Writing in the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed points to Ayatollah Komeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie as the start of sectarian wars conducted on the field of creative arts. I’d antedate Khomeini by a few millennia, but whatever…
Al-Rashed’s point is that today, the world is filled with violence directed at religions and the violence is being fed by films, books, video clips, and cartoons. It is not so much those pieces of creativity that fuel it, but how people react when they believe themselves or their religion to be insulted. Some call for countries to suppress such offensive expression; some call for the UN to make it an international, criminal law to offend religion; others think the proper way to stop offensive speech is to punch the speaker in the mouth. None of these are the correct solution.
The only useful way to meet offensive speech is, as Al-Rashed notes, positive speech. He points to efforts like The 99 series of comic books as an example of good speech, speech that seeks to cast religion in a favorable light. It is, but the series occupies a very small niche in the universe of ideas and communication. But because it is not all-encompasing, reaching all corners of the world, doesn’t mean it’s useless. Similarly, religious outreach programs are good — so long as they are not themselves offensive to other religions — but they’re not for everyone, either. I have my doubts about the utility of the plastic arts in conveying messages of religious tolerance, but those may be more related to my thoughts about the utility of contemporary arts in general. There’s certainly a market for books and films that have a positive message, but they have to be of sufficient quality if they’re to have any impact.
Most of all, though, people have to grow thicker skins. We do not, ordinarily, react violently to the daily little outrages that come our way. We need to transfer the ability to ignore little affronts to bigger affronts. Our all-powerful God does not need us to defend him, otherwise he would not be all-powerful, would he?
The never-ending culture of hatred
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Ayatollah Khomeini began the battle in 1988 when he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of the author of a book that not man many people had heard of until then. However “The Satanic Verses” is still on sale today, whilst its publisher has made millions of dollars in sales and its author, Salman Rushdie, has become an international star, even though prior to this book, he had only written three novels that were not well-known outside of Britain. Colonel Gaddafi and others then entered the fray when it became clear that they could use this issue to gain popularity.
This was followed by a series of similar events and clashes, such as the Danish cartoons that were published 5 years ago, a Dutch short film, not to mention calls to burn the Quran in Florida, and others. However today, an anti-Islam film has managed to represent a greater danger than at any time before. This is because this film was reportedly produced by an Egyptian Copt; whilst it is being seen at a time when Egypt’s sectarian scene is on the verge of igniting. In addition to this, we are now passing through the post-revolutionary era, namely the Arab Spring, which the Americans have lauded, saying this will open a better world in terms of communication between peoples, rather than dictatorial government.
Anybody who believes that clash of civilizations, or religions, will end in the next decade is wrong, for this is something that will only get worse! This is not because of an increase in the number of people who want to insult and abuse the religion of others, for such figures have always been present, but rather due to the growing means of communication and activism.
… This abuse is not just limited to Islam; Christians, Jews and Hindus are fighting their own battles against hostile literary and artistic projects. The difference is that Muslims are afflicted with the presence of armed extremist organizers – such as Al Qaeda – that believe it is their duty to defend Islam. Catholics protested against and indeed tried to ban the “Da Vinci Code”, which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Prior to this, large controversy focused on Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” movie, particularly its portrayal of the Jews. These all resulted in controversy that sparked disagreements and tensions and hatred at a time of intellectual, political and cultural turmoil.