By Aliran executive committee
22 September 2012
We refer to the low-budget movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that was made by a ‘Sam Bacile’, which depicted the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a bad light.
We share the global condemnation of the movie by Muslims and people of other faiths alike.
Nobody should be making films like this that publicly condemn other people’s religious beliefs, their founders and other aspects of their faith held sacred. Neither should anyone be coming up with caricatures publicly ridiculing other faiths as happened in the French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’.
It is the right of any group to protest against such films or caricatures. In Malaysia, it was appropriate that protests were also held. We note that there were two separate protests – one in front of the US embassy organised by Pas Youth and the other in front of Masjid Kampung Baru by Umno Youth. Both went well and nothing untoward happened. This is how it should be. Such protests should not result in violence and death as has happened in Libya. Protests could be followed up with educational movies, books and talks to explain the essence of the faith.
Somehow or other, this issue unfortunately but also predictably took on an ugly political turn. Perak DAP chief Ngeh Koo Ham sent out a tweet allegedly questioning Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s intention to stage a protest against the film and wondering whether Muslims were spending too much time and energy on the issue. His tweet provoked a storm of reactions. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department asked the police to open an investigation paper to be submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers. More than 300 police reports were lodged. Following the backlash, he retracted his remarks and apologised to any Muslim who felt offended.
Meanwhile, a Youtube clip depicted a rowdy protest outside the Malacca DAP office. The protesters condemned Ngeh and the DAP using vulgar language. They dared the people in the DAP office to come out. Then they burned a DAP flag and posters of Ngeh and stomped on them. A banner urged people to reject the ‘komunis DAP’ and vote for the BN. Very clearly, certain quarters have turned this into an emotive political and electoral issue.
To reiterate, this movie deserves to be condemned and people have the right to protest. In turn, such protests might even invite criticism especially in this age of social media when almost everyone has access to expressing his or her opinion. This is part and parcel of a democracy in the 21st century. But crude behaviour, hate speech, violence and killings are unacceptable.
All our religions teach us to uphold human dignity and to value wisdom, compassion, the quest for the truth, and respect for one another. At a social level, our religions also urge us to uphold peace and justice, indeed to build a new and just society, and to abhor corruption and oppression.
But we also recognise there are fringe extremist groups in all religions. Unfortunately, in this day and age, the actions of these fringe groups are often highlighted in the mainstream and social media to the extent that those unfamiliar with the faith of these groups may judge that faith by the actions (e.g. terrorism, films denigrating other faiths, corruption and authoritarian rule by members of the faith) of this extremist minority.
Ultimately, the best way to counter these groups and individuals is by living up to the values of our respective faiths in a consistent and holistic manner. We can engage with people of other faiths through a dialogue of everyday life (e.g. helping and responding to those in need regardless of religion); a dialogue of action (e.g. pursuing justice and peace and working on collaborative projects); a dialogue of theological similarities and differences (leave this to the religious experts!); and a dialogue via common spiritual experiences (e.g. meditating and praying together).