Quite the story (well written by a Muslim female journalist, as part of a site/series to analyse media) to find that an entire cast and crew of a film were duped into believing they were making a general spoof set in Arabia, not of Islam or the Prophet Mohammed, but of generic characters…only to find that the creep who financed and produced the film had truly vile intentions to stir up hatred and the predictable response which I know we can all debate until the cows come home. I hope the actors do “sue his butt off” as one sickened actress says she is going to. You go, girl.
The film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on YouTube is despicable, for a lot of reasons, and has its funny moments, though not for the same reasons. Poking fun at people can be funny. Provoking the laughter response is not something I normally do. I’m more of the ‘serious type’, if you know what I mean. Normally, my humor comes out in private circles, and one on one, really. I’m a goofball in the classroom (teaching), too. Taking the question of freedom of speech and whether or not it should extend to preventing the spread of hatred is quite the question, too.
Now living in the UK after two years in Qatar and eleven in Saudi Arabia, two Gulf Arab nations I love and laugh at and about a lot, and I feel entitled to do both, I write for this blog, The Paltry Sapien, originating from Canada, and was caught out once in wanting to share something that was deemed risky: that is, my post highlighted criticism of one group just because of the symbolism in a cartoon, and, well, I understand today more than I did that day the hesitance to put it out there for the world to see. It happened that the cartoon I wanted to share, as an example, involved criticism of (I thought) Israel by posting the Jewish star in a cartoon, as a symbol, and the cartoon was done by an Arab woman. The piece was on Arab women cartoonists, and in this case the woman expressed what she felt, and I (having lived in the Middle East for half my adult life) finally, finally know where that anger and rage come from. I’ve seen enough to know.
But (I thought) she was making a reference to Israelis and Palestinians, and – yes – it is both political and personal. It is. People have paid a high price for the wars that have taken them to the point where they are. Masses on both sides seem to hate the other in large amounts, personally and politically, especially in the region, though I recently read a rumor that the majority of Israelis think that their government treats the Palestinians unfairly. Tolerance is growing, I’d like to think. Cynically, I also think: show me the unbiased publication that printed that. I can’t find it.
I always wonder who is willing to go into the grey zone and find out what it’s about. I hate the looks I get, or don’t get (suddenly I’m invisible), like the ones that came my way when I found myself invited to a yoga party in Canada years ago, walked into the house with the bookshelves lined with Torahs and Jewish reference material, had a near heart attack when my friend Ali introduced me as someone who had been living in Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, for a long time. The room went silent. By the end of the night, we were all out dancing together. It took finding common ground, and it was tentative at first. We did not talk politics. We talked gender politics. Safer.
My producer said to me once in the studio, when I was recording Bakhoor, “If WE find it hard to talk about issues, here in the West, and people get sensitive and touchy, imagine how hard it is to put an Israeli and Palestinian in the same room and work out a peace plan.” I gained a new respect.
Another friend who is a theologian said, “Religious people will never decide the peace. It’ll take secularists.” Really? I won’t go into the never ending questions that plague me some days.
I saw a therapist for a one off ninety-minute session, a year after I made it out of the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli war zone, and said, “I’m traumatised by all of this.” She told me I needed a safe place to talk, to figure out my thoughts and reach some sense of meaning and therefore peace (Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl comes back to from many years earlier, when I was in some existential crisis about why there was so much suffering in the world; the answer for one man came when he could make sense of his suffering). How about the Women in Black, the therapist suggested? Particularly, the Women in Black group in my hometown had women of all faiths in it. It was a peace group originally founded by Israeli Jewish and Palestinian women. But, my therapist said, even they were private, cautious about who they open their doors to. No kidding. My hometown group let their website lapse, five years ago. I understood and knew I didn’t have time to visit, for I was flying out of country in a matter of weeks. I’ve still got this question about peace. It’s for a book I’m working on now. I’m sure I’ll expound on this.
We’re so sensitive on both sides here, on all sides here. What if we could speak freely? We’ll never know, because we cannot. It seems that those who do have safe havens to escape to. The filmmaker of this latest provocation, this American film that has caused embassy riots and resulted in the loss of lives…this filmmaker lives in a bubble of wealth and self protection, has a history of corruption AND has spoken to the Associated Press to say that Islam is a scourge, which is his view, and one not shared by millions of faithful and millions more who respect the religion from afar. What saddens me is that we have one deviant mind provoking the anger of the Islamic diaspora at a time when all many of the leaders have said is, PLEASE, respect our faith as we do yours and as we do not directly criticise Christianity or Judaism. Never mind asides and criticisms I’ve read in literature in Saudi Arabia that made my skin crawl, though it was more about the rights or lack of rights for women espoused by one man, and worse about Americans viewed by this one so-called, but sadly over published, ‘scholar’ as a scourge.
Yes, deviants exist and have caused 9/11 and countless other tragedies. I contribute it to a lot of factors including ignorance, oppression, corruption and inequity in the world that cause such extremes in reaction. To die for a religion is not something I understand, but…to want respect for your choice of faith is, and to want the media to show some fairness, too, is also what I’d like to see. We see nothing but the demonisation of Islam in western media, and to some degree Christianity. Other religions actually are fairly untouched. We see nothing but the perfection of Islam in Arab media, and if you watch…there’s very little criticism in mainstream English Arab media of…other religions. Al Jazeera in point, as the leader, I think.
If you attend the real comedy circles of Doha, you’ll find out that Muslims can poke fun at themselves, too, though it won’t be about the tenets of the religion per se so much as…the ways of the followers who should be following better. I’m thinking of, um, FouseyTube. Delightfully funny. There is nothing sacred about poking fun of Arab culture, at least, from an educated perspective. I loved the first Qatari woman commediene, Hanadi Hassan when I saw her at Doha Laughs.
I’m prattling on to say, this morning, that it’s quite predictably human nature that, from time to time, someone is going to go out in a blaze of glory and rant on against a group that is identifiable, and be able to persuade others in clips on video that something IS as it purports to be by the nutter. And that’s what’s happened, only perniciously, in that 17 minute trailer. Surely, all intelligent people will be annoyed by this. More rubbish in the world and it’s not even about freedom of speech. It’s about freedom of hate. The freedom to hate, publicly.
Canada has strict laws about this. Almost breathtakingly strict. I remember thinking, years ago when I lived there, that this was good. I remember also how taken aback when my innocently intended post to celebrate Arab women cartoonists foray into an industry mostly dominated by men had to be censored. I opted to remove it, lacking enough evidence to support my articles, though I hope there are tonnes of Arab women out there drawing doodles and sharing their voices in constructive ways like Rasha Mahdi. Then again, it begs the question: what’s too contentious in the name of art?
While others may rant on about how things should be, I have long learned to ‘accept’ (that is, take with a grain of salt, and know when to swing into action and when not to…and I can thank my decade plus in Saudi for that lesson in diplomacy) how things are in the complexities of the Middle East. I watch and think: this will forever be the way it is. I’m not sure it isn’t how it always was: sticks and stones break the bones, but names have always hurt me…and us.