As violent protests continue across the Middle East incited by the anti-Islamic film entitled Innocence of Muslims, many have questioned whether the film and makers should be censored along with other productions designed to incite hatred and offend others. Despite initial reports that the film was made by Zionist Jews who financially backed the project, the film was actually produced by a Coptic Christian amongst others who have made it clear that they were fully aware of the potential for the film to stir up violence in the Muslim world. However, despite the propensity of the film to cause violence and the disgusting aims of the producers, the question of whether the film should be banned is not the only issue. It is equally as important that we explore how to allow the Muslim world to vent their fury through means other than violence, particularly that which is shamefully aimed at westerners with no responsibility for the film.
The question of whether the film should be banned is one that I believe should be met with a resounding no, as a point of principle. Whilst I do not argue that the films contents and aims were despicable, and that everyone involved in the making of the film should be derided in the strongest terms, the hard-fought freedoms afforded to us in democratic countries such as the UK and the US must be both protected and extended so as to allow all opinions to be expressed, so long as they are only views expressed and not acted upon without democratic legitimacy. Peaceful protest, whether in the form of a march, film or piece of literature should always be seen as acceptable no matter what is being protested, including religions, the monarchy and politics. I no more accept Muslim calls for works such as Innocence of Muslims to be banned as I would were a communist to call for Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to be censored. The truth is that if someone or something protests against everything you believe in then the way to combat such insult is not through censorship.
In the face of the lack of censorship forthcoming from western governments and the internet, the Muslim world has reacted angrily to the film, leading to violent protests largely aimed at western embassies, attacks which led to the death of a US ambassador, Christopher Stevens in Libya. Like the film that instigated these protests, the violence that followed must be rebuked in the strongest possible terms. Particularly disgraceful is the manner in which retribution for the film has been handed to westerners who just happen to find themselves in turbulent areas, Christopher Stevens being a perfect example. These people had no role in the making of the film and therefore no protest, let alone violence, should be aimed at these people.
However, violent protests in the Muslim world appear to be becoming somewhat of a habit. We are ritually treated to a bout of rabble rousing, largely by Islamists, who then cause violence to spread and lead to human, material, cultural and political damage. This is a ritual that has to stop. The ritual violence appears to mirror the relations between the western and Muslim worlds: violence, intimidation, offence. It is an unhealthy relationship that has the capability to further destabilise the whole world and lead to sectarian problems in multicultural communities worldwide.
The truth is that the Muslim world, as well as feeling victimised by the west, also feels that the west has a monopoly over intellectual debate. Whereas the Muslim world was previously seen as a very spiritual, prosperous, warm region, there is a fear that the Middle East and Islam is viewed as backward and barbaric by westerners. As such, many feel their voices stifled and often see the resort to violence as a necessary step and the only step available. The Muslim world needs to be afforded the same options as those in the west to reply to offensive material such as the film in question. For the sake of harmony, the western world needs to open its mind to the views of those living in the Middle East. If the west was to allow the Middle East to engage with it on an intellectual level, the Muslim world (apart from a few extremists committed to violence and hate), would no longer feel the need to resort to violence to get their voices heard. The first signs of this shift came earlier in the year with the initial peaceful protest of the Arab Spring. If the west was willing to engage with the Muslim world on this same, peaceful level, I believe that we would see a massive decrease in the seemingly habitual violence that is inflicted on both the western and Muslim world and all its dire consequences.