Innocence of Muslims—what the world refuses to see

In 1953 when the United States, realizing the modern Persian nation’s enormous geopolitical and natural wealth, overthrew the democratic government of Iran in a coup’d’etat to install the more favorable Shah as the autocrat of the ancient nation, the phenomenon gave rise to a new form of Islamic society that is largely founded on the principles of anti-American sentiments. While the despotic Shah of Iran ruled with an iron-fist and mutilated, tortured and killed all his opposition in countless concentration cells all over Iran, it was America towards whom countries of the Islamic World lay the blame on.

As the previously democratic Iran became increasingly hostile to the Americans under the Shah rule it was this belligerence, this failure of the American foreign policy that culminated in the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who, after he was banished by the Shah due to his more radical

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

views, led the popular uprising in Iran in the year 1979. While the Islamic Revolution ousted the Shah, forcing him to flee to Cairo and then to his patron—-the United States—–following the uprising, Khomeini took the helm and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic alienated from both its neighbors and the West.

In the same year, a group of Islamic fundamentalist students stormed into the US embassy of Tehran and gave rise to the event the entire world knows as the Iranian hostage crisis, where the students held 52 US officials hostage for a total of 444 days, although females and African-Americans were all released within the first month. Having only a taciturn approval from Khomeini, the reasoning of the students behind the attack was that the embassy was conspiring again to overthrow the new regime. Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States, later on received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the rescue mission, where he successfully rescued the Americans without having the US army invade Iran. Ever since that event, the US have had no diplomatic ties with Iran whatsoever, and have sheltered all political prisoners of the Shah’s regime whom the nascent Islamic Republic had tried to prosecute.

It was this incident that the events unfolding in the Islamic world in recent days brought to my mind over the amateur youtube clip ‘Innocence of Muslims’. While the media outlets are busy showing the world a few thousand Middle-Easterners, North Africans, South-East Asians and South Asians chanting renowned slogans like ‘Death to America’ and burning US and Israeli flags, what the world does not see about the incident are the reasons behind the hostility the people of Islamic nations feel towards the US.

These protests against the United States are definitely not just over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, as the media outlets have been doing their best to portray. Rather, they are the result of years of injustice and oppression caused by the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. For decades, the US have supported the dictatorial and monarchal regimes of almost all of these countries. They have counted on all these autocratic rulers starting from the Saudi King to the pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to suppress all forms of dissent and crush down anything that interferes with American or Israeli interests in the region. Even seeking reconciliations with the anti-American Libyan dictator Gaddafi before his fall, America provided all forms of military and intelligence support to the dictators while in return the rulers successfully stepped down on all forms of dissent and demonstrations.

But it was with the Arab Spring that America was forced to realize that people in all these countries cannot be suppressed any more. As American allies fell down in one uprising after another, people simply needed a trigger to protest and demonstrate against the ‘bully of the earth’. And it was this trigger of the gun that the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ provided.

While questions as to who funded the $100 000 for the making of the amateur film by the Egyptian-American film-maker remained largely enigmatic, with several fingers being pointed at both the state of Israel—-which is renowned for spreading anti-Islamic and anti-Arab propaganda all over the world—— and Christian fundamentalist groups in the US, last Friday after the end of the regular noon prayers the Muslim World erupted in a blaze of fire and revolt as people engaged in violent protestations in front of the US embassies in the region. Most of these protesters, make no mistake, have hardly watched the 13-minute long youtube trailer but with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing rhetoric going on about an invasion of Iran, people do not need to think twice about how malicious Americans are when it comes to the Muslim World. While the vast resources of the oil-rich Islamic countries are maintained and consumed largely by countries like America, the rulers and politicians of these states sit on their oil-money and make people believe anything about Israel and the United States. But what amazed most of these people is America’s disregard for removing the film from youtube under the pretext of  ‘freedom and liberty of expression’ guaranteed by the United States constitution to every single American citizen. If America really wanted to ensure freedom of speech and thought, it could start out by stopping its witch-hunt against Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Rumor has it, however, that the film-producer is a rogue Coptic Egyptian-American, named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who had powerful backers from Israel and Christian fundamentalist groups in California, including the famed American pastor Terry Jones who received worldwide recognition after beginning the rite of burning copies of Qur’an to commemorate 9/11 every year. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been among the most discriminated minority groups during the dictatorial era. But during the Arab Spring, both Coptic members and Muslims showed their love for Egypt by uniting under one banner in Tahrir Square, where Christians and Muslims guarded each other against sniper attacks by the regime during each other’s prayer times. The actors and other film-crew of the movie however claim that they were duped. The director had allegedly fooled them into thinking that this was a movie about an ancient Egyptian hero and all their dialogues had been dubbed in his studio in English and Arabic to its current form.

