Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CRIKEY: Why Muslim leaders must change the rhetoric

The Daily Telegraph is having an absolute field day with the Sydney protesters. Yesterday’s front page featured some rather angry faces on the front cover. The words “Muslim unrest” featured at the top of pages four and five. They haven’t had this much fun down at Holt Street since October 2006 when the headline “YOU HEARTLESS IGNORANT MAN” was splashed over the front page along with a photo of a besieged Grand Mufti.

Many Muslims in Sydney haven’t been this embarrassed since Shaykh Hilaly’s infamous cat-meat comments. Readers may recall the then Mufti of Australia made remarks linking women’s dress to s-xual assault. And it wasn’t just tabloid newspapers condemning the man. Politicians, commentators and others weighed in, calling for Hilaly to resign.

Many in Muslim communities also echoed these calls. Many, that is, apart from a fair swag of those currently claiming to speak on behalf of Sydney Muslims in relation to the recent rioting in Sydney over the weekend.

On that occasion, many of these organisational heads felt the urge to publicly support and defend Hilaly. They made excuses for his remarks — that we were missing the context, the true message was lost in translation, etc. The media were collectively blamed. And Muslims who openly spoke out against Hilaly were condemned as traitors to the cause.

It’s the same kind of rhetoric now being used by supporters of the protesters on Facebook and other social media forums against these spokespeople. One can only imagine what is going through their minds as they listen and watch some “leaders” on the radio and TV. ”Oh great, so now you’re condemning us for using the same messages you used six years ago?”

In short, there are some credibility issues that need to be addressed. Or perhaps another way of looking at it is that some people have finally grown up and realised that “they” are not all out to get “us”.

(These observations don’t extend to all Sydney spokespersons, nor to the people at the Melbourne-based Islamic Council of Victoria, which openly called for Hilaly’s resignation. When Waleed Aly joined Randa Abdel Fattah on Lateline the other night and spoke about denial and siege mentality, he used the same themes he used as spokesman of the ICV during the cat-meat saga. On that occasion he also correctly noted that support for Hilaly was limited to a tiny but substantial pocket in a few suburbs of south-western Sydney.)

Yes, the broader community does need to be reassured. Thankfully we now have spokespeople who can speak without interpreters. But the rhetoric of “we condemn this” needs to change.

Why not mock the mockers? When Newsweek recently published a front-page story on “Muslim Rage”, it promoted it on Twitter with the hashtag #MuslimRage. Visit that hashtag today and you will find lots of people poking fun at the idea.

Humour can sometimes take you much further than self-righteous condemnation.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

MEDIA: Thoughts on stupid movie and stupider response ...

[01] Professor Bruce Lawrence from Duke University wrote an incisive piece in Religion Dispatches that included the following:

Beyond all the issues that have been discussed, debated, and fine-tuned since the 9/11/12 tragedy in Benghazi, one central point has been missed, and it needs to be made again and again and again: expect the unexpected, look for the unrelated to be connected, then projected for the interest of dissident groups savvy about the nature of the modern world and, above all, media ‘neutrality.’ There are no topics so hateful or obscene that they’re debarred from the Internet. They travel virally in a world that welcomes them but cannot monitor either their content or their impact. What al-Qaeda did today, other ill-wishers or polemicists or terrorists can, and will likely, do tomorrow. This is the greatest, and sobering, lesson of the death and destruction that came out of the 9/11/12 debacle. Alas, it is a part of our brave new world of endless information and mindless usage of that information. Gertrude Himmelfarb once observed: “Like postmodernism, the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral.”

... and he continues ...

... the still young but perilous 21st century. It is a century, our century, that belongs neither to the USA nor to China, neither to imperialists nor terrorists, but to the CyberKingdom and to those who grasp the endless good and evil wrought by the Information Age.

[02] Sarah Posner has this to say about the movie in Religion Dispatches.

... if whoever made the film actually spent $5 million on it, the expenditure hardly shows in the content, acting, or production values. Amateurish doesn't even begin to describe the 13-minute trailer on YouTube.

She provides further updates on the confused and confusing identity of the film's maker.

