such as the systematic killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the daily persecution carried out by the Indian army against Kashmiris, the Sudanese sponsored Janjaweed brutality against the people of Darfur or the continued detention of individuals at Guantanamo.

On the other hand, what tends to almost always be worth co-operating over violently, time and again, is when some not-until-then-famous person makes a distasteful video or engages in some action offensive to religious sentiment, publicises it and makes sure at least parts of it are broadcast to a few hundred Muslims in some far off land – far enough so that he is safe from retaliation.

To be sure, Muslims are fully within their rights to protest peacefully when hurt or offense is caused by material that is intended for that purpose – such as the sloppy, inaccurate and insulting video that has set off the current cascade of violence. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “The film is malicious and deliberately provocative and portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims …  I fully understand why people wish to protest strongly against it, and it is their right to do so peacefully.”

But surely there is great need for introspection when there is willingness to engage in or at least be sympathetic of unrestrained violence against persons and property when some insignificant person, somewhere, writes provocative and slanderous things about Islam but we don’t see such magnitudes of protest when much greater injustices against Muslims and others are being perpetrated on a daily basis globally or when incitements to violence are made against vulnerable religious minorities at home, such as against Ahmadis in Pakistan or the Bahais in Iran and Egypt.

If we seriously want to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace with historically egalitarian roots, is it not sensible and more important to focus our passions towards reacting against these major injustices carried out against humanity (as the Prophet’s example demonstrates) instead of being provoked into engaging in self-righteous and violent displays of religious fervor because offense has been caused to our sense of religious worth?

To put it simply, the Libyan or Egyptian government can double security outside diplomatic presences. They can offer sincere apologies and assurances that it will not happen again. They can pass numerous laws prohibiting violence against diplomatic personnel. But, unless serious efforts are undertaken to arrest these disturbing social norms that legitimate such vigilantism, displays of violence may sadly continue to occur.


Dawood Ahmed has previously practiced as a solicitor in England and is currently pursuing a doctorate in international law at UChicago.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Dr Dawood Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Comparative Constitutions Project and has developed (with his co-author) the Islamic Constitutions Index.

