Over the course of the last few days, there have been demonstrations in no less than a dozen cities throughout the Middle East and North Africa protesting the release of a film entitled Innocence of Muslims. Apart from being worthy of every Razzie to ever come into existence, it is a representation of bigotry at its worst. Actors don Arab “black face,” terrible accents, and perhaps the most frightening part of it all is that it’s evident the actors may have had no idea how offensive this film was to be. Almost every reference made to Allah or the Quran or the Prophet seems to be dubbed over a completely different utterance. Reports as of late have stated that the film permit was filed by a Christian organization and was likely produced by the same. In short, it appears that this film is an effort by an extremely misinformed radical Christian group that seeks to “educate” its followers on the “evils” of Islam, with beliefs so horribly offensive that they were incapable of finding anyone to represent them without deceit.
Islam, by nature, lends itself to a very violent history. This is not to say that its followers are particularly violent, nor its story unique from the spread of any other major religion. Islam was founded right around the year 600. If you were to subtract about 600 years from the timeline of the Western world (or, more specifically, Christianity), do you know what you would find? The Inquisition, the split of the Papacy, and countless other blemishes on the face of history, all in the name of the Christian God (spoiler alert: Allah is the same guy!). But do you know what that period consequently led to? The Renaissance.
Perhaps what we are experiencing is but a period of transition in the world. A time where both “sides” of an argument reach a point where they find the other so unbearable that the fabric of society tears, only to be restored by the tenets of scholasticism and a shared sense of purpose. You can call me an idealist, but if there’s one thing we can all agree upon it’s that history has an awful habit of repeating itself. It seems to me that no time or place or person of greatness was born out of an easy existence. Is it not the often looked down upon that most often feel a call to action? Why then, do we insist on inserting ourselves into a culture whose worldview we do not share, whose priorities are not our own?
The answers to these questions are not easy to swallow. There is a certain arrogance in the Western world where we believe that everybody wants our idea of freedom and democracy. This is just not so. Islam is the only major religion that has an inherent political ideology — it is deeply embedded into the writings of the faith and it governs its people with an authority that right-wing Christians in the United States could only dream of. But, unlike many others that came before it, Islam encourages the evolution of faith (and therefore politics) through discourse and self-reflection.
Although the Islamic faith is the birthplace of words like jihad that strike fear in the minds of the West, we are at fault for dismissing the wide swaths of the populace who see no militaristic connotations of the word. Similarly, we are at fault for allowing ourselves to act so infantile as to reject a great portion of humanity because we simply do not understand them. It is always a sad thing to see those who extend an olive branch have their offering doused in gasoline and set ablaze, but we must remember that the very definition of diplomacy implies effectiveness and sensitivity and as a people we must constantly remind ourselves of the validity in that.
The death of the American diplomats in Libya is disheartening. I hope their families do not toil in the darkness of hate and instead celebrate their lives as they lived; logically, compassionately, and in the service of not just their country but all of mankind. The life of a diplomat is not easy, never belonging anywhere but at the same time lending themselves to everywhere, and to me that is one of the most selfless acts. Secretary of State Clinton lauded our fallen diplomats as friends of the Libyan people, and further demonstrations in Benghazi later proved that fact when citizens came out in droves to show their support for the American mission.
I am fearful that their support will never be reciprocated by the Western world. During the Arab Spring of 2011, many were quick to offer a cheer in the direction of demonstrators for standing up to oppressive governments and ceased applause once it was understood that Islamists would replace their dictators. I hope that all of us see this time as one to gather some perspective. Instead of wagging our fingers at those who we see as wrongdoers, let us take up arms against our own prejudices.
I do not wish to apologize for the film that sparked a worldwide controversy. I do, however, wish to bring to light that although it was not the American government who was responsible for the film, the American people are responsible for creating an environment in which that sort of dualistic thinking is not only accepted, but encouraged. We owe it to ourselves, and to the rest of the world, to educate ourselves on the things that scare us, and to reject this black-and-white attitude that has plagued us for longer than we’d care to remember. Until then, I will be waiting in the grey.