Controversy over a film allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad (peace by upon him) sparked demonstrations most notably in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Egypt, the demonstrators stormed into the US Embassy but no casualty, while in Benghazi in Libya, the demonstrators fired rockets into the US Embassy killing, among others, the US Ambassador to Libya. Both these incidents are utterly disgraceful, wholly unnecessary, outrageous and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The respective governments of Egypt and Libya must also take responsibility for failing to understand the mood of their respective population, or rather a segment of their population and putting in place adequate measures to ensure security of the diplomatic establishments.
When I first flagged a news item on Facebook with my status indicating my disapproval of the storming of Egyptian Embassy, I was told that I was being naïve and not sufficiently understanding the hurt caused. Do not get me wrong, in recent years there seems to be an escalation – deliberate in my view – of materials designed to offend, insult, humiliate, provoke, outrage and incite anger among the world’s Muslim population. Too often, Western governments have put a blind eye and regularly defending such actions as necessary and essential in democratic society in the name of freedom of speech, thoughts and expressions. But the truth, as we all know, is that Islam and Muslims have been dominating the global airwaves in media, politics and international relations. Most of the time they are given airwave for the wrong reasons. Due to naivety, ignorance and often prejudice of many leading global media establishments – none, it’s worth noting, are driven and inspired by Islamic faith – put up coverage which are at best flawed, insensitive and often insulting. Take the Channel 4, the British Broadcasting organisation, who recently aired a “documentary” which questions the very historic foundations of Islam. While we ought to respect the right of creative minds to speculate, a documentary must be a documentary based on evidence, reason and logic. Unfortunately, the program on Channel4 lacked all of it. This shoddy, irresponsible, half-cooked mockery of history will not be tolerated about any other religion and particularly of the Jewish religion. Yet, this is normal when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Moreover, it appears clear that the broadcaster now cancelled the screening of further work on the series citing security threats received without providing any specifics or obtaining Police Advise. It seems not unreasonable to at least suspect that Channel 4 is capitalising on the prevailing anti-Muslim hatred and is fuelling such hatred for its own ego, commercial or other gains.
Therefore, let me be very clear – Freedom of expression should not and must never be an instrument or a cover for bigoted, prejudicial and phobic mind to insult, humiliate, undermine or otherwise cause hurt in the minds of people simply because of the faith they are associated with. Such action is utterly condemnable.
Does this mean that people can be so outraged that they may storm Embassies and kill diplomatic stuff? Of course not. Violating diplomatic establishment is a violation of international law and is also a violation of Islamic values, spirit and practice. What has happened in Benghazi and previously in Egypt are wrong and a disgrace no matter how sincere and innocent the motive behind the demonstrators were.
The question then is, what should the response be to such horrific development? Brining killers to justice, making those violating diplomatic premises account for their wrong action and learning lesson to ensure such incident can never happen again are right things to do. The two governments involved are relatively new and are still finding grounds beneath their feet. Understandable, that they may have lacked the right capacity, mettle and expertise to pre-empt the situation or to contain it. However, lesson must be learnt and this must never be allowed to happen again.
It must also be said that while the acts of violence are inexcusable, this must not be used to undo the changes that has taken place in the Middle East. This should not impede the development of closer relationship between parties in the Middle East. It is encouraging to see that President Obama strikes, broadly speaking, a conciliatory, measured and wise tone. That indeed is the right way. However, to conclude that this shows the danger the “Islamists” presents, and that a Western style secular government is the answer and therefore set up programs to achieve this is wrong and will be counterproductive. In the instance matter, there will be temptations to wrap up sooner, kill a few more, perhaps use the unmanned spy planes to locate and assassinate suspect will be completely the wrong thing to do.
Our hope is that newly liberated societies understand that freedom has a price and that to uphold freedom they need to pay a premium which often is restrain, calm and measured expression of anger. No matter how outraged we feel, we must learn to reflect, ponder and strategies. The purpose of anyone’s response in the circumstances must be to address the problem, bring about solutions with very little interruption.
We hope that restrain prevails and that parties find an amicable solution.