He tweets @DawoodIAhmed.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

p r sharma Sep 18, 2012 06:03am
Muslims need to introspect the reasons for such disrespectful video is produced (by a Coptic christian from Egypt presently residing in America).. Does it not suggests that there is something wrong on the behavioral parts of Muslims in Egypt which caused such hateful video. which I appears to be a display of deep anger against the Egyptian Muslim society and ultimately against the Prophet . Such actions are unacceptable .
NNi Sep 18, 2012 09:38am
very well written...Good to know that such thoughts exists in Pakistan.... why dont you debate with Ali Sina (google him) and win 50000 usd and also prove it to the world that islam is the religion of peace and not a mad cult like Ali Sina claims?
vjjjjjjjjjjj Sep 18, 2012 06:58pm
Can the author elaborate the following line. "the daily persecution carried out by the Indian army against Kashmiris" ???? I request the dawn to take a serious note of such causal lethargic comments as it spreads hate.
BP Sep 18, 2012 07:57am
There is also a need to understand why this man did what he did. People are not bad in their characters and their hearts. They do like to avenge their hurts
Gerry D'Cunha Sep 18, 2012 08:10am
the purpose of this idiot film maker was to incite the muslims, which in a way he has been succussful with violence all over the muslim world, his film has got more publicity,as more people has seen this film,as until and before the violence very few people knew about this film. I ask my muslim brothers to calm down and spend more time on group prayers.
Tahir Alam Sep 18, 2012 08:19am
Peace can only be maintained in the world when people respect each other everywhere. Why is this happening again and again? In your words "They can offer sincere apologies and assurances that it will not happen again". This is true not only for Libya and Egypt but more importantly for those countries whose citizens are insulting Muslims and provoking hatred in the world. I think you need to write another article to guide those countries who are not willing to do anything to stop these things on the basis of "Freedom of speech".
Taj Uddin Sep 17, 2012 06:20pm
This is fair comment but appears to be limited in its appreciation of how long it takes to develop interventionist foreign policy, change aid giving strategy, and dreaming of enlightened approaches to assisting institutional development in muslim countries as against just how long it takes to change "norms" within any country especially in socially conservative societies. I've no doubt, motivated by self interest as much as anything else, what is hoped for in this article is being done under the radar.
Arindam Sep 17, 2012 06:16pm
Thanks for the timely article. The act of producing the insulting video is no doubt a senseless and ignorant act but if the reaction is equally ignorant and senseless where is the difference? Why do we think that our faith (whatever it is) is so vulnerable that it is possible for a handful of misguided people to insult it?
kdspirited Sep 18, 2012 08:59am
There should be consequences to violence and intolerance. So far there has been no arrests in any of these countries of people who have attempted to kill or destroy properties in the name of protest. The issue stems from increasing distress over other issues and a general anger of the muslims towards the west. All of the nations where these protest have happened are in a continued state of distress and this has nothing to do with a video or its content. That has just worked as fuel to the ever blazing fire
Mohammad Adam Khan Sep 18, 2012 12:39am
Both protests are ineffective and waste; Record your condemnation and arson your own property. Under circumstances, wise and best, an effective option is Ignore. (1)Old woman throw garbage on Prophet Mohammad (pbuh,) and Prophet not only let go that incident, but went to her home for asking about her health(2) Hazrat Ali let kafir go when kafir spit on Ali, while in war (3) Prophet Mohammad said if my daughter Fatima commit theft, I also chop her hand. Judge your own, which part is more important to focus on.
Jpy Sep 18, 2012 07:20am
I fail to understand why the author is mentioning Kashmir while purposefully ignoring the more serious problems of Baluchistan.
krishnan Sep 18, 2012 06:29am
I wonder why there are no comments so far on this sensible article! Yesterday's suicide attack in Kabul targeting foreigners as a protest against the same wretched film is the limit.Unless Muslims speak out -like the author, no amount of rationalization is going to help.
mkb Sep 18, 2012 11:28am
Very nice.These virtues man are hearing form the time immemorial.But what we see practically just opposite. It is more with the Muslims and Islamic world.
Dixit Sep 18, 2012 06:09am
I think the most simple task in the world is to provocate muslims and Information & Technology has made it even simpler.
Cautious Sep 17, 2012 05:50pm
Perhaps it's time for Muslims to understand you share a planet with 5.5 Billion non Muslims who don't want you to filter what they say, read, write or watch. Not a single Muslim has been forced to watch this movie nor use the technology that you now seek to control. If your offended then quit looking for this offensive film on the web (which is the only way you can view it) - better yet stop using that Western Technology you find so offensive - turn off your computers, avoid the internet, toss your smart phones and most importantly live in peace.
pankajdehlavi Sep 17, 2012 03:01pm
I am really surprised that muslims like you not only exist but raise their voice. After going through your thoughts, I think their is some element of peace in this religion also.
Syed Raza Sep 18, 2012 05:44am
Dear Dawood, Thanks for your explanation! Absolutely you are right The Islam is a religion of peace (and we should follow orders given by Allah), but can you compare it with our nation, every where "Droon attacks" not only our country all the muslim countries bearing and suffering the same pain and have lost their beloved one. As a freelance or Solicitor can your rise a demonstration with the Solicitor General strongly banned on these all activities who demoralize Muslim community and make them extremist. Surely! we want peace not only in our country but around the Globe, If you study the history you can see who was the 1st atomic attacker on innocence people. Allah Bless all of us and give us a plate form to make us a Unit.
Anrold Sep 18, 2012 05:52am
Yes and no. Yes, we need to pay heed to injustices in our own societies by our own society. No, focusing energies on them and as you suggest ignoring such aspects that we wish us to ignore is unnatural. Should Abdul Sattar Edhi completely ignore it if someone hurls abuses at his parents because he is too busy helping mankind? No, he has an emotional attachment to his parents and has every right to defend their honour, within legal bounds, of course.
