Reject the Notion of Islamophobic “Muslim Rage”
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 22:10
I am a Muslim. I am not enraged.
It took more than a while for me to get to watch the trailer of the movie Innocence of Muslims on YouTube, amidst the fanfare surrounding PSY of “Gangnam Style” and the “Invisible Horse Dance” fame. I dismissed the video quickly as it was really trivially done and had so little impact on my daily life.
It remained that way only until the untimely death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and his colleagues on Sept. 11, a day so reminiscent of my Muslim identity, and one that changed the lives of thousands of people across the world – and not only Muslims at that.
I, like many other Muslims, was horrified by the death of Americans and feared how things would begin to unravel. Meanwhile, the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali speculated that the incident was preempted by the screening of the trailer in various Muslim countries, which I find doubtful. Ali, in her account, asserts that “the Muslim men and women … who support – whether actively or passively – the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.” She joins the crowd which depicts Muslims as a violent, enraged nationality, prone to overreaction against “Satanic Verses,” a Danish cartoon or even a film as amateurish as Innocence of Muslims.”
That is not to say that the protest and the resulting deaths in Muslim nation-states are entirely blameless. These protesters comprise a small population of the wider Muslim population and to judge the Muslim world by the actions and outrage expressed by the extremists could be pernicious and foolish. Positing “Muslim Rage” to contextualize such actions places blames on not just the handful of Libyans responsible for the tragic death of the U.S. ambassador, but holds all Muslims culpable as well. Media portrayals of such outrage have further exacerbated the fear of Muslims as an irrational mass, capable of terrorizing and inflicting harm on innocents, and has perpetuated the racist notions Islamophobia has been built upon.
A look at Newsweek’s latest cover delineates what the stereotypical media narrative of Muslim identity might be – angry Muslim men participating in fundamentalist riots. The magazine’s latest front page illustrates bearded Middle-Eastern men wearing turbans, howling, shaking their fists and holding a striped flag during an anti-American protest. The magazine takes the issue further by asking its readers to stir up a debate via the “#MuslimRage” Twitter hashtag. While Newsweek may have planned to attract a pool of readers and inadvertently widened the chasm between Muslims and non-Muslims, the publicity stunt backfired. What could have escalated tensions on the Twitter-verse became a creative means of battling Islamophobia and the concept of “Muslim Rage.”
@AssedBaig: “There’s no prayer room in this night club! #MuslimRage”
@LSal92:“Lost your kid Jihad at the airport but can’t yell for him. #MuslimRage”
@SaadMalik:“Being born in the Chinese year of the pig. #MuslimRage”
What I presumed could have turned into another racial slur propagated by sensational journalism morphed into a mockery of what the Islamophobic mind has given birth to. “Muslim Rage” is not something to be talked about, and branding Muslims, or anyone for that matter, is definitely tasteless. The media portrayal serves to make people terrified of the anger and violence Muslims exhibit, as opposed to creating a counter-narrative.
Islam is just as complex as any other religion and a simplistic notion of Islam does little justice toward the explanation of the “violence” wrought by Muslims in each of these localities. These protests have been as much about these countries’ internal issues and their exaggeration of the significance of the film in order to distract others from their turbulent internal politics. Reducing a complex set of causes to a collective rage reinforces the very stereotype of a united, violent Muslim world perpetuated by the makers of the video and the instigators of violence alike.
Such a narrative of Islam distracts us from examining the real issue at hand – the root of Islamophobia, and the diabolical use of “free speech” – for example. “Free speech,” from what I gather, does not condone the vilification of others’ beliefs, but instead respects such beliefs. To depict the Prophet as a “pedophile” and “womanizer” is to hijack the very foundation of Muslim faith. It is this prejudiced notion and misconception of Islam through the uncontained use of “free speech” that allows Islamophobia to persist to this date.
If “free speech” can really go that far, I want the kind of free speech that allows me to respond with a “So what?” to nonsensical allegations of President Obama being a Muslim. I want to be protected from the guilt whenever Sept. 11 is brought up. I don’t want to be labeled either as a victim or an aggressor, or be categorized for that matter. It may also not be too naïve to expect protection from the racist, hate-mongering speech incited by others’ perceptions of Islam, if we really want to protect hate speech designed to exacerbate tensions across racial, ethnic and religious lines. I want to know whether we can achieve the peace and reconciliation really preached by Islam, despite myths otherwise. I want to know how much “free speech” we can exercise, before so much havoc is wrought.