THE FREEDOM TO OFFEND …………. By Raheel Raza

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(Published in the Ottawa Citizen, September 17, 2012)

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them”      Mark Twain.

The film “Innocence of Muslims” about Islam’s Prophet that is creating a furor all over the Muslim world is badly made, technically flawed and basically a shoddy film. However, fully aware of the psyche of Islamists, the filmmaker must have known exactly how this would pan out, so he didn’t need to put in much effort – just let out his bigotry.

Muslims have not failed to disappoint. For the stupidity of one individual the Islamists have attacked the entire United States or institutions representing the States. In one interview a man frothing at the mouth in Yemen said “death to Israel” – he was not that interested in the content of the film but more focused on his anti-Israel rant. Of course. How could there be a show of anger and hate at the USA without bringing in the usual suspect – Israel? They are after all responsible for every evil that befalls the Muslim world including natural disasters, the killing of shias and other minorities by Islamist mobs, the Arab Spring, oppression of women, honour killings and now this film!

When asked if the looters, rioters and mobs had actually seen the film, more than half of them said no. It also seems that the film was released a while ago but the Salafist Mullahs who want to keep hate of the West alive and burning, decided to fan the flames closer to 9/11 – what better time to vent their angst against the wicked West.

Obviously one of the issues that the Islamists hate most about the West – freedom of expression – is what they lack. Like sheep they are ready to be herded in hate and violence against anyone the cleric points out is the enemy. There is no reason or reflection.

How many times will Muslims fall into the same trap? From Salman Rushdie to the Danish cartoons, have we not learned anything? What I’ve learnt is that there is freedom to post horrible incendiary material on the internet, in books and magazines but we also have the freedom not to view or read. What I also know is that this hate mongering doesn’t tarnish the image of my Prophet, weaken my faith or impact me personally. We need to learn to ignore such garbage because that’s just what it is. We also have the freedom to respond, critique and take the high road to expose this film for exactly what it is – a shoddy bigoted attempt to trap willing Islamists into acts of violence.

The biggest lesson has been that everyone doesn’t have to have warm fuzzy feelings about Islam and Muslims – they have the freedom not to like us, but we can demand mutual respect because that’s what being human is about.

If the Islamists sincerely followed in the footsteps of the Prophet who they have set out to protect, then they would know that violence is never justified. The Prophet of Islam was used to hate targeted at him – both physical and verbal. There is no recorded tradition of him turning on his retractors in violence – all he did was turn away. Sadly, his followers have taken it upon themselves to protect Islam through violence, when the danger is not to Islam but to Muslims themselves who are behaving like ignorant masses.

I’m at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and a Muslim said to me “why aren’t you protesting against the film at this Council?” My response is “The people who’ve been killed in these riots also had human rights. Besides, the Arab/Muslim world is beset with many serious issues. Redirecting the energy of such protests towards positive solutions to women’s rights, minority rights, education and poverty is more needed right now than wasting my time protesting a dumb film.”

There is news that the film will be screened in Toronto by some religious zealots, and they have the freedom to do this. We have the right not to watch it.