My dear three readers:
Though I will not spend too much time arguing the case, and my brainfog is rather severe tonight; if the sentences don’t flow into one-another I apologise – I’ve been piecing this together over several days.
Nevertheless something is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Following the ‘riots’ and killings since the release of what they tell me is a terrible video depicting the blessed Prophet Muhammad in the most overt and pernicious way, the responses to these protests, especially in our press, have been less than satisfying.
Firstly, let me state what my position is – I embrace freedom of speech as a policy – it is the only way a democratic system can flourish. Does that mean that I think that I should say whatever I want to, because I’m free to do it? That’s a slightly different question. No-doubt such a video was supposed to generate a rather dramatic response, who wouldn’t have thought that it wouldn’t?
The best argument I have read that tries to explain something of the sentiments of those who killed the American Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi is Myriam Francois-Cerrah’s assessment of the situation, which was published on the Huffington Post blog and her own. She writes about the anti-imperial overtones as well as the stripping away of the dignity of those who live in the Muslim world, which has been perpetrated by us, the imperial powers who for years have (in my words) savagely oppressed these people through political, economic and military means.
Now one of the questions you might ask is – so who bears the responsibility for the death of the American Ambassador? Much of the media has now come to the conclusion that it was probably Salafist militants that had staged the attack in response to the death of one of their leaders; that the inflammatory video was merely an excuse to be manipulated, and subsequently carry out the intended assassinations under that pretence, their plans having been already drawn for an attack on the Consulate.
Moreover, the press praises those Libyans who stood up against these militants and drove them away through protest. My question is – why should the Libyan people bear the responsibility of driving away those that have manipulated that abhorrent video and since carried out the killings? Who created those monsters in the first place? And why should the many be judged for the actions of the few? These are important moral questions seldom asked.
No-doubt, the men who perpetrated those crimes behaved in the most barbaric of ways (and I don’t mean to sound like an orientalist here, Arabs are not barbaric) – in murdering a man who was far-removed or completely detached from the atrocious film’s production. And though it is great to see some sort of outward anger to that particular brand of ‘resistance’ or violence, is that merely enough? Could this all be something of a red-herring in terms of subverting our attention from the increasing likelihood of a war with Iran, among other things?
Does reporting such stories not ignore the fact that a sacred right of free-speech was violated, manipulated, subverted for poisonous intents? Isn’t the point of a right that it should be cherished, rather than abused or misused? Or employed in such a way that would no-doubt alienate the rights of those elsewhere who seek to respond?
Secondly, could not some of the blame be redirected elsewhere? You see, the trouble with our idea of the universal, near-inalienable right to free-speech or free-expression comes with a caveat; that is, our right to publish obscene materials comes at the cost of the rights of those who are offended to protest. Moreover, the ‘legitimate’ deaths that occur in response to, say, a terrorist threat are fine, even if innocent civillians are killed (the recently Hit List policy is a testament to it); the deaths that occur as a (initially perceived) result of such a video are not okay. States and governments can be violent, but people can’t be.
Why is that the case? What makes governments immune to the same criticisms that those who are violent face? Why are some deaths acceptable to people whilst others aren’t, even though both are driven by ill-founded rogue ideologies? Truly, in a secular world, why is death even so important to the ‘West’? This conception of death is based on a [militant] secular argument rooted in an ideology that sees itself as threatened by (militant or peaceful) religious ideology, and extremism (excuse the orientalist overtones please), yet does not see itself as the reason for the flourishing of that sort of thinking.*
As I wrote in a comment on the Huffington Post’s site,** that though I abhor violence in principle (whether carried out by militants or nation-states), it is a sad state of affairs I think when Christians, Jews, Hindus etc., don’t react more strongly and protest their point of view when they are attacked, [and when Muslims don’t stand up for the rights of other faiths, of the rights of God’s word to be heard in the world, through whatever authentic religion and medium].
The world has lost its sense of the sacred – the only thing that seems to matter any more are the socio-economic imperatives that govern us – don’t do anything that might affect the economy and we’ll all get on fine – and I don’t like that. All that seems to matter is our ‘rights’. Religious space is being increasingly encroached upon; it is the duty of the faithful of whatever religion to speak out against the violation of the sacred space.
Humanity is at a loss, and I think because we’ve lost that sense of the sacred. How many of us roam ‘free’ and fed whilst most of the world starves; how much freedom do we have whilst propping up dictatorships elsewhere? How many ‘rights’ do we uphold for ourselves whilst systematically violating the rights of others; yet we rain fire from the skies, slay millions (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) or let others do it whilst we look away (Romania, Indonesia, Latin America).Where is the sacred duty of feeding and clothing the poor, trying to make peace, sincerly liberating people from tyrants and occupation, of preserving the lives of innocents?
Back to the point – what are the moral obligations of those who produced such a film, knowing full-well that the fury of the Muslims world would be unleashed in the form of demonstrations outside of the US Embassies or local governments, and by a very small minority, these protests would inevitably turn into a violent spectacle. And oddly enough, this violence didn’t occur in the ‘West’, for obvious reason, but such a film is another orientalist tool to make the people of the East appear more violent than the civilised West, even though more have died in the name of secular nationalism, communism, and capitalism than have died at the hands of such protesters.
Should not Muslims be enraged and protest (peacefuly) at such an insult to the figure they hold most dear in their religion? Should they merely learn to accept this sort venomous speech? Do they not have a right to be offended? To speak their minds? To affirm that though free-speech is an important part of living in the modern world, we should use it responsibly and in the interest for promoting cooperation between peoples, to promote an actual demoractic world? You see, you can’t blame peoples’ religious persuasion of creating discord among them – people are in my view, fundamentally religious or driven by ideology – whereas they can choose what it is that they say.
“The Church of the Nativity was besieged in 2002 whilst the Latin patriarch said : ‘the basilica is a place of refuge for everybody, even fighters, as long as they lay down their arms. We have an obligation to give refuge to Palestinians and Israelis alike.’
That is an example of the kind of human rights and humanity we need to get back to. Not the ones dicatated to us by the state.”
*Moreover, if you want another reading on it, this conception of a good deahth is rooted in capitalism – think about it, violence in a country, especially if people die, has adverse effects on that country’s economy – consumer confidence decreases, foreign investment lessens. Dead people cannot buy goods, cannot work and feed the system. And when these legitimate deaths are carried out through illegitimate wars and deaths, mechanisms are built so that these countries’ economic output are channelled toward the global capitalist networks.
As an example, why else do we militarily interveine in Libya and not Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Egypt?
**(I don’t think I’ve given up any intellectual property rights here)