FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Anti-Muslim Films, Cartoons And My Gaza Neighbor

by RAMZY BAROUD

A neighbor of mine, of many years ago from a Gaza refugee camp, was a sacrilegious person par excellence. Unemployed like most inhabitants of the camp, he was extremely poor. His family responsibilities were daunting, yet prolonged Israeli military curfews made it impossible for him to find a job, let alone venture outside his miserable one-bedroom house to puff on cheap brand cigarettes, which he often borrowed from some other neighbor.

When life pushed Ghassan beyond his ability to cope, he would go to his house’ courtyard and begin to shout, shrieking most imaginative profanities against everything sacred. His howls would often end with muffled cries and tears, especially once he realized that he had crossed every sacred line there was to cross, including those pertaining to God, the Prophets (no one in specific) and all the holy books.

But when Israeli soldiers dragged Ghassan out of his house and ordered him to curse at Allah and to insult the Prophet Mohammed – otherwise they would have beaten him senseless – he obstinately refused. It’s not that the man would not compromise, for he had already walked on all fours, barked like a dog and spit grudgingly at a poster of Yasser Arafat. But Allah and the Prophet is where he drew the line. Ghassan retold the story many times, even long after the scars on his face healed, and his broken arm was once again useful. And in no time, he resumed his regular blasphemy whenever life pushed him passed that dreadful, breaking point.

During military curfews, Israeli soldiers often got bored. When all refugees were locked in, and no stone-throwing kids taunted them in the camp’s small alleys, the soldiers would break down a few rickety doors and entertain themselves by humiliating hapless refugees. The practice was widespread and recurring. Men and boys would often comply with all sorts of requests, but many remained steadfast when the soldiers’ demands reached God and the Prophet. Many bones were broken that way, too many to count.

Spiritual, religious figures and symbols often represent the last hope to which poor, humiliated and disenfranchised people cling onto with absolute ferocity, for that hope is their last line of defense. Without it, all is lost.

Palestine has often served as a microcosm for a larger ailment, which many Muslims see as the lowest point of their collective humiliation that spans generations. Although Muslim solidarity with Palestinians is often wrapped up in religious symbols and slogans, in reality it is the degradation of the individual (as a representation of the Ummah – the nation) that troubles them most.

Palestine, however, is no longer the only low point. In the last two decades, other Muslim nations joined a growing list: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and so on.

Insulting Islamic symbols often represents that breaking point for many Muslims. The phenomenon is too obvious to miss. Long before Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ became a cause célèbre among western governments and intellectuals, supposedly so keen on shielding ‘freedom of speech’ from the hordes of vengeful Muslims: Offending Muslims somehow managed to survive all phases of political correctness that western countries experienced in recent decades.

It was hardly surprising that the latest anti-Islam video – The Innocence of Muslims – was directed by a pornographer, promoted by rightwing hatemongers, and championed by the very self-righteous ‘intellectual’ elements that hailed every American military adventure in Muslim countries. Those who are using the film, and the much violence and anger it generated, to preach ‘freedom of expression’ and such, are either willfully ignorant or know nothing of the political context behind all of this.

Similarly, it was not the single act of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten publishing of the offensive Mohammed’s cartoons in 2005, nor Pastor Terry Jones’ burning of the Holy Quran antics in 2010 that enraged many Muslims. It was the identity of the perpetrators – as western, American – that placed the insults in an already unbearable political context: The sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, the insanity of Bagram prison in Afghanistan, the torture and unlawful imprisonment of Muslim detainees in Guantanamo, the millions of dead, maimed and displaced and a thousand more such examples.

Those who insist on placing ‘Muslim rage’ (the cover story of a recent Newsweek edition) within some futile discussion over freedom of speech are only confusing the issue. Offensive cartoons targeting Prophet Mohammed were published in numerous countries including newspapers in Africa, South America and even some Arab countries. There was no uproar. South Africa’s Mail and Guardian is notorious for attempting to add fuel to the fire, desperate for international attention. In 2010, shortly before the World Cup, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro hoped to break away into international stardom with an offensive cartoon in the same newspaper, to no avail. Only local Muslim communities reacted, and the issue was more or less forgotten. Why?

Is it because Muslims are more tolerant to freedom of speech in Chile, Estonia and Peru, than the US, Denmark and France? Or is it because the former are involved in no wars that continue to humiliate Muslims, pushing them to the brink like my old Gaza neighbor?

Just as the protests were building momentum, a NATO airstrike on September 16 killed eight women in the Afghani province of Laghman. Thousands of angry Afghans, helpless before the recurring lethal strikes, roamed the streets in tears chanting anti-US slogans, burning US flags and more. Their ‘rage’ over the film was accentuated by the deadly strike. Few in mainstream media even bothered to link both events, as if the intention is simply to maintain that Muslims are irrational and that their misguided logic is deserving of no consideration whatsoever.

When I saw Pakistani, Afghani, Yemeni, Lebanese and other protesters rallying against the constant provocation emanating from western countries, I couldn’t help but think of Ghassan. Demanding Muslims to become more ‘tolerant’ as their most sacred symbols are being desecrated, while the smoke of NATO bombs continues to fill the Afghani-Pakistani horizon, is not much different than demanding an unemployed, broken and despairing man to sit on all fours, bark like a dog and repeat slurs targeting Prophet Mohammed. As irreverent to religion as Ghassan was, that moment defined his very humanity. He refused to obey the soldiers, and the beating commenced.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

More articles by:

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John Campbell McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
Luciana Bohne
World War I: Crime and Punishment
Steve Martinot
The Ideology of Pepper Spray: Force and Violence in a Can
Martin Billheimer
Beyond the 120 Days of the Silicon Valley Dolls
Patrick T. Hiller
An Olympic Glimmer on the Horizon – North Korea and South Korea Stepping Down the Escalation Ladder
Ron Jacobs
The Vietnamese War: a Different Take
Binoy Kampmark
Fuming in the White House: the Bannon-Trump Implosion
Joseph Natoli
What to Worry About and What Not to Worry About
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto, Bayer and Neoliberalism: A Case of Hobson’s Choice
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Bullying of Cuba
Kenneth Surin
Bigger in Texas
Arturo Desimone
The Untouchable Leader Who Stood Up to Gandhi
Peter Crowley
To Cheerleaders of Iran Protests: Iran is Not Our Enemy, a Sponsor of Terror or a Tyranny
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail