Issue #1566 26 September 2012
Muslim protests, the reaction and the agendas
Calm prevailed on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney over the weekend despite predictions of more “violent protest” from “Muslim extremists”. Small protests did take place in Sydney and Melbourne but peace prevailed despite provocative counter-demonstrations by anti-Muslim groups, some members of which wore Nazi SS insignia. The topic of worldwide Muslim outrage at the circulation of a cheap and nasty 15-minute film entitled Innocence of Muslims has dominated opinion pages in the press ever since it went viral on the internet.
According to the YouTube notes for the drama: “The anti-Islam video claims Islam is a lie and Mohammed was a paedophile.” Self-serving arguments about “freedom of speech” and a “clash of cultures” mask deeper issues and agendas that are being pursued to the great cost of Muslim communities.
This type of controversy is not new. Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses sparked protests across the Muslim world following its publication in 1988. Just prior to that, American artist and photographer Andres Serrano exhibited a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of his own urine. The intervening years have been peppered with similar events and insults to religious believers with predictable results.
Small “l” liberals argue that freedom of expression demands that people should be able do or say things the wider community might find offensive. The right-wing is latching onto incidents at the protests by members of Muslim communities to say that it shows the difference between the social mores of Islam and the rest of the community, particularly those of faiths from the “Judeo-Christian” tradition. Disgraced SA Senator Corey Bernardi, who heads up a group for aspiring conservative youth, claims the demonstration held in Sydney the weekend before last underscores the failure of multiculturalism. Many reactionaries are pressing for policies to enforce “assimilation”.
The stereotyping spray from the critics of Islam doesn’t stand up to examination. Imams from Mosques in Sydney and Melbourne advised those attending morning prayers during last week to stay away from the protests that had attracted such notoriety. Community leaders were at pains to distance themselves from the views expressed outside the US Consulate in Sydney. They point to programs for religious counselling of men convicted of planning terrorist attacks to turn them from the path of extremism. The investigation of the fundamentalist al-Furquan Islamic Centre in Melbourne formed a menacing backdrop to the media debate raging about the Sydney protest.
The defensive posture of the Imams shows just how severe the attacks on their congregations have become. They could have pointed to the extremely heavy handed response of the police to the protesters but chose not to. In fact, their stance drew criticism from some of the youths that were drawn to the demonstration and those who believed the participants were making a valid point. Many comments on the social media noted that the passions on display were about more than an insult to Mohammed, though that certainly provided the straw that broke the camel’s back.
This demonising of people based on their religion means that all are caught up in the discriminatory net, though the great overwhelming majority of them are hard working, law abiding citizens.
War and prejudice
The presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and the neo-colonial subjugation of predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East certainly rankles. The abuse of the rights of those seeking refuge from those conflicts rubs salt into the wound. The reactionary policies of successive Australian governments have been built on and excused by an artificially created fear of the “other”. It is an age-old technique of governments seeking to drag their populations to war to de-humanise their “enemies”. The process is ongoing as imperialism has not finished with its drive to redraw the map of the Middle East and to bend it to its will. Pressure for an attack on Iran is reaching bursting point as it is for intervention in Syria.
Another closely-linked factor in the intensity of feeling among some Muslim youths is the lack of understanding from the wider community. They often live in neglected suburbs with slim prospects for decent work. They share that situation with non-Muslim working class youths but the predicament for Muslims is exacerbated by the bigotry spreading through society. Some fall victim to right-wing fundamentalist influences in the same way non-Muslims do. This type of situation is heaven for recruiters to those organisations.
The real enemies of workers and other exploited people from the Muslim community, Christian denominations and non-believers are the same. Those enemies are capitalism and imperialism. They are skilful opponents who recognise that the unity of the oppressed spells its demise. The task of progressive people is therefore to build unity and understanding and to stand up to the hate mongers.
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