Incitive comments breach decent norms

An insensitive documentary has touched the sentiments of the Muslim community all over the world, leading to spates of violence and in case, death.

Equally insensitive were the ‘warnings’ issued by some religious leaders of Islam that sparked riots in Sydney, leading only to a war of attrition, and a verbal battle that did no one any good.

The documentary, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ was neither funny nor factual. It was apparently given a vicious twist to the original (according to one version) to incite hatred and social disharmony.

Most people remain tolerant to verbal attacks on their religion to the extent possible but there are many who are hurt when their faith is attacked. Muslims are no exception to this norm.

Muslims in New Zealand showed restraint, appealing to the people to remain calm and continue to work in harmony with people of other faiths. Leaders of many religious faiths were quick to condemn the

“The film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ was dishonestly made and presented, and designed to mislead, provoke hate, and cause harm. We unequivocally condemn the making and promotion of this irresponsible and inflammatory film and the resulting violence, which has seen the loss of innocent lives,” the joint statement said.

These incidents are a reminder that freedom of expression should not go beyond the limits to decency and should not hurt the religious sentiments of people at any time. As in the past, many Muslims see these moves as attacks on their beliefs, although not all of them would agree with the statements of ‘warnings’ and ‘threats of attacks’ issued by their religious leaders in various parts of the world. Such reactions, both by and against Muslims should not be encouraged, for they only fuel hatred, dividing the society.

As the Economist reported, the news focus on violence and on the shrillest voices of protest shifted attention from other important responses to the offending film.

“In many Muslim countries, the furore has boosted moves to strengthen laws against blasphemy, just when such laws had come under unfavourable scrutiny. In Pakistan, for instance, a young Christian woman was belatedly freed from custody when her accuser was found to have planted evidence used to charge her with blasphemy. In Egypt, human rights groups had protested against the imprisonment of several Coptic Christians for allegedly putting blasphemous material on the internet.”

There is also an apparent need to ‘educate’ or ‘inform’ people of other religions of the values of Islam and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. People should know that Islam preaches harmony, understanding, tolerance towards other faiths and the importance of living and working together with all of humanity.

We are happy to observe some moves in this direction.

Seeking to show a more measured response than public displays of rage, some governments have proposed counter-offensives to the film. The Gulf state of Qatar is likely to spend up to US$450 million to sponsor a three-part epic film on the life of the Prophet.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the highest state religious official, plans to launch a ‘Know Mohammed’ campaign to correct misinterpretations of the Prophet.

Yet the debate has also sharpened criticism of religion’s intrusion into politics.

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