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Sydney Muslim protest/riot – Thoughts

September 19, 2012

I didn’t want make this post a long-winded or an extensive take on the event that occurred last Saturday as so much has already been said. I figured I would do a quick summary of my thoughts.

Protest

Any group should have a right to protest in Australia if they desire. But violence should never be tolerated.

Movie

The Movie is a low-budget work of an individual from another country, so the anger at Australia, the US or even the Western world is misdirected.

Mohamad Tabbaa wrote the following article in the SMH arguing that the riots are an accumulation of a broader frustrations of issues such as the Middle Eastern wars etc. and that “perhaps there is a feeling of catharsis in the waving of fists and chanting of slogans” by some of those rioters. In part I would say it may be true for some of those present. However rowdy behaviour is still inexcusable.  There are other means of venting your frustrations that I will touch on below.

Freedom to Express

Should the movie remain on the internet? A definite unambiguous yes. People need to realise that the internet houses every opposing opinion, every dark, bizarre and most definitely offensive piece of content imaginable. So if you are looking to be offended there is a slide of the internet for you, even if it’s in some far deep cyber-crevasse. This is the strength and weakness to some degree of the internet, it’s what makes it so liberating  from the old media. Anyone for a fraction of the price can publish their views and be heard by people all over the world, no matter how scholarly or seedy those views may be. Of course that has it down sides, but not nearly enough to warrant the restriction. The beauty is that people can choose what they want to consume (ignoring government filters) and what they wish to avoid.

So if that pot-stirrer mufti ignored the film instead of using it as a rallying-cry against the West then the film would be buried in the bottomless self-opinionated pile of fly-infested content.

 I love the following effect that the internet helped to create. It’s called the ’Barbra Streisand effect’, and takes after the name of the famous actress who back in 2003 attempted to suppress photos of her house that was featured in a relatively obscure photographers gallery of aerial properties near the coast. As a result instead of letting those photos sit in a gallery and have a few hundred eyes gaze on them, the photos of her place have by now generated millions of views.

Why did I bring that up? Because that is exactly what happened to this low budget film about Muhammad. This morning I checked it has over 10 million Youtube views. The harder you try to suppress something in the age of the internet the quicker it gathers an audience.

Right to be offended

The argument I have heard being thrown around and recently supported by the Australian communications minister Steven Conroy, is that simply removing the film is a quick and easy solution as it’s offensive to Muslims around the world. Removing a film is not difficult, that is correct, but there is a wider issue at hand. Being offended is a given in such a pluralistic society and suppression of content based solely on someone being offended makes the whole society weaker. By giving into violence it sends a message that if certain people don’t approve of something the best way is to spill blood to get your way.

 Something you find insignificant may offend some other small group or individual that doesn’t mean we should begin building an exhaustive lists of things we should ban. Australia as well as other Western countries manage to pay lip-service to the freedom of speech, but unless they defend it in those times that it’s under attack it is an empty gesture. 

A notable example to solidify my point is a 1980’s fictional novel – The Satanic Verses, written by Salman Rushdie, a recipient of a Booker Prize in literature. The blood-thirsty reaction to the book that sent the man into hiding shows that the argument is not merely about a poor quality film but much more, the freedom of expressing of any work made by human hands, especially by someone like Mrs Rushdie.  The suppression of literature has served the West in the last century as a notable example of just why oppressive regimes are worth opposing. A stateless group who takes up the same banner should be no different. All modern governments should echo the words of Voltaire when he said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”.

Solution to being offended

So what is the correct course of action? The most obvious is to ignore it. I always get a whiff of peoples insecurities in their own identifies every time I see some holy text being defended by violence. The following quote states it so succinctly:

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – Isaac Asimov,

Or how about respond with the old pen and paper, write a heroic response arguing why this film or any other content that you feel requires your response, is wrong. Why not create your own video rebutting the message of this film or express your frustrations in any other number of creative ways.

If you are not the literary type, do what so many people with anger management problems have learnt to do; take time off to cool-down. Go for a run or even a gym and take your anger out on a punching bag.

Final Point

The quicker people learn to accept that there will be things that may offend, the better the world will be. I commend Youtube and Google in turn for sticking to their guns and keeping this film on their servers.

I leave you with a relevant  song that has managed to  show how not to take things seriously –  “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” from the Monty Python movie ‘The Life of Brian”. PS I don’t believe ever saw riots when that movie came out, perhaps a good example to follow.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rizwan permalink
    September 21, 2012 2:40 am

    “The right to swing your fist ends at my nose”

    I think the whole world needs to redefine the term “freedom of expression” and there should be no double standards for that.

