Protests that have been held all across the Middle East have spread to North America. More than 1,000 people made their way to the 2:30 p.m. protest in Toronto. Many carried placards, sported the Islamic flag and maintained a passionate reproach towards those who permit the movie under the term freedom of speech.
The U.S. consulate was blocked off with a minimal police presence; several horses and a few cops. Approximately a dozen police officers were stationed at the protest to maintain order and allow pedestrians to walk along University Avenue.
The theme of the Saturday protest, which was organized by Canadians Against Blasphemy and the Muslim Congress, was: “Freedom of speech is not a license to spread hatred, bigotry and Islamophobia” and to respect all religions and beliefs – some Muslims displayed signs that read, “I love Jesus because I’m a Muslim.”
“We are standing in solidarity with the millions of Muslims who have peacefully protested around the world against the hate speech, against the efforts to provoke the population,” said Syad Rizvi, a protest organizer. “Our message to them is please do come out on the street, do peacefully protest, do exercise your rights to protest peacefully, but our message to these people as well as to the police, whose in some cases cracking down on the people protesting peacefully, is that violence is not an answer to anything.”
Rizvi added that they are exercising their rights to speak against “this fashion becoming part of our society that it is OK to say anything against the Muslims, against Islam, it is OK to dehumanize them.”
When asked why they’re being peaceful and the people overseas are not, Rizvi accused the U.S. governments of taking advantage of these “fringe elements” and hiring them to fulfil their own objectives.
“A lot of these fringe elements in many cases in the past have in fact been supported by the United States, whether they were in Afghanistan, Yemen or Libya,” said Rizvi. “These are the people U.S. finds and gets on the main stage to get their objectives done. Once their objectives are done then these people often turn against the U.S. themselves. They don’t represent the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world.”
The purpose of the protest, though, was to urge the governments to take stronger actions to block the film and to prosecute the film’s producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (also identified as Sam Bacile), an alleged Coptic Christian Egyptian based out of Los Angeles.
“It has disrupted social peace, it has created a lot of turmoil in the Muslim world as well it has angered Muslims wherever they may be,” said Zafar Bangash, the director of Toronto’s Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought. “We want to express our concern as well with respect to that very, very nasty video.”
They also argued that there is a double standard against Muslims because if disparaging remarks were made toward homosexuals, minorities, members of the Jewish faith and others then there would be immediate calls for action, whether it is by a Member of Parliament or the United States president.
“By holding this rally, we are sending this message that we will not remain silent in the face of provocation and insults to our prophet because we love our prophet and express our abhorrence at what this man has done,” stated Bangash.
“The manner of which the U.S. government is reacting and our own Canadian politicians, who have been completely silent on this issue. I can guarantee you, let’s say anybody has said anything anti-Semitic, from [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper down every politician would be screaming and condemning. Why is it that when Muslims are condemned and attacked that no politician utters a word? That is what our concern is.”
Meanwhile, one protester told reporters that anti-Muslim sentiment has been occurring since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He explained that he is constantly asked about his feelings regarding the attacks since he is a Muslim, but he usually responds with another question: “What do you think, being a white American Christian, [about] Timothy McVeigh?”
“We are not going to live in [a] multi-standards society here,” said Irfan, a protester, who did not provide his last name to reporters. “In this country, talking about the Holocaust is criminal. On the other side, you talk about freedom of speech, we are peaceful people.” He then said that Muhammed is their “biggest role model” and “he’s everything to us, we should be given space.”
He also concurred that “governments should have taken strong actions.”
As the event continued, what became a protest against the “Innocence of Muslims” video turned into a demonstration against U.S. foreign policy. Bangash, who got into a heated exchange with two reporters in a scrum, railed against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drone strikes that persist today against those elsewhere in the Middle East.
“We condemn violence of any kind, whether it is violence that is directed against Americans or violence inflicted by the Americans against innocent people,” said Bangash.
“After all, the Americans slaughtered 1.5 million people in Iraq and we should keep that in mind that they are still killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan. Americans are killing Muslims in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia through drone attacks. I think it’s important when we talk about violence, we look at the broader picture and see what feeds Muslim anger against U.S. powers.”
Speaking to a large and vocal crowd, Bangash asked if the U.S. government has prosecuted soldiers for raping Iraqi men and women in a war “they placed on a pack of lies.”
Many started pointing to the U.S. consulate and began to chant, “Shame, shame, shame U.S.A” during Bangash’s speech.
Links to Toronto
Two Canadians have been linked to the anti-Muslim film. The Egyptian government has issued arrest warrants for Nader Fawzy, a Toronto Coptic Christian man, and an unidentified man. Both men say they had nothing to do with the movie.
Fawzy told CTV News
that he is concerned for his family’s safety. He has already contacted Toronto Police, which will have patrols around his home and have officers arrive at their homes on occasion and ensure they are safe.
More protests are expected next month as Terry Jones, a controversial Florida pastor and independent 2012 presidential candidate, has been invited by Canadians United Against Terror
to take part in a panel discussion and possible protest. The event is schedule for Oct. 11 and 12.
A counter protest was scheduled for Saturday, but it was cancelled at the last minute because there was a lack of supporters.
The Canadian Hindu Advocacy, a group based in Toronto, plans to screen the film at the end of the month at an undisclosed location. Ron Banerjee, a spokesperson for the organization, said that approximately 200 people are expected for the screening.
Furthermore, QMI Agency
reported that Pakistan Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the “Innocence of Muslims” filmmaker. Bilour said he personally would pay the bounty.