Religious sensitivities, the Islamic world and the communication revolution
Much hue and cry has been raised the world over the US made video titled “The Innocence of Islam”. In Sri Lanka too we have seen protests and numerous articles on the issue, most lambasting the USA. At the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last week, many leaders from Muslim nations accused the West of hiding behind its defenses of freedom of speech and ignoring cultural sensitivities by allowing such video to be made.
One’s faith is sacred to people, be they Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus or Jews and it’s a matter which has to be dealt with respect and a lot of sensitivity. Hence making a film like the “Innocence of Islam” is only intended to provoke and get itself undue publicity, which it did thanks to all the violent protests held world over. All the uproar only made people who would never have heard of the “Innocence of Islam” watch it and pass it onto other.
Let us just consider for a minute how sensitive most Islamic countries are to the religious sensitivities of others. I would say very little. It is a well known fact that in most Middle Eastern nations, places of religious worship of other faith are allowed to be constructed, carrying a religious idol into one of these countries is forbidden and even if a religious symbol is found in a home, the occupants could face imprisonment.
This is as opposed to the rest of the countries in the world who, to a large extent, have no such restrictions on worship, whatever the faith maybe. Things are not perfect anywhere but the basic right of people to practice their faith is respected.
Tolerance and awareness of religious sensitivities is a knife that cuts both ways. One cannot ask for religious tolerance for only one’s faith and forget the fact that others have their own beliefs and faith too and they too need to be respected.
We’ve seen the Buddha statues at Bahamian that stood for hundreds of years being dynamited for no reason, we’ve seen churches been vandalized in Pakistan and a 15 year old been arrested due to a false accusation that she burnt a copy of the Koran, we’ve just seen Buddhist temples being attacked in Bangladesh over a photo posted on Face Book. And so the list goes on.
Films, video and songs that hurt religious sensitivities of Buddhist Christians, Jews and Hindu are also a regular occurrence and these are dealt with according to the laws in place in each country. Russia chose to jail girl band “Pussy Riot” because they dared to perform an anti-Putin song within the percents of the country’s main orthodox church, the USA has jailed the man who made the “Innocence of Islam” video and France has asked those offended by the anti-Islam cartoons published recently to use the country’s anti defamation laws to deal with those who published them.
In an age where modern communication levels have reached a pinnacle, where very person is able to get their personal views across the world in a matter of seconds, no State can regulate what goes public. It is impossible and it is also not necessary. Tolerance begets tolerance the same way that intolerance begets intolerance. We do not live in an age where anyone is going to wait for the Islamic world to give its stamp of approve before making film, writing a song or writing a book. These are ground realties that have to be recognized. Just because a handful of people like to provoke and inflame religious passions by making videos such as the “Innocence of Islam” violently protesting against them and by shedding blood in the name of Islam will not help. The end results is it leads to more misunderstanding between followers of Islam and others religions. By all means protest and show your anger but do it in a peaceful manner. And while you have every right to protest, also keep in mind that other people are also entitled to their right to hold different point of view.