    The claim that there is freedom of speech in America and the West is a big lie. Sure, you can criticize Islam and foreign countries, but there are social and political restrictions upon speech when the 9/11 lie or the crimes of Israel are brought up for discussion.

    In Australia, any unfair written material that could be described as inciting racial vilification is banned by the 1989 Anti-Discrimination act.

    Muslims should not have reacted the way they did. They must learn how to create a respectable and powerful presence for themselves in the West first before asking the West to be considerate to their feelings. They ought to understand the lesson that something is far more deeply rooted in the Western tradition than free speech and that is: double standard.

    • September 26, 2012 12:18 pm

      I think saying that freedom of speech in the West is a big lie is a grotesque hyperbole. I would definitely not shy away from saying it’s not perfect, but there is definitely a high regard for it.

      In regards to the examples you have given me, I am not sure what you mean by the “ 9/11 lie”. If its in reference to some conspiracies I am not even going to go down that rabbit hole.

      In regards to “the crimes of Israel” perhaps you need to elaborate. There is a ton of material criticizing Israel and their Middle-East operations. There are many people who object to the actions of the Israel government, and they have made their voices heard.

  2. September 26, 2012 12:51 am

    As someone brought up “American” I find there is a need for maturity involved in expressing views. Monty Python made it clear that “Life of Brian” was pure satire – a high art form. The video that has released such “Muslim Rage” is not all that good (yes, I’ve watched it). I do not know if it is fair for someone outside the culture to try to satire sacred cows – or maybe pigs, depending on your background… However, this video and billions of other pages of content on the internet are proof that people can generally live peacefully while practicing freedom of speech/expression/what-have-you.

    Great article, Sasha. As to Rizwan’s comments about the “Double Standard”, this is only a flawed expression of the West and not a true reflection of the Western Tradition. The Western Tradition is built upon inquiry into universal truth for the development of practical wisdom. None of our great thinkers would begin to suggest it wise to call a crazy person with a vest-bomb “crazy”…there are better ways of exposing our inconsistencies :^)

    • September 26, 2012 12:23 pm

      Thank you for taking your time to respond.
      I really like the way Clinton just recently expressed his views about the subject, and I guess I will quote him as a response to you.

      “If you live in a shame-based society where you think nothing good’s gonna happen, the temptation is to wait for somebody to say something you’d find offensive and you can lash out against it. But free people absorb destructive things and refuse to be destroyed.

      You cannot live in a shame-based world. You won’t make it in the 1st century. There’s too much diversity. There’s too much stuff goin’ on the internet You gotta be able to say, if you believe in Islam, that, ‘I believe in a god and a prophet strong enough to withstand the criticisms of petty, narrow-minded, mean-spirited people. I believe that the cultural crassness I abhor will, in the end, fall before the values that I exalt.'”

  3. Rizwan permalink
    September 29, 2012 6:09 am

    The protection of innocent people is more valuable than the act of some lunatic offenders inciting violence (like the film maker). This “free speech” thing is a useless and endless debate (at least to me) and i can quote hundreds of example to support my comments but then i believe you can do the same although i am pretty sure you wont be able to answer my valid concerns.

    The Muslim extremists who are burning American flags in response to a stupid anti-Islam film (at least that’s how it appears on the surface) are just as irrational as 9/11 truth deniers in the West who symbolically burn 9/11 truth documentaries and books by rejecting them as “conspiracy theories.” The difference is a matter of degrees.

    I find the following quote by Goethe so relevant to today’s America, West and free speech admirers;

    “None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.”

  4. Lucius permalink
    September 30, 2012 8:43 pm

    Australian “free speech” laws have much left to be desired. You can essentially be jailed for offending someone, which I think is rather poor. I think the US is a shining example with regards to their free speech laws and we as Australians should follow them.

    With regards to the protest/s. I am quick to judge idiotic behaviour. These morons (as already mentioned) held unfriendly protests and were blaming the wrong people. Not only in Australia, but in other Muslim countries. The man who produced the film is a Coptic Christian from Egypt.

    It’s probably from all the religious propaganda, and the lack of real education that one can be so stupid as to attack the US, or any western country any time they are offended despite them not being the cause. Even if it was an American, why do innocent Americans have to suffer for the crimes of others?

    As for those that were holding signs saying infidels should be killed and what not, I say they deserve deportation, at their own cost. You don’t want to live with infidels? Enjoy your 3rd world lifestyle and your religious police, and your restriction of rights back wherever you came from.

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