Letting fires die: understanding religious extremism

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Flags flew at half mast recently for the latest American deaths in Libya. The inevitable and most simple question is, “Why murder?” Naturally, most reporters and newscasters were quick to blame al-Qaida, but the involvement of certain terrorist groups, whether they admit to the violence or not, is merely a cause for speculation. Fingers can easily be pointed in a familiar direction, but here in the Western world it is mainly being used as a ploy for news stations to gain attention and subtly promote our certain foreign policy actions—specifically, endorsing American intervention in other countries. I have never been a fan of such tactics and choose to believe that our involvement as a country should be at home, not abroad. As for the reason behind the deaths, there seem to be many ideas being spread and it has even been said that the cause for the attacks could be a message to our government, or a support for another assail such as 9/11. The most likely and attention grabbing reason is a low-budget independent film that is being used as the main excuse for the recent turmoil and violent outbursts.

Sam Bacile has been stirring up the public for some time. But his current contribution to the world is his film, “Innocence of Muslims,” which really is a horrible piece of work in terms of quality. How this movie has been received by the angered religious groups is another matter. My original reaction to the unfortunate Libyan circumstance was a feeling of aghast. Thoughts of listening to the old saying, “Put yourself in their shoes,” spun around in my head like a slide show projector. My religious affiliation is of no matter, but I made my own comparisons to the outburst of a group who were disgusted seeing their prophet exposed in a negative light—a prophet who was practically a supporter of pacifism. Now, if Christians, Catholics and especially Jews for that matter got offended at every negative comment and/or stereotype, we would have many more problems on our plate. But violence is certainly a rare answer for them, and it shouldn’t be for a community of people choosing to put their faith in something that is supposed to try and bring a world together. As a result, more people will choose to look down on their religion and the people who support it. Is this really the route that should be taken when dealing with these matters?
All religions have had their own prophets, saviors and gods made fun of in every way modernly possible. If all Christians overreacted to a poorly funded independent film, it certainly would not be in a way that would spark another crusade. Take for example the Tony award-winning play, “The Book of Mormon.” Since the play has been released and “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker held nothing back, I have witnessed no riots or violent attacks by the Mormon populace. And, while mentioning the two writers, I have seen neither persecuted for their sense of humor and their right to their freedom of speech. Yet, on that note, they were criticized during their 200th “South Park” episode where they never actually depicted Muhammad, but inserted satirical comments at the entirety of the situation. The episode was said to have “outright insulted” the prophet. They were even warned about ending up like the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004 on the streets of Amsterdam due to a film he made discussing the abuse of Muslim women in Islamic societies. Well, I’m sure if this were another country, such as Libya, they would have been hung years ago. But, our society is run differently. While we do live in a culture full of liberties, we must remember that other people are not granted the same privileges. Politicians seem to forget this.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among other elected officials, spoke about the recent attacks. Although they have apologized and expressed how saddening the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the others were tragic, they have all pretended to be unaware of how such a film can be spread so effortlessly. Most seem to deny the fact that dictatorships still exist. We would all like to pretend that people everywhere should have knowledge of all political systems, laws and tastes (even though some can be bitter), but this is just not the case. The people of Libya and in most other Middle Eastern countries have been living in a society with strict censorship ideals and rules that put a constraint on the people. Because of this, ignorance is not bliss this time. In Layman’s terms, there is an idea of the citizens that comes from these restrictions and leads them to be appalled at the thought that a leader would let such a film out in the first place. We simply do not live by these standards, and even though we have these freedoms, when something filthy, offensive or otherwise is created and made public there is flexibility involved. When “Innocence of Muslims” was broadcasted openly on Youtube, and can still be found there, the majority of Americans hardly knew it even existed, which is why the violence comes as such a surprise to our nation.

Freedom of speech is simply a special privilege that’s developed in our country and been granted to us by a congregation of people who wanted to live a world with open ideas and expressionism. Sam Bacile’s film has already been condemned by politicians around the nation. Of course, the uproar was a tragic incident and no one had intended for the mayhem to take place. Whether or not Bacile had his own intentions is unknown, yet “The White House has denounced the film, but has also defended American laws governing freedom of expression,” the Huffington Post writes. Without these inalienable rights, America would not be the country it is today—full of minds debating healthily and challenging various aspects and beliefs. I understand that a glorified prophet is respected by a large majority of people, but this violence is unacceptable. How would Mohammad himself react to such instability? A change in government is a must, and policies should be changed.

Is this America’s job? No, this is for the country’s people to decide. It’s within their rights, or at least should be. There should be a tolerance amongst the people. If they were so angered by the movie then why resort to violence so quickly? They themselves should feel free to make their own films within their terms. I know the solution is not this easy, but slandering an entire country based on one man’s possibly satirical project seems over excessive. A council of religious leaders discussing the issues troubling the followers of the religion would be a start. To let a riot flood the streets is no way to promote one’s religion. I, personally, do not want to scorn the entire Islamic people because of their actions, but the acts of these extremists puts their religion in a bad light. Furthering the violence is fostering the stereotype already in place. Without change, there will otherwise be a continual cycle of prejudicial opinions that can spark protests similar to the topical “attacks across parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, in which more than 28 people have died,” BBC reported. Ron Paul would most likely agree, and so should other politicians who shrug it off with typical orations and ignorance. The allegedly peaceful people need a change and detach from our government. Both cultures require knowledge in different areas and acceptance of dissimilar ideas, policies, religions, actions and divergence all around.

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