Bangladeshi Islamist parties burn US and Israeli flags over the anti-Islam film released in the US. The country’s Prime Minister violently condemned the film’s release on Sunday, and vowed not to allow it to propagate within Bangladeshi territories.

There is no denying that what ensued in Benghazi, Khartoum, Sana’a and Cairo after news of the film reached the mainstream media is as reprehensible as the film itself. But the big question is, what sort of bigotry and intolerance inspires people to make films like these? And by allowing these films to propagate while American drones assassinate countless civilians and alleged militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’ and ‘establishing peace’, what better reaction do the Americans expect than crazies invading their embassies and killing their diplomats?

It is futile for America to hope to build bridges with these extremely volatile, pivotal parts of the world simply by sending donations and interest-free loans of worth billions of dollars; NATO air-strikes to kill off murderous dictators like Gaddafi; or by sending its Secretary of State or the President himself to deliver pompous speeches at schools and universities. While American funded Israeli air-strikes murder innocent Palestinians in their beds and their drones kill peace-loving Muslims continuously in eight different Islamic nations, the United States should do best to ensconce and inure themselves to more of such violent demonstrations in the foreseeable future if more triggers like that of Innocence of Muslims are pulled.

Bangladeshis demonstrate and chant anti-American slogans in front of the National Mosque of Dhaka after the Friday prayers

As an ending note I should add a recent quote I heard on the Al-Jazeera documentary Permission to Engage, which traced the rehabilitation of an Iraq war veteran of the United States army who tried to commit suicide after his unit slaughtered cars full of innocent civilians, including two children whom the personnel rescued alive from the remnants of the dead bodies left behind from the attack. It is simply one tiny example of how American foreign policy has affected the countries of the Muslim world, thus alienating and antagonizing America in this region.

“I went to Iraq to free the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis. I wanted to kill as many terrorists as possible. But when I went there I found that there were no real terrorists. We were the ones terrorizing the people there continuously. Every single day. Every week. In every weather.”

———Permission to Engage. Watch the entire documentary here.

The Politics Of Social Media

reempting the media has always been a big issue for every government in this world. This is because, giving the public the exact facts and the true nature of the details might just harm the government’s term in office. The media is an extremely effective and powerful tool and can soar someone’s popularity while at the same depose others from their thrones. Making everything public therefore has a lot of cons for politicians, businessmen, actors and business corporations, and this is why everyone places a lot of weight to everything demonstrated in all forms of media.

In the past censorship has been an extremely prominent issue. During the World War II and also during the Vietnam War, American and other Western powers had violently fudged with the true accounts of the wars. Figures had been manipulated and casualties under-estimated to make sure the public does not know about the horrible accounts of the war. Doing so would have polarized the situation at home and the families of the soldiers would have mounted pressures that would have breached their ‘national interests’. It was therefore considered better to hide everything from the general public.

Fast forwarding onto the 21st century, in today’s Information Age, it has become impossible to keep most of the information concealed in files and conversations. We have hackers adept at breaking through every security system in this world (makes me wonder whether security systems are made to be breached) and journalists who are eager to breach all sorts of protocol and hack into phone conversations (News of the World anyone?). But the power of the media has become truly manifested today through an extremely unorthodox yet revolutionary form.

Introducing: the social media. The Internet Age, along with a lot of pornography sites to destroy today’s teenagers, has also forged a powerful new tool called the social media. In this form of media it is impossible to keep any information hidden. No matter how censored the figures are or how much propaganda there is, a photo or a video taken through a cell-phone is enough to spread the issue into the social media and cause ripples across the globe. It is simply not possible for any government to keep any of its wrongdoings hidden and silenced due to this ubiquitous new revolution. ‘Time will open every hidden treasure’—-as the cliché goes, is really true for social media.

And this is why governments all across the globe are enraged at this tool. In fact they have a very good reason to be. Like for instance, if you haven’t been hibernating for the past few years you will have known that the Arab Uprising has been attributed mainly due to the existence of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and the blogging world. In this virtual new Universe people are constantly sharing their opinions and ideas, and protesting at any occurrences which shake their conscience. And the result has therefore been revolutionary. The protesters organized themselves and recruited others sharing their cause, and together they created the largest wall ever: the People’s Wall. Whether it was the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street Movement, people have truly been able to show the power they can yield if they are brought together under one roof. And a lot of credit goes to the social media sites for playing such an impeccable role in creating the People’s Wall.

