And so the message of 9/11 has permeated political and intellectual discourse, parties and voters as well as scholars and opinion makers. Strikingly, its most vocal proponents have been anti-Islamists as well as Muslim extremists. If there is anything that al-Qaeda and Geert Wilders actually agree on, it is that there is a deep-seated Clash of Civilisations – that Islam and the West are indeed fundamentally opposed. And between them we have all been captured by that theme.
Quite unexpectedly, the claim of the fundamental antithesis is ceasing to sound so self-evident. All of a sudden, the drum of Islam versus Western values has begun to lose its beat. It looks as if 9/11, after all, was not the start of a whole new era, but merely the beginning of one decade – a decade that is now coming to an end.
What made this transformation happen is not the death of Osama Bin Laden – his leadership had withered long before he was shot. Nor was it caused by Barack Obama – his speeches have promised outreach and reconciliation, but his foreign policy yet has to deliver. What has really undermined the 9/11 antithesis are the popular uprisings of the current Arab Spring. It is these revolutions that have shown that the dichotomy of Islam and Western values does not actually hold.
Unfortunately events in the second week of September 2012 appear to set things back again. It is not inconceivable that governments in North American and European capitals will get second thoughts after having taken leave of autocrats they had propped up for decades and the -- by and large reactive, not pro-active --enthusiasm with which they greeted 'people's power' in the Middle East. This is also corroborated by Bassam Haddad's much darker assessment for Jadaliyyah
Although it is still a matter of debate who exactly is behind the amateurish 'The Innocence of Muslims', in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, rumors that the clip was the work of Israeli and American film-makers led to large-scale protests, attempts to storm the embassies of the USA and European countries, and eventually the tragic death of several American diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya. From a detached and dispassionate point of view it is puzzling how such a badly edited and poorly acted little film can result in such violent responses. At face value it only appears to show how very sensitive Muslims have been become to any media coverage or depictions that are perceived as anti-Islamic. But is that really all there is to it?
|'Innocence of Muslims' screenshot|
However, the fact that the most heated responses came from three Arab countries which have recently experienced violent regime changes seems to me more relevant than the fact that they are also Muslim countries. Yes, there have also been protests as far away as Southeast Asia, but Indonesian Muslim leaders, for example, have stated that the film does not deserve any attention. Therefore, it appears more likely that accusations of anti-Islamic conspiracies must be understood as a catalyst for political frustrations among the population with the way things have been going since the disappearance of the dictators. In that case religion can NOT be considered the root cause of the current frenzy affecting the mobs in Cairo, Benghazi and Sanaa. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult for political actors in the Muslim world to keep these things apart and for outside observers to interpret developments correctly.
The Religion Dispatches Website has made an effort to establish the identity of the maker of this film, while Bruce Lawrence, a respected historian of religion specializing in Islam, wrote a first measured commentary under the title 'YouTube Terrorism', assessing the effects the information era is having on political and religious debates. Different angles are provided by Omid Safi, in what one commentator described as a twelve-point 'manifesto for sanity', and by Juan Cole in his widely read blog Informed Comment.
"It's not anger," says Mohammed Ansar, a Muslim commentator who has been a prominent online critic of Mr Holland's documentary. "Anger is what we're seeing in the Middle East. What we've seen in the UK has been much more measured."
Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, agrees. "I have no time for those who say Channel 4 shouldn't broadcast such a programme," he says. "Every broadcaster and historian has the right to examine the historical origins of any faith. But our objections were more about the quality of the documentary itself and the arguments Tom made."
Tehmina Kazi, from British Muslims for Secular Democracy, is critical of Islam: The Untold Story but says many Muslim groups are too quick to move into an overtly hostile position whenever anything controversial airs about their faith. [...] "The default response was complain, complain, complain."She believes Islamic faith groups need to get better at responding with reasoned debate – something she felt many have done successfully over the Channel 4 documentary. "Respond, don't react," she says.