Sydney Muslim protest/riot – Thoughts
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.
Any group should have a right to protest in Australia if they desire. But violence should never be tolerated.
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.
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.