Of anger and violence by Ayesah Abubakar
The recent protests in different parts of the world on the blasphemous portrayal of Prophet Muhammad (saaw) has touched something that is a very real dilemma to us Muslims. As Muslims who claim that our religion dearly upholds peace, shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves for this show of “anger and violence?” To this, I can only offer this answer…in as much as I do not accept violence, yet, I also cannot totally disregard “the context of that anger and violence.”
We have to understand that these malicious cartoons have been published way back in September last year and immediately the ulama in Denmark complained about it. However, their government insisted on upholding more its “freedom of expression” as compared to its sensitivity towards Muslim sentiment. As we all know, since then, the cartoons spread across Europe and has gathered momentum among Muslims to protest because they felt that have not been listened to and respected. As we saw it happen, some communities in Lebanon and Syria have opted for violent means of burning the Danish Embassies there. Some reasons to this sad outcome are: (1) these are places where there exists a prevailing anti-western sentiment, more specifically their feelings of desperation as they are closer to places like Palestine and Iraq and with which most Muslims feel have been unjustly treated mainly by the US Foreign Policy, and perhaps, even Europe (2) we cannot also deny the element of possible exploiters in this chaos in those areas.
Further, I wish to reiterate the first reason that explains why these communities may feel inequitably treated by the West (referring to the callousness and arrogance of some communities there and their countries’ policies towards Muslims in general), these Muslims therefore, have reached their “boiling point”, especially that they see “no other means” to express this injustice and to gain any justice out of it. Surely, they have been pushed to the wall.
Here in Malaysia, the Muslim community are of course angered about it. We are talking about it in the masjid, in our communities, schools, and amongst friends. Some groups have aggressively sent out formal protest letters to the Danish Embassy in KL…and delivering it personally but in a very civilized way. More recently, this Friday, a big protest rally was organized at the Danish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, despite the intensity of emotions, the outcome was far from the rage that has been shown in other Muslim countries. I would attribute this “more peaceful reaction” to two reasons: (1) Malaysia is of course a Muslim nation, but also, a nation of diverse peoples, therefore, they have experienced in the past religious and race conflicts from which they have learned their lessons very well. Thus, the Muslims have become more cautious about responses; (2) it also is a plus factor that Muslims here are confident that the government will surely manage the situation and would be a staunch defender in issues that would offend Muslims. After all, Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. In a way, Malaysian Muslims are confident that the government will not keep mum about this (in its official and diplomatic capacities) and will have its own say—even if this crisis has its roots in far Europe and Middle East.
Yet, as fate would have it, we have actually been caught with surprise that even when violence have erupted in Middle East and big protests in nearby Indonesia, one daily here still managed to print the cartoons and with an accompanying article entitled “Not much impact here” as if to say that Muslims have been negligent in defending their religion. This happened just a week ago. The newspaper is the Sarawak Tribune that is being circulated in the Sarawak State. Within 24 hours, the editor in chief resigned and admitted his mistake of publishing it. However, it still does not take away the responsibility of the whole company. These types of conflict situations are not new here in Malaysia, precisely, the government has its “security” laws that does not allow people or groups of people to exploit issues on race, religion , and culture in order to protect the harmony of the various groups here (Indians, Chinese, Orang Asli, Malays, and other groups). The Sarawak Tribune gave its explanation and offered its apologies of course, and appealed for the fate of the 300 employees who could lose their jobs. But within this same week, the decision was quickly made. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi invoked the security laws and decided to immediately suspend the license of the media outfit.
To some, this decision might be unfair. But, what if PM Badawi had decided otherwise? Do you think the Muslims in Malaysia will be “calmed” with the issue, especially that they are hoping that their country will not have to be influenced by the unacceptable preaching of “freedom of expression” in Western societies when it clearly offends and disrespects its people?
In the Philippines, we are witnessing organized protest rallies (one in Cotabato City and another in Manila) and several statements in solidarity of the Muslims are slowly coming out in the media. These remain, still, as more peaceful reactions of communities in anger and restraint. However, there is always a danger that if this is not well addressed, a more damaging response can also be manifested in one way or another. This could emanate from anyone who may want to benefit from this conflict situation. If our President Gloria Arroyo seriously gives attention to this “cartoon issue”, she can in fact become a “beacon for peace” by officially condemning this malicious act in solidarity with the Muslims. She should also muster all her authority as president in aggressively warding off “potential conflict exploiters.” Verily, this is one rare opportunity for a noble act. And it is hers for the taking.
Lastly, my word of comfort to all our brothers and sisters….as we say in Bahasa Malaysia…”sabar lah”, or patience, please.