Therefore the guillotine has been on social media for quite some time. As opposed to terms like ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘democracy’, many governments have implemented censorship on the social media. And the social networking sites, to help themselves do business with more comfy, have also decided to censor every thread or comment and are always deleting anything even remotely associated with ‘inspiring revolt’. In Egypt during the uprising, while the opposition leaders were hiding in caves, normal citizens, both males and females, were all abuzz on Twitter calling for protesters to organize and demonstrate at the required places. As a result bloggers like Mona Eltahaway were arrested for ‘inspiring violence’ while Facebook and Twitter were shut down temporarily to stop protesters from coordinating together before the regime finally came to an end.

Seeing what the social media has done in Egypt, neighboring dictators adorned all their alarms against the social networking sites. Bahrain has placed several bloggers under arrest for trying to demonstrate and recruit, and the military has crushed any opposition firmly. The famous Bahraini blogger, activist and human rights defender Zainab al-Khawaja(Angry Arabia) was arrested and detained when she staged an anti-government protest against the royal family. Another activist popularly known as ‘the Bahraini blogger’ has been sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment for ‘trying to inspire sectarian conflicts’ through his protestations.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where an 80-something King rules an economy with an average age of 19(yeah that is one big irony!) the thrashing has been more violent. A Saudi journalist who tweeted his misgivings about the Prophet on Eid-e-Miladunnabi was arrested by the Malaysian government in a Malaysian airport and extradited to Riyadh when he had tried to escape to New Zealand via Malaysia after receiving death threats in response to his tweet. Given the ancient state of laws in the Kingdom, which ironically is one of the wealthiest countries of the world, such apostasy will lead to a severe death sentence by the conservative Saudi court where the man will be beheaded in public. Armed with this tool of blasphemy, the Saudi Royalty and the pro-government religious leaders asked the religious Saudis to abandon Facebook and Twitter because they directly destroyed the Kingdom’s segregation and ‘Islamic customs’.

Tweeting to create a revolution!

However, along with such propagation of information the social media is also always abuzz with all forms of irreverence. The Internet is flooded with Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sites. The aforementioned Saudi journalist should have known better than to tweet about his personal feelings about an issue that is likely to hurt the feelings of many others. After all, in a democratic country or not, this is what a responsible citizen should have done. And this man’s profession is supposed to be one of responsibility. Not of impiety.

Another Middle-Eastern scandal occurred when a female Egyptian blogger posed nude ‘to support her cause’ against the military. The girl, who calls herself an atheist, dubbed her action as appropriate ‘to ensure women’s rights and women’s struggle against the regimen’. Now, these are things that are horrendous for a conservative culture like that of the Middle-East and therefore attracted a lot of distaste from many societies. In short, ranting about rights is equal but people must know where to draw the line. I personally think this was simply a publicity stunt the girl undertook to make herself famous worldwide and increase her blog traffic!

I should also like to attract my reader’s attention to a recent event in Bangladesh which had caused quite a stir not in the traditional media, but in the social media. A professor who had wished for the country’s premier’s death on his facebook status was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. Although most of you here will rant about this being a consummate breach of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’ in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh I will firmly disagree with you. Wishing someone’s death in public is not how a responsible citizen should behave no matter how much hatred you have for him or her. In a democracy people are supposed to learn to be responsible by themselves. Unlike a dictatorship you will not be forced to restraint yourself as much as possible. And this is our country’s prime minister we are talking about. The person might not necessarily be a paradigm of excellence but she is all we have. If we desire a change we should go forth and create a space for our ownselves, and not be a coward and wish the person to die. Most importantly I was awestruck that the status came from a professor, a person towards whom people look forward to and appreciate. Such irresponsibility should not be allowed to persist in the society.

Sharing is caring!

It feels quite weird when I think about the persistent role of social media in our everyday lives. And this is why propaganda has entered the virtual Universe as well. But no matter where we are or how advanced, manipulated, infiltrated and tainted by disgust this area becomes it is our responsibility to discern the good from the bad and allow the free flow of truth and justice to perpetrate. It is easy to be filled by propaganda but I should say that social media is one of the most wonderful inventions of the 21st century.

As an ending note I should like to add a quote I came across recently:

“… you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

—-Malcolm X

The writer is an active participant at The Stream. This is a live,interactive,award-winning political show of Al Jazeera English(yup he is that nerd!) where viewers can participate through the Internet.In case you are nerd enough like him you might like to join in this program.