by Mai Phuong
Several years after the Danish cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed sparked a wave of protests in which at least 50 people were killed, history is repeating itself again with widespread anger and violence being caused by an anti-Islamic film posted on the internet.
The Innocence of Muslims, a low budget film reportedly produced by a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians living in America, was ignored at first and dismissed by the few to see it as poorly made work of fiction created by some crackpot with a religious hang-up. The problems started when it was discovered on the internet and word spread that an American film deeply provocative and insulting towards Muslims had been made.
Then, the film started to become the target of protests arguing that both in moral and social aspects it had abused the concept of freedom of speech in its outspoken hatred of a specific religion. It is unarguable that a film specifically mocking the Prophet as a womaniser, child molester and killer is unacceptable.
But in a country like the United States, which highlights freedom of speech as a top human right, the production of such an offensive film was unlikely to be controlled. The movie itself is one that few people in the US have seen or paid much attention to, but unfortunately at a time when this kind of thing is available at the click of a mouse, it has become widely known, sparking a disaster across the Muslim world.
Washington condemned the movie with US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both denouncing the film. At least one of the actresses in the amateurish production came out of hiding to express her regret and claim she was duped by the producer into taking part.
Despite these attempts to cool the situation, protests escalated into chaotic violence against the US. This has turned deadly in some cases with at least 47 people killed worldwide and the death toll expected to rise. There has been a particular escalation of violence in Asian Muslim countries in recent days, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan and particularly Pakistan.
The worst of the violence occurred when the American ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats were killed in Benghazi, Libya. Thousands have burned American flags, destroyed American property and attacked American personnel.
The whole situation has struck a heavy blow to both religious communities and countries suffering from the protests. Fierce arguments and conflicts have been started amongst religions, and major problems now face almost all the leaders in the countries where protests have occurred. The situation is extremely difficult for them to resolve.
It appears that protesters have exaggerated their hatred when resorting to violent actions with many admitting they had not seen the film. People are entitled to feel disgusted and they have a choice about how to express their feelings, but violence like we have seen is not the answer.
Attacks on overseas diplomatic offices that cause injury and death are unacceptable. This will pave the way for a new wave of religious disputes and it should always be condemned in a civilised world, said an analyst on Nhan Dan Cuoi Tuan (Weekend People), a Vietnamese-language weekly.
It is true that, as Obama and Clinton have stressed repeatedly, "There is no justification for violence".
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is also right when he says that "one or two insane persons should not be allowed to endanger world peace in the garb of freedom of expression".
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmad-inejad has also slammed both the film and the violent and deadly protests.
"Fundamentally, first of all, any action that is provocative or offends the religious thoughts and feelings of any people, we condemn," Ahmadinejad said to CNN in New York ahead of his visit to the UN General Assembly this week.
"Likewise, we condemn any type of extremism. Of course, what took place was ugly. Offending the Holy Prophet is quite ugly. This has very little or nothing to do with freedom and freedom of speech. This is the weakness and the abuse of freedom, and in many places it is a crime. It shouldn't take place and I do hope the day will come in which politicians will not seek to offend those whom others hold holy," he said.
In a perfect world freedom of speech would always be used responsibly. But no society can be accountable for the actions of every individual all of the time. We have seen in these last weeks that when this freedom is abused it has the capability to cause offence, violence and even death. It is a heavy price to pay. — VNS