Facebook and Muslim Outrage: Gleaning the Wrong Lesson, Again

“Any depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemous by Muslims,” wrote Agencies, as reported readily by Aljazeera.net English. The above statement is meant to fully summarize the reason behind the outrage that arises in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world whenever some provocative ‘artist’ decides to express his freedom of expression and ‘expose’ Muslims as anti-democratic.

Such a simplistic interpretation of such an intricate issue.

There is no denial – and no shame – in the fact that most Muslims hold their Prophet in the highest regard. Despite the continued decrease in the number of faithful in increasingly secularized Western societies, Muslims are clinching even tighter to their faith. However, while the outrage over the latest transgression by some Facebook user and his “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” may appear as a straightforward news story – that of Western values vs Muslim narrow-mindedness – the true underpinnings of the outrage is suspiciously missing.

The naïve depiction by Western media makes it easy for ‘freedom of expression’ enthusiasts to condemn Muslims for yet again failing the democracy test.

The latest Facebook episode is a remake of the same old story. Some ill-intended ‘artist’, under the guise of freedom of speech, takes on a confrontational mission, knowing fully the response such an act would generate, and perhaps the lives that would be lost. Muslim masses, predictably, respond through angry protests, burning flags, denouncing America, Israel, Zionism, Facebook, Youtube and so on. Strangely, the very governments that are considered US allies tend to be on the forefront of condemning the ‘blasphemous’ provocations. Muslim masses are thus exploited on all fronts – by the media, by anti-Muslims, by rightwing forces in the West, and their own governments.

This, in turn, gives more ammunition to the Islamaphobes who constantly try to fan the flames in order to validate their racist perception of Muslims. The likes of Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, and other ‘experts’ invade our TV screens and take on the responsibility of lecturing the world on Islam. They use the same reductionist and racist language that they have utilized for years in the guise of academic jargon.

Why, though, are these ‘academics’ and ‘intellectuals’ eager to discredit Islam? And why are Muslims playing right into their hands?

It behooves us all to remember that some of those who champion freedom of expression are selective in their advocacy. Freedom of expression becomes important when the holiest symbols of Islam and its Prophet are paraded, ridiculed and stereotyped. However, these very advocates are enraged when the opinions being expressed are inconsistent with their own agenda, which is overtly militant and hegemonic, and refuses to take into consideration any honest opinion on Israel and its war crimes against Palestinians. One needs to repeat the way that the respected South African Judge Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish, was depicted for pointing out the horrendous crimes committed in Gaza during Israel’s most recent war. More, these individuals seem completely oblivious when Muslims are denied the right to express their own values. When, for example, was the last time a rightwing fanatic stood up for a Muslim woman’s right to cover her hair or face?

It must be stated, however, that discrediting Muslims and Islam is not a random strategy. It is very much in tandem with an overriding agenda that has occupied the thinking of many rightwing and Zionist ideologues for years, especially following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rising of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fervor in various Western countries. The aim is to dehumanize Muslims, to make them seem less civilized, and thus less worthy of equal human rights. In other words, Muslims cannot be treated using the same standards that apply to Westerners, because they have failed to subscribe to Western values. The angry protests in Pakistan are supposedly proof of this. This makes war easy and sanctions morally justifiable.

Why are Muslims playing right into this scenario? Actually, they are not, although it would seem otherwise. The fact is, many Muslims nations are caught between two layers of oppressions: that of outsiders – wars and occupation, interference in their countries’ affairs, all forms of humiliation and exploitation – and internal pressures – corruption, oppression and denial of rights, including, yes, freedom of expression, speech, assembly and democracy itself. These rights are also denied by the very countries that are seen as ‘pro-American.’

Under these external and internal pressures, Muslim societies embrace even tighter their everlasting Islamic symbols. Islam, for many Muslims, represents more than just a way of life and an answer to unworldly questions. It also provides a sense of hope, and it helps to maintain a level of solidarity and societal cohesion. The harder people’s lives become, the more impoverished, oppressed and abused, the stronger their faith grows.

Considering all of this, insulting Islam, depicting the Prophet in degrading (or any other) ways, bashing Islamic symbols and values is equivalent to denying Muslim masses with their last and only chance at dignity and hope.

Those who are under the impression that Muslims are opposed to freedom of expression are only seeing a small part of the picture. Those versed in history understand that it was Muslim advancements in science, art and literature, and their most impressive translations of the great works of ancient civilizations that allowed Europe to bask in the sun of its renaissance.

