The film (if it could called that) Innocence of Muslims has stirred up mass protest amongst Muslims throughout the world for its blasphemous portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.
I have viewed some of the film in clips broadcast on a foreign television channel. From what I have seen of it, the production is indeed third rate as it was done on the cheap.
While I am not a religious person myself, I respect people who are, irrespective of whatever faith they practise. And one of the things I would never stoop to do is offend another religion's strongly held principles and beliefs, particularly around how its central characters are portrayed, whether on this blog or anyplace else.
That's why I can understand the depth of Muslim feeling regarding this film. Physically portraying Muhammad is not considered right within Islam and non-Muslims should respect that. Also making assertions about Muhammad in that, for example, he practised paedophilia is outrageous. If I were a Christian and if similar things were said about Jesus by a filmmaker, then I would be outraged too. Even though I am a social liberal, I was appalled by the broadcast of the South Park episode showing the Virgin Mary having a period some years ago. This episode was not only bad taste in my view but also it denigrated a spiritual figure revered by many Catholics.
This is not to say, though, that I don't question certain moral beliefs or practises that are held important by some religiously inclined people or groups. For example, I question the Roman Catholic Church's undemocratic nature and exclusion of women, Islam's similarly poor treatment of women, and the taboo that most religions have around homosexuality.
That's why I believe that we should reject religious fundamentalism but yet we should also refrain from doing things that offend the central values of another religion. For example, if I were planning a dinner party, and if I had guests from religions which have strict dietary requirements, I would need to take full account of those. And the other thing is that because there is such a strong consensus (indeed requirement) within the Islamic world not to physically portray or ridicule Muhammad, then that should be respected too. After all, this is something that Muslims (both Sunni and Shia) agree upon. Some of you might be asking here as to how I felt about Salman Rushdie back in 1989 when he published his book The Satanic Verses which similarly denigrated Muhammad. Being a Muslim, he should have been aware of the sensibilities of his fellow Muslims in publishing a portrayal of Muhammad that was not exactly flattering. However, I was absolutely appalled by the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran's calls for his murder via a fatwa. At the most, and given that he wrote it in a free society, it should have been a matter between Rushdie and his conscience, if nothing else.
And also I was appalled by the violence shown at the Sydney and other protests throughout the Middle East during the last week. The murder of the US Ambassador to Libya and some of his diplomatic staff under the guise of opposition to the film by Al Qaeda militants was appalling, with even the Cubans, the Russians and the Chinese all condemning this attack.
But what must not be forgotten though is that many ordinary, peace loving Muslims throughout the world have no doubt been offended by the hateful portrayal of their prophet. I note that not all Muslims have marched and many would have expressed their opposition in private, but no less powerful ways. Many Muslims living in the west have long been mindful of the fact that freedom of speech can often have its downsides and this includes the perpetration of hate speech. Yet, many Muslims (including in New Zealand) have long respected the need for interfaith dialogue rather than fundamentalist driven absolutism. I am pleased that interfaith dialogues have taken off both here and in other democratic countries.
In fact, interfaith dialogues might help lessen the publication of hate inspired media such as the Innocence of Muslims. Although we cannot stop the fundamentalists of all faiths who dwell in our midst, I view the creation of such dialogues as important in combatting religious prejudice, fundamentalism and hatred wherever it exists.
And this can only be a good thing for not only people of faith but people of non-faith as well.
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