It was a typical Friday afternoon back on campus. I was at work, finishing up loose ends for the week. Focused, I continued to race the clock as I placed an order for my last textbook, grabbed the last sheets from the copier for my supervisor all while attempting to catch up with my mom on the phone. Multi-tasking became more than just a skill, it was a necessary habit acquired to get through my days, especially when my day revolved around international news. I was discussing with my mom the recent protests in the Middle East that recently sparked over an anti-Islamic film titled Innocence of Muslims. The film was first announced to be produced by Sam Bacile, a Jewish Israeli citizen living in California. However, later reports discovered Bacile was simply an alias and the filmmaker was Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, a militant Coptic Christian. With the funding of Steven Klien, both men claimed to be “counter-Jihadist.”
The film that that can be found on YouTube angered Muslims across the Middle East resulting in violent attacks on the United States Consulate and the death of US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Since then, the world has been glued to their TV channels, radio stations and online news sites with the terms “Muslim” “violence” and “angry” being headline one word after the other.
It wasn’t until a pause in my mom’s voice did my racing thoughts momentarily stop. “Rowaida, I’m not going to get the position,” she said softly referencing her upcoming job interview. “With everything that’s going on, I wouldn’t even want to hire me.”
I listened attentively to my mom’s heartbroken voice. For years, Muslims across the world have struggled with media image and representation. Every day has become a struggle to prove that Muslims were “peaceful” people. That Al-Qaida did not represent “us” and “we” valued love, democracy and coexistence like anyone else. But with the running headlines and images of Muslims breaking into governmental buildings and burning down the flag, the Muslim population has only fallen two steps backwards to the one step forward.
Ever since I was young, my mother has always emphasized the importance of modeling good character through our everyday behavior. “You are Muslim,” she would say. “If you want to show people, act like one.”
A friend of mine had put it nicely on Facebook the other day. She pointed out that “the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, was stoned, exiled, had the intestines of animals thrown on him while he prayed – he was no stranger to people’s insults or abuse- at what point does he ever retaliate by becoming violent, by killing the other person?”
As the Quran states:
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا
“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace” [25:63]
The film nonetheless was nothing but merely a poorly conducted series of deception, lies and blatant disrespect. However, instead of focusing on the maybe 0.7% of Muslims that did protest, it is vital to look at the bigger picture. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest but violence-driven political exploitation must be avoided. Until the mainstream media is able to distinguish political strategies from religious beliefs and recognize that we all flaw as humans, we should strive to react positively, and to keep an educated and keen eye to what is being fed to the general public.
The directors of the film do not represent the greater United States just as any terrorist organization doesn’t represent the Muslims across the globe. Perhaps there’s something greater to this film fueling such violent reactions in the Middle East and just perhaps there’s a larger part of the story that we aren’t being told during our 7AM news. But even so, its more important to recognize that an insult to a religion has been made, a reaction was stirred and a progressive movement needs to be taken. The Middle East has witnessed centuries of instability with and without external interferences, a YouTube film shouldn’t be the reason the region goes up in flames.
No one is perfect and so until the day comes where our different beliefs is no longer the reason political leaders drive us apart, justify the murder our families and ruin the image of Muslims everywhere, we must overcome this experience, one moment at a time.