Are historical and religious figures above criticism? What are the limits of free speech and why it sets people on fire?
The violent reaction of scores of Muslims in different parts of the world to the film Innocence of Muslims has drawn global attention. Following are the thoughts shared by a few persons, who are in the media as writers and/or editors, about the issue of blasphemy, religious fervor, and freedom of expression.
Steve Taylor, lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University (UK) and author of Out of the Darkness: From Turmoil to Transformation feels that those creating the video and those reacting to it violently are behaving the same way.
Steve, we see that a provocative film is created and made public by one person or a small group, but the reaction of masses among Muslim populations are mostly against the entire American state. Why would people react this way when they don’t usually go all praise for humanitarian aid received from America?
Steve: They see it as a threat to their identity, which is so heavily bound up with their religion. Strongly religious people depend on their religions for everything – purpose, meaning, hope, belonging. So a threat to their religion is a threat to the entire edifice of their identity and being.
As you probably know, in the UK, soccer is very popular, and many people support soccer teams. If you support one soccer team, you feel rivalry toward the fans of other teams – you denigrate them and insult them, and maybe even attack them. And as far as I'm concerned, the fundamentalist Christians – e.g. who created the video – and the fundamentalist Muslims – who protest about the video violently – are just doing the same. They're both as bad as each other.
In effect, what do these mass protests attempt to reinforce?
Steve: What I am sure of is that the protests reinforce how irreconcilable the different faiths are. Religions inevitably create conflict. Asking the people of different faiths to live in harmony is like expecting the fans of different soccer teams to respect and honor each other.
In your opinion, should historical figures- like Mohammad, Jesus, Moses etc – be above criticism or shall the satirists not touch them because of the reactions it might stir?
Steve: No one should be above criticism. And if they were truly awakened, Jesus and Mohammad wouldn't care about criticism. They would realize that every viewpoint stems from the different context of every human beings' level of development and the history of their experiences. We should always be courageous to express opinions in the face of hostility. The moment we stop is the moment we stoop to a lower level of humanity.
Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism, author of the books Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, and chief editor of Global Politician attributes the violent protests to the ignorance and poor living conditions of the protesting masses.
Sam, how do you interpret these mass protests by Muslims in various countries in reaction to a film that strikes as offensive to Islamic values?
Sam: Poor, underprivileged, and uneducated mobs always harbor deep-set resentment and envy against the haves of this world. This pent-up rage is bound to erupt one way or the other. Why not over a film?
Do such films transgress the limits of free speech?
Sam: The limit to free speech is hate speech – the call to harmful action against others); aiding, abetting, and encouraging crime; and true national security (issues of life and death.) Everything else should be allowed.
We don’t see such violent reactions from followers of other religions though their beliefs are also satirized or made fun of. What could account for such anger from some contemporary Muslims?
Sam: Islam is the religion of choice of shame- and honor-based societies. Other religions are not. Virulent narcissism in a shame- and honor-based society of educationally and socio-economically inferior masses. Narcissistic injuries in such hyper-vigilant and paranoid collectives lead to narcissistic rage.
(Brooklyn Dame, the founder and editor of Borderless News and Views, sees the rising power of social media in this incident of the film controversy.)
Brook, what we see today is social media used for running political campaigns and posting content that leads people toward aggression? Do you think social media today should have the same kind of editorial razor that most professional publications do?
Brook: Unfortunately, a large part of the reason social media has such influence in terms of carrying newsworthy events is because traditional media outlets are not doing the work they used to do. In years past, there was a big difference between reporters and journalists – and journalists were expected to bring facts to the audience and let the audience decide for themselves how to shape their own opinions. Now, many journalists and reporters are simply talking heads who form opinions for the audience. It's human nature to put one's own 'spin' on issues after interpreting facts but audiences aren't given a chance to sift through the chatter because, oftentimes, facts are omitted because the journalists have their own agenda. Personally, I find that many unpaid bloggers with plenty of time on hand to do research do a much better job than those on telly who are being paid big bucks to inform the public.
Do you think that we need some special publications that could create awareness of abuse of social media and thus lead to improving peace and tolerance?
Brook: How would one determine what is awareness of abuse? People would define “abuse” according to what they see through their own lens. If abuse in social media is determined to be “blatant and knowingly lying for financial gain” then that could be a standard, but how would a “board of directors for social media abuse” be formed?
In the US, we (supposedly) have freedom of speech. That means people can say nearly whatever they want – and that includes pushing messages of intolerance. Just ask our church leaders how that's going; it's working for them. That said, that is why we need people on the other side who are willing to do the work of telling the truth – and that includes breaking down the artificially created borders that exist between people. Letting people tell their side of the story without interference from other people who have a vested interest in keeping intolerance alive is one way to improve peace.
Do you think such mass protests against US work to increase the ethnic gap among various cultural segments in a multi-ethnic place like America?
Brook: No. Why? Because the people who are susceptible to thinking that these kinds of incidents are reflective of all members of a particular cultural/racial/ethnic group weren't going to change their minds of those groups no matter how much evidence is seen to the contrary. Let's use Muslims as an example; the people in the US/Europe etc. who believe that Muslims are violent extremists have convinced themselves that ALL Muslims, not just the religious extremists, are dangerous. There's no convincing them otherwise and they believe that the abundant examples of peaceful Muslims are just flukes.
As far as mass protests go, if there's one thing that I wish would come out of it is that Americans would start to learn WHY people in other nations feel the way they do. For right or for wrong, there's a reason for everything, and many here believe that their news and/or government is telling them the truth about all of our involvements overseas. Mass protests can make people wake up to see that not everything is as we would like to believe it is.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com