Indian Sep 18, 2012 07:14am
If that dirty film was ignored by Muslim owrld it would have died its own death. Now the maker of that film is a hero for some and villian for some but the killers of the Ambasdor Stevens who unfortunately claim to represent all the Muslims have proven to the world the violence Muslims are capable of.This is a very onerous deveoplment which will have bearing for whole of the world. Many capitals around the world will wake up to this new reality. Friends and foes alike will be forced to think about this violence that has spread far and wide.
urawal Sep 18, 2012 07:08am
Strong but Peaceful peaceful protests should be organised. Nothing can justify killings. Double the no of prayers on the protest days and in fact Thank such elements for making your faith more stronger and unshakable.
Ramesan Sep 18, 2012 07:07am
Agree with the spirit of the article. Insulting any religion is to be avoided. While mentioning Rohingya and Kasmiri Muslims the should have also considered actions like telivised conversion of Hindus or destruction of temples and churches in Pakistan.
Dr. Mohamed Boodhun Sep 17, 2012 03:02pm
I can understand the Muslim anger, but I failed to understand their rage and violence. Prayer, Perseverance and Patience should be the answer of our hurt. The world (including Pakistan) should understand that it is NOT okay to ridicule anybody who is revered by any segment of society, irrespective of their numbers.
jd shami Sep 17, 2012 03:38pm
Islam is a religion of peace, can some one prove it????
binte mohammad Sep 17, 2012 03:52pm
if our leaders would have recorded their protest at international level and have taken prompt actions which is their duty like blocking youtube than people would not become so much offensive.islam is no doubt a reigion of peace but is so much sensitive about dignity of Prophet Mohammad Sallalahoalaihi wasalam that the love of prophet sallalahoalaihiwasalam is considered as an essential component of eemaan so its not unusal to get this response. as the muslim leaders are silent so the people are doing what they can do
Shams Khan Sep 17, 2012 10:37pm
Well Written.......Dawood.
Kamal Hussain Sep 17, 2012 03:53pm
THE INK OF THE SCHOLAR IS MORE HOLIER THAN THE BLOOD OF THE MATYR - Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind - Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). "Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith" - Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).
KDP Sep 17, 2012 04:21pm
As I kept reading I hoped to read writer wondering or questioning why Muslims anywhere have yet to protest in front of Syrian Embassy for systemic killing of fellow Muslims. Zip no mention at all
Raj Sep 17, 2012 05:03pm
Nobody dare to speak in Islamic world that " Islam is not a peaceful religion" They should accept that Islam is a violant nontolarent religion when it comes to deal with other faith religion. It is very easy to provoc Muslim world and draw them in to violance. The guy put on video in english in July nobody cares but when he dubed in arabic and send to some middle east tv channel then and then violance broke out. How the islamic scolar telling the world that islam is a peaceful religion. How one can believe when they see this kind of violance on a video madee by some crazy individual. It should have been ignored.
shadowyzman Sep 17, 2012 05:10pm
It's good to finally see some reason coming out of our nation. They don't realize that these violent reactions fan such hate-based activities. The more you lose control, the more the videos that will be made. Take a leaf out of the Prophet's book and you can see numerous examples of restraint instead of a violent reaction to every disrespect hurled. But no, violent mobs sound so much better!
Naila Butt Sep 18, 2012 12:54am
Thank you for articulating what the majority of us Muslims feel. A few goons with the capacity for violence have over the discourse. Since we are not violent, organized and importantly paid by unseen hands, our voice is unheard. Thank you once again.
Prashant Sep 17, 2012 06:49pm
What Muslims are trying to tell rest of the world is " Islam is a religion of peace, and I will knock your block off if you don't agree with me".
Kabeer das Sep 18, 2012 08:55am
Why is Islam the most insulted religion in the world? You don't read similar news about other religions.
Deep Ranjan Sep 18, 2012 12:50pm
As a Hindu I condemn the film that hurts so many. Interestingly I remember a similar incident. MF Hussain (Indian Artist) painted nude hindu idols in compromising positions, right wing hindu groups protested against hussain and he left the country for Qatar. They gave him honorary citizenship and he lived peacefuly in Qatar till death. I wonder how an ISLAMIC country like Qatar encouraged Hussain to be a royal guest despite Hussain caused enormous pain for many Hindu Indians. Is this not double standard? or blasphemy is not applicable for Hindu religion.
Hameed younes Sep 18, 2012 09:11am
Dawood well written. Fighting in the name of God, some commetnts say they can understand the anger of the muslims around the world. when we burn, distroy other religions holy books, they places of worship is it justifibale in our peaceful religion. when it comes to Islam being insulted (can a religion as islam can be insulted) can a religion be diminished by one persons propaganda. its insane by the people who call them muslims to do the things they do in the name of Religion.
MG Sep 17, 2012 08:15pm
Valid and well-articulated points and other than ignoring basic Islamic tenets - very hard to argue against by an sane human being. So many of these sensible voices are being raised around the world by Muslims, not moderate Muslims - Muslims. Unfortunately, in Pakistan when the state is colluding with such radicals - what is the common man to do? How does he achieve peace when the very environment is so flammable? How does one maintain the sanctity of religion when small, influential and powerful groups ensure that it is ripped apart, in the name of preservation. How much more of this in the name of Islam? How much....?
Nizar Sep 17, 2012 08:22pm
It is a sad situation within the Ummah. Any slight real or perceived to the Religion is answered with violence i.e. burning of properties, killing, etc. It is beyond comprehension that these highly emotional bunch destroys properties in their own country and kill their own brethren while protesting insults to their religion. It is high time to address this issue within the Ummah and follow a peaceful path of protests, if at all.