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September 20, 2012, Thursday

Islamophobia with a thousand faces

The Islamophobic movie “Innocence of Muslims,” reportedly written and produced by a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, caused mayhem on a global scale, leading to hundreds of demonstrations across the world and to the tragic death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens along with three embassy workers.

More than a dozen people died in the demonstrations in several Arab countries. The tasteless and nefarious movie once again revealed the fragile fault lines of Islam-West relations and the growing dangers of Islamophobia.

The cheap movie attacks Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in the most vicious ways. The goal is clearly to provoke Muslim sensitivities about the sacredness of their religion and Prophet. This is the first irony of this wicked story: The man behind the film is reported to be an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian. Attacking another religion in the most reprehensible way in the name of defending your religion is a failure of logic because it undermines all attempts to maintain any respect for that which is sacred.

As more information becomes available about the film and its mastermind Nakoula, we experience a Faustian moment: The man behind the film is a registered liar, corrupt businessman, a swindler, hatemonger, Islamophobe and everything else. According to the reports, the cast has been duped, post-editing has turned the film into a horror story about Islam and it has been promoted as one of those allegedly earth-shattering productions of “unveiling the true nature of Islam”!

The film and the people behind it are a farce. But the issues they raise are real. They demonize Islam and 1.5 billion Muslims to attract a global audience for their racist agenda. Given the deep mistrust and suspicion between Islamic and Western societies, such provocations are certain to create tension and clash. Those Muslims who act with a sense of “victimization” against Western modernity easily fall into the trap.

It would be a costly mistake to belittle and brush aside Islamophobic acts as marginal, isolated events to be tolerated under the guise of freedom of expression. Extremist discourses and hate-mongering against Islam and Muslims do lead to violence.

Only last year on July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He continued his carnage on the island of Utoya, where he killed 69 young people, one by one. This horrific event was preceded by an even more heinous mindset that came to the surface during Breivik's trial. His 1,500-page manifesto, called “2083: A European Declaration of Independence,” reveals the frightening depth of racism and hatred towards Islam. Breivik's manifesto is filled with quotes and references from what passes as mainstream attacks on Islam and Muslims in the writings of American and European Islamophobes who call for a clash of religions and civilizations between Islam and the West.

No written manifesto of Nakoula and his associates has been unearthed so far but the growing literature of Islamophobia openly advocates hatred and breeds violence. It deepens the sense of mistrust that already poisons Islam-West relations. It sidelines the vast majority of Muslims and Westerners who believe in a peaceful coexistence between different cultures and religions.

This is the new frontline in the market of the clash of civilizations: Those who want to create a religious and cultural war between Islam and the West are now turning to Islamophobia as a new training ground. Racism, outlawed in many countries, is too dangerous a terrain for anti-Muslim groups. Since Islamophobia is not legally defined as racism and as a hate crime, the Islamophobes get away with their cultural racism and political provocations. When they are confronted, they claim they are exercising their right to criticism and freedom of expression. One needs to ask: Since when have provocative and despicable attacks on a religious tradition become freedom of expression?

Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) already puts limits on forms of speech that advocate “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” Many other international conventions condemn and prohibit hate speech as a hate crime.

Just like anti-Semitism, Islamophobia should be defined as a hate crime and rejected as a crime against humanity. The logic of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is the same: hating a particular religion and the people that belong to it on the basis of their essential identity.

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