Moreover, those who are sensible enough to see the big picture will understand that when a Pakistani woman chants “Death to Facebook” – as pitiful and confusing such phrase may sound – she is not actually referring to a social networking website. Far from it, especially since numerous Muslims have utilized Facebook to share their own ideas with the rest of the world. What the woman is chanting against is the manipulation of freedom of expression to further humiliate her people. She is standing in solidarity with European Muslim communities who are under a most intense attack on their civil rights and liberties. She is angry at the war in Afghanistan, the constant bombing of innocents in Pakistan, the occupation of Iraq, the rape of women and the parading of naked prisoners, the siege in Gaza. She is angry about the Western double standards regarding democracy, about her own oppression and her people’s misfortunes. And so much more.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on June 5th, 2010 at 9:33am #

    Ramzi is not looking at all that can be seen. He does not see {or chooses to eschew the fact} that division of humans into categories A, B, C, D and into muslims, christians, baha’is, talmudim, etc., is a tremendous and i toto needless burden for humans to carry.

    And we are buckling under this yoke all over the orb. We have only one home. If we had a home for muslims only, or talmudim only, it wldn’t be that bad; i.e., separated by a distance of a light year or a 50km high and 10 km thick wall!

    What does the label “Prophet” mean? And socalled faith in him? Well, it means what faith in jesus or messiah means: all of their followers must obey, ulema-muftis-aghas-caliphs-amirs, priests-nobles, and rabbis-nobles.
    In short, fallible humans! ?All gungho for warfare exploitation, abuse of women, beating children-women, intolerance, division of people and peoples into more- amd less valuable-respected, etc.
    And he’s proud that muslims cling closer to their ‘faith’ than others!
    Am i phobic of these ‘faiths’ ? Yes, i am! tnx

  2. Robert Simms said on June 5th, 2010 at 10:16am #

    I agree with bozh.

    Ramzy Baroud says “…bashing Islamic symbols and values is equivalent to denying Muslim masses with their last and only chance at dignity and hope.”

    There’s nothing logical or sane about a “dignity and hope” that expresses itself by prostrating oneself 5 times a day toward Mecca and a black meteorite. This self abuse is akin to the Calvinists of christianity.

    Rulers have initiated and supported state religions for eons. This empire has a state religion too – whether acknowledged as such or not – it’s called judeo-christianity. I’m not surprised that muslims are pissed.

    A pox on all three of the so-called major religions.

    “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”

    “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
    Denis Diderot, 1713-1784

  3. Melissa said on June 5th, 2010 at 8:08pm #

    Mr. Baroud,

    Will you admonish me for a complete NON acceptance of Shariah Law? You, know, the slavery of women enforced by violence and shame?

    Good luck.

  4. Rehmat said on June 5th, 2010 at 9:18pm #

    In fact – depictions of ANY prophet is considered blasphemous by Muslims.

    Melissa – when was the last time you studied your Talmud or Bible or the history of western culture – which have treated women worse than Islamic Shari’ah – turning women from dignified houme-buildrer to walking prostitutes?

    former US diplomat, Michael Hamilton Morgan (born 1951), in his book Lost History: the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists (2007) has debunked most of the anti-Islam Zionist propaganda.

    Michael says that many of the foundations of modern civilization rest in the Muslim past. The often fogotten breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, science, medicine, engineering, the arts, architecture, tolerance of diversity and civic leadership were undertaken by courageous men and women representing multiple faths and ethnicities. David Shasha in the book review wrote that the very time when Europe was descending into what has been called its “Dark Age”, a new upstart civilization was growing in the Arab world. Islam was not simply a religion; it was a political system, a philosophical system, a scientific system and much else. As Islam developed, it changed those who lived in the Middle East and other areas that were conquered in the first centuries of Muslim civilization. Under Muslim rule, the Jewish literature liberalized too. The Mishnah, Talmud and Midrashic literature began to speculate on new and different subjects to rethink assumptions that were held dear in the past. “It was the learning of Arab Muslims that brought about this massive paradigm shift in world civilization,” wrote David Shasha.

    According to Morgan – “Most Americans, including American Muslims, and even many Muslims from other parts of the world, know only the dimmest outlines of Muslim history, i.e., ‘they were great once, they invented arithmetic, but then they fell behind.’ Most Westerners have been taught that the greatness of the West has its intellectual roots in Greece and Rome, and that after the thousand-year-sleep of the Dark Ages, Europe miraculously reawakened to its Greco-Roman roots. In the conventional telling, this rediscovery of classical Greece — combined with the moral underpinning of the Judeo-Christian faith – led to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the scientific and industrial revolutions. The intellectual contributions of Arabs, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Africans, and others in the Muslim world are relegated to mere footnotes”.

    “I hope that non-Muslims can gain greater respect and deeper understanding of their Muslim cousins than current headlines and policies would suggest and that today’s Muslims can see how Islam was once applied in a way to support creativity, invention, tolerance, and diversity of thought and behavior in both society and in individual lives.”

    “Then, maybe we can begin to understand the issues of today that will never be solved by force. Because if there is no other lesson to be drawn from Lost History, it is that force rarely if ever positively resolves issues of the spirit and the soul – whether in individuals or in civilizations.”


  5. bozh said on June 6th, 2010 at 6:11am #

    It is OK to compare islam with talmudism, and christianity. But only after we agree on an universallly-approved evaluative method for finding out the facts.

    After galileo, scientists have adopted an universally method for investigating biota and nature. Scientists, broadly, change their minds ab most of their findings when a new fact is discovered.
    Religious people never change their minds! They put their trust on an obscure individual and not in what they see with own eyes.
    This reverses natural [and sane] method of evaluating for survival-peace-joy of life-nonviolence.
    Natural order goes like this: first, one uses the 5 senses; then describes what one experiences, and lastly concludes [believes]
    As one can see, for this method of adaptation for survival and peace on earth doesn’t need islam, christianity, mosheism nor any cleric; So, it will not be taught to children, because one does not need ‘experts’, pols, ‘educators’ or priestly class of life to practice it. tnx

  6. Maien said on June 6th, 2010 at 8:53am #

    Melissa, your comment has prompted me to also comment. I was surprised as your comments are generally wise.
    Please remember that religion originally was designed to teach humans to become ‘adults’ in body, thought, feeling and action. Each monotheistic religion (more so) and the huge institutions that were created developed their own particular hierarchies. Each religion dispenses information and instruction. People at the bottom with the least amount of understanding (reactive individuals who wait for instruction rather than thinking) become the fundamentalists. There is a level where individuals may have some understanding of the laws and rules… but live according to these rules only when convenient. Then there are the adherents who are utilising the religion to honestly grow… to move to the point where one has recognised that a god involved in your life insures that you never fully become a responsible Human Being. Each religion has a ‘higher learning’. Information for those individuals who do become fully responsible for their presence and their actions. Currently this is a very very small population. this higher learning is not shared with the general public. it would not be understood, by the majority who continue to rely on a personified being, to be responsible FOR them. Every monotheistic religion has its fundamentalists. American government ( the Israeli occupiers of Palestine)and corporations run the world with fundamentalist (extremely limited, reactive) thinking.

    So Melissa, the western world treats it’s women in a similar fashion. the tools are different. Plastic surgery comes to mind. there is a large population in the west (men and women) who think they are only acceptable with body parts removed, chiselled to a current fashionable look. Especially on television.. (I have been unhealthy and stuck in front of tv for a number of months. It is has been difficult. I thought I would go mad) I am simply amazed at the demand for plastic lips, faces and breasts. You are not a good woman without the correct fashion, home fashions. You are held back if you do not play by the rules. You automatically lose access if and when you choose or are unable to play by these rules.

    In fact it could make one wonder…. is there a preference in the way one hides?
    What is better? the burka or the crazy expensive, changing twice a year, molded fashion demands of western culture where women (single mothers especially) have been brutalised, obviously not solely by fashion demands. Is the burka just as bad as the number of very sad women who happily live their lives through pornography or are forced into this life of being an object…not a human. As usual the epitome of this is symbolised by the celebrities like Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart…

    thank-you Rehmat for reminding readers, of where Europeans found their beginnings of civilisation. One of the first few teachings was about basic health and cleanliness. Bathe. Use spices to flavour and preserve food.

    So finally, please please check your history out in order to fully understand just how much European/Western thought has been very consciously alienating the East. It is hard to kill and steal from people you like even if they are ‘different’. It is easy to guide a badly educated population to hate, disrespect . Remember, the current power-brokers must have polarised situations to meet their goals.

    Hope this isn’t too fuzzy. There is too much to say about religious hierarchies in a comment, like this. The world is changing. More humans …with or without religion are learning to ask good questions..to think… and many in the west are understanding personal responsibility as their institutions begin to fail.
    Gee… maybe this whole exercise is occurring to force humanity in to growing up. After all, Earth is a woman. the west (BP Oil) has just raped and injured Earth and is purposefully allowing the disaster to grow, staying in control to benefit future plans.

  7. kalidas said on June 6th, 2010 at 11:29am #

    “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”
    -Albert Einstein

  8. lichen said on June 6th, 2010 at 4:49pm #

    Islam also oppresses men (and mutilates their genitals), not just women. While christians, jews, hindu’s wrongly single out islam when they should be looking in the mirror at their own insane religions, it is completely justified to point out the poisonous, anti-life nature of all religions, all religious morality. Everyone in these countries does not cling to the muslim religion, many of them are simply shoved up against it with no recourse. In order to be against israeli/us aggression, you do not have to get behind every right wing practice/government in the middle east.

