Dreaded effects of US film on Prophet

Muslims contend that the US government is quite capable of suppressing material it does not like.

The US-made film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad and insulting Islam was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. The people who made the film knew very well that the Prophet is sacrosanct and attacking him would trigger an angry response.

 For Muslims across the globe felt the film – produced and promulgated by expatriate Egyptian Coptic Christians and US evangelical protestants – amounts to an unbearable provocation after decades of provocation, abuse and violence inflicted by the Christian west, particularly the US, on the world-wide Muslim community, the Umma.

The conquest and colonisation of Palestine by western-backed Israel is the primary long-term wound inflicted by the west on Muslims. Israel’s western-backed wars on Arab neighbours and impunity from censure have created a sense of powerlessness among Arabs and Muslims.

This intensified with the US war on Afghanistan and the conquest of Iraq, the core country of the eastern Arab world.  Today, many Muslims see that Syria – which continues to resist Israeli occupation – has become another target of US regime change policy in West Asia.

Wellspring of antagonism

US and western long-term support for dictatorships and autocratic dynasties has also created a wellspring of antagonism in Muslim countries.  These regimes have been funded and armed by the US and its allies which have provided training for intelligence services and even for torturers charged with dealing with dissidents.

Last Friday there were anti-US demonstrations in at least two dozen countries, stretching from Morocco in the west to Indonesia in the east and southwards to Nigeria. While most demonstrators simply vented their anger over the film's offensive trailer projected round the world by YouTube, others demanded its suppression and an apology from the US government.  However, Washington argues it cannot institute a ban due to US devotion to freedom of speech or apologise because it was not responsible.

These arguments make angry Muslims all the more furious. They contend that the US government is quite capable of suppressing material it does not like when it wishes or when such material is deemed to be a threat to national security.  Since good relations with the planet’s one billion Muslims are in the US interest, Muslims insist the film should be banned and its makers prosecuted.

Although US police have interviewed the former jailbird film-maker Nakoula Bassely Nakoula about breaking parole,  Egypt’s attorney general has called for an investigation of nine expatriates  suspected of involvement, including Coptic Christian promoter Morris Sadek. Potential repercussions of the row over the film are wide-ranging. Fearing a backlash from its Muslim citizens, India has joined countries which have barred the extremely offensive YouTube trailer.

On the Egyptian scene, if Coptic expatriates are found to be behind the film, militant Muslims could step up attacks on Copts in Egypt where the community already feels marginalised and threatened. Sadek was accosted in the street in Virginia where he lives by a Coptic woman who said he would be responsible if coreligionists were slain in Egypt.

On the regional level, Christians of other denominations, particularly in shrinking communities in Iraq and Syria, could face increasing violence and be compelled to emigrate. Puritan salafi militants are already exploiting popular anger over the insult to the faith in order to undermine governments or blackmail them into imposing Muslim canon law (Sharia), adopting conservative social and cultural practices and cutting ties to the West.

On the international level, western powers could be compelled to reassess their support for the largely fundamentalist rebels in Syria due to the growing salafi participation in the struggle. The west could also put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to end the funding and arming of salafi groups involved in the Syrian rebellion and the fostering and financing of salafi movements in general.

There could be specific consequences for India which has, in recent years, achieved rapprochement with the US without resolving problems with Pakistan.  Last Friday’s protest against the film in Kashmir, Hyderabad and Chennai could be a taste of things to come.

Once the stalwart of the US camp in the Indian Subcontinent, Taliban-troubled Pakistan is now a major problem for Washington which is seen by some Pakistanis, particularly those in the intelligence establishment, as Islamabad's main antagonist. Unable to retaliate against the distant and powerful US, Pakistan might, once again, mount terrorist strikes on India.

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