Pastor Jones, the Florida-based pastor, no stranger to raking up controversy has thrown a bombshell into the already fraught relational dynamic between the Islamic world and the West. He has promoted a film called, ‘The Innocence of Islam’ produced and financed by a Jewish American real estate developer. This person has, in defence of the film, called it provocative and termed Islam a ‘cancer’.
The fallout of this ill-conceived and vicious intent has already cost the lives of four American diplomats, including the United States’ ambassador to Libya. This, unfortunately, may be just the beginning of the spiral of violence and loss of lives.
The devious intention of the moviemaker and pastor Jones is clear: it is to provoke Muslims into violence and portray Islam and Muslims as a regressive, barbaric religion. The aim is to crystallise or validate the clash of civilizations thesis by positioning Islam as the West’s other. It is to demonstrate to the West that Islam is antithetical to the core values of the West and that relations between Islam and the West can only be confrontational and hostile.
The snapshot of the film comes out at a time when relations between Islam and the West are at a nadir. The backdrop of the film’s release is the Gulf War II, the war in Afghanistan and the turmoil in the Middle East. In combination, these are perceived by Muslims as a war against Islam, evoking memories of the crusades. This has led to pervasive anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. The situation is so fraught that all it needs is a spark to ignite mass passions and rage against the West. The film has just provided this spark.
In essence, the film is neither about free speech or values but pure and sheer mischief. The aim and agenda, to repeat, is to deepen the differences between Islam and the West and render them estranged and hostile to each other. This is then a political agenda. It is unfortunate because the need of the hour is not confrontation and conflict between Islam and the West but a dialogue. This film and the inevitable reactions it will elicit will give short shrift to this. The reaction will be swift because of globalisation and the 24x7 news cycles.
The fallout of the film will be two-fold: it will validate the image of Islam and Muslims as ‘barbaric’ and violent in the West and there will be almost a mirror image effect in the Islamic world about the West. The impact of this will linger in the consciousness of both westerners and Muslims for a long time. Such is the power of crude caricaturing and playing up passions of people. This tragic fallout will do injustice to both the nature of the West and Islam. The impetus behind both has been historical and the significance and contributions of both to civilisation cannot be denied.
Historically, the best that each civilisation has had to offer to the world has been when both entered into a dialogue with each other and gleaned the best each had to offer. Whether it is the domain of philosophy, mathematics and even science, both civilisations gave their best to the world when they were involved in each other and curious about each other. The periods of strife and conflict, when the pattern reversed, were negative and bad for both. (It is altogether a different matter that the West has taken a lead in almost every field now).
It is this period of dialogue and mutual understanding that needs to revived. And it is this dialogue and mutual discovery that this film aims to sabotage and undermine. The aim is political. It is not about values. Yes, it does attack the core values and faith of Muslims and then deems the reaction as opposite to that of western values. But this is just the cloak under which the dagger is hidden. The cloak is the cover of western values and the dagger is the intent to divide, create conflict, deepen estrangement and render Islam as being in total contradiction to the West. It is this agenda that both westerners and Muslims should see through and then turn the tables on Pastor Jones and company.
Both Islam and the West need each other. This is important not only for an academic dialogue between Islam and the West but for peace and prosperity of the world. The likes of Pastor Jones want conflict and chaos. Let this be understood and let not his agenda succeed. In the meantime, the United States could do well by withdrawing the film and ban it on grounds of impropriety, public order and peace. This, to repeat, is not about free speech. It is about vicious, nasty, scurrilous politics. Peace and amity, in the final analysis, are more important than irrational conflict, misery and strife. Let this be understood and let Pastor Jones and his ilk wallow in obscurity and their agenda not be allowed to succeed. Much is at stake here.
(The writer is chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. The views expressed are personal)