  9. hayate said on June 6th, 2010 at 5:09pm #

    lichen said on June 6th, 2010 at 4:49pm

    “Islam also oppresses men (and mutilates their genitals), not just women.”

    And the racist, hate projecting hasbara continues…

  10. lichen said on June 6th, 2010 at 5:33pm #

    yes, lichen says: whatever he wants and will not be censored by the jibberish of fools. Lichen will never read one of your posts again, regardless of what repetitive, inarticulate junk you are quoted as saying.

  11. hayate said on June 6th, 2010 at 11:12pm #

    lichen said on June 6th, 2010 at 5:33pm

    “Lichen will never read one of your posts again”

    I’m going to hold you to your word on that, sayanim/hasbarat. 😀

  12. Melissa said on June 7th, 2010 at 10:28am #

    Mr. Baroud et al,

    Thank you for responding to my comment/question. I have not and do not study the Torah or Bible. In fact, your assumption that they are “my” Torah and Bible is just that, an assumption, and is a mile from the truth. I do not waste my time with religion, and I am an equal opportunity religion basher. I categorize religion as the wart on the ass of humanity, an anchor on spirituality, shackles on consciousness.

    You are correct, however, that these mythologies have fostered a western culture of disregard for the unique capabilites, and attending responsibilities, that women own. Yes, popular western culture, adopted with alacrity around the world, feed a sickness that I reject as much as you.

    Please try to expand your vision though; what you and I criticize about portrayal of women in these western cultures does not describe all women here. You see, some of us do not subscribe to the ‘values’ marketed. MANY women in western cultures do not have children merely as accessories to be plopped into institutional care while we chase down a pair of shoes, a gym-hard body, or a career identity. It is an honor and a privilege to be the heart of the home.

    I make the assumption that there are plenty of women and men in muslim cultures who also reject the totally crazy codification of subjugation of women with violence and shame. I know a few of these people, but there must be more. Is that assumption needing more illumination?

    But, let us give ourselves permission to reject outright that very real component of this religious culture. We can support our Muslim brothers and sisters while still rejecting the buying of girls, honor killings, rape and beatings. If you haven’t yet noticed, it is quite alright in progressive (and other) communities to criticize the hierarchy and oppression of Christianity and Judaism, so let us not pretend that Islam should be exceptional. It’s not.

    As far as taunting is concerned, whether by cartoons, words or writings, it is time for some self-development. Speech is not a bullet, there is no physical harm, and the individual that claims to be harmed by speech came to the situation with a pre-existing problem: inability to process their own feelings and accept that the intensity of their reaction is totally up to them. Choose to give others that kind of power over you . . . ? Dumb.

    Head and face coverings are a threat to NO ONE! I am amazed that there are people that would go there. Next, women will be attacked for wearing bras.

    Finally, Mr. Baroud, I notice that you did not bother to deride the barely evolved treatment of women codified in Shariah Law. I understand that I do not have all of the picture or context, but there are Muslim girls in my western city whose fathers go to great lengths (flying ‘doctors’ in from other continents) to get their daughter’s genitals properly mutilated, and who rape girls of any culture and say the victim deserved it.

    Mr. Baroud, are you actively challenging any of those cultural norms within the Muslim community? You had an opening to comment against that violence when I made the above comment, but you deflected the criticism to other cultures. That is precisely why I made the comment, and you failed the test. You don’t give a shit about quality of life for women do you? Your objective starts and ends with defending a religion and culture as a whole, unchanging, just like a fundamentalist conservative.

    I’ll keep the amazing Arab contributions of algebra, art, astronomy etc., but you all can take your Shariah Law and shove it.

    Good luck.

  13. bozh said on June 7th, 2010 at 12:06pm #

    Any human who identifies or deems self a jew or muslim is already halftruthing. I read no more.

    If a person sets foot among us humans as humans, i glady welcome them, but the moment they say they are jews or musims and then starts to tallk from that starting line, they are deceiving selves mostly.

    Let’s start the race for knowledge, peace, goodwishing from the same starting line and not as us humans starting the race for understanding from one line and jews and muslims from another or an unknown starting line.

    No jew, catholic, muslim, baptist can deceive me. If s/he talks or teaches from that position, s/he’s a liar and ill-wisher!
    On DV we have a few people who come out as muslims or jews. I no longer read their pieces nor posts!
    I suggest we boycott them! tnx

  14. lichen said on June 7th, 2010 at 3:31pm #

    People who want to go into a culture where humans are oppressed and only lift up 1/2 of them, when the fact remains that no one could oppress others without being oppressed victims of violence, hatred, and restriction themselves, is an anti-humanist, imperialist. And Bozh is right; it is inherently dishonest to start from religion.