 [03] Haroon Mughal asks what all the fuss is about:

While many Muslims (especially Sunnis) find portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad, and other sacred religious figures (Jesus, Mary, Moses, etc.) to be offensive in and of themselves, this doesn’t quite explain the degree of offense Muslims feel when the Prophet Muhammad is mocked. As was the case in “The Innocence of Muslims,” that film that is supposed to offend me but, based on the 14-minute trailer, only embarrasses me… and leads me to ask two desperate questions: How is it that a $5 million budget can buy you so little? And, who produces a 14-minute trailer? That’s just offensive.

He partially answers the question from a religious perspective.

To mock Muhammad, then, is to mock what Muslims aspire to be, throughout their lives. Muhammad is not a divine or infallible figure in Islam, but he is the “mercy to all the worlds,” the best of God’s creation. As such, it deserves stressing that the reaction of a minority of Muslims to offensive portrayals of the Prophet, while inseparable from the present political climate, still does a massive and embarrassing disservice to Muhammad’s image—their actions are far more offensive than the efforts of silly filmmakers with unintentionally hilarious scripts. I recall learning in a conservative Sunday school how, time and again, Muhammad would forgive his enemies, and even inquire after them when they didn’t show up to mock him, abuse him, or even dump their garbage on him.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

PAKISTAN: Thoughts on blasphemous law

[01] In 2006, Pakistan introduced special laws dealing with blasphemy. These are enshrined in Part XV of the Pakistan Penal Code. [02] Section 295 B states as follows:

Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur'an: Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life. The use of the word "willingly" seems to suggest that the act was not the result of force or coercion. The sentence of life imprisonment appears to be mandatory.

[03] Section 295 C states as follows:

Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

This is very broad in scope, and the wording seems somewhat vague. Also, there doesn't appear to be any consideration of criminal intention. Further, the only options for punishment are death or life imprisonment, with or without a fine. [04] Section 295C was used to prosecute an illiterate Christian woman from Punjab named Asia Bibi. A Pakistani jurist neatly summarises that story as follows:

In June 2009 in the District Nankana in Punjab, Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a mother of five and farm hand, was asked to fetch water. She complied, but some of her fellow Muslim workers refused to drink the water as she - being a Christian - was considered "unclean." Apparently arguments ensued resulting in some coworkers complaining to a cleric that Bibi made derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad. A mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. However, the police initiated an investigation about her remarks resulting in her arrest and prosecution under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She spent more than a year in jail. In November 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence is yet to be carried out, and Bibi is filing an appeal.

[05] The same jurist mentions one judicial interpretation of the provision:

In October 1990, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) ruled that "the penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death and nothing else" and directed the Government of Pakistan to effect the necessary legal changes.

He then discusses how this and other blasphemy laws have been implemented:

While several individuals have been sentenced to death for blasphemy, no one has yet been executed for the crime. A significant number, however, have been murdered after the accusation or during imprisonment after the conviction. On August 1, 2009 forty houses and a Church were set ablaze by a mob in the town of Gojra, Punjab. Nine Christians were burnt alive. The attacks were triggered by reports of desecration of the Qur'an. The local police had already registered a case under section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code against three Christians for blasphemy. Hence a conviction or even an accusation under a blasphemy law provision is often a death sentence in itself.

[06] The latest case, involving a 10 year old Rimsha Masih, is also the first where the accused has been granted bail in a blasphemy case. According to one report:

A Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Quran became yesterday the first person in Pakistan to be granted bail in a blasphemy case. Judge Muhammad Azam Khan ordered that Rimsha Masih could be released once her lawyers submitted a guarantee that the family would deposit surety bonds to the value of one million rupees.

In a bizarre twist, Masih's main accuser has now been arrested for doctoring evidence.

Police last week arrested Khalid Jadoon, the imam of the local mosque who accused Rimsha of burning pages of the Quran. Two of Mr Jadoon's followers, Mohammad Zubair and Khurram Shehzad, accused him of framing the child by stashing pages of Quran in her bag to show that she had burnt them. Police alleged that Mr Jadoon had done so because he wanted to drive Christians out of the neighbourhood and the imam could yet face blasphemy charges.

[07] Laws inspired allegedly by the word of the Divine have become an excuse for sectarian mob violence. The BBC reports on what Rimsha's family suffered in the time leading upto her arrest.

Rimsha's parents, who are not being named for their own safety, told the BBC's Orla Guerin that their daughter was a shy 11-year-old who was illiterate - like the rest of the family - and had always been slow. They said she was sitting quietly at home in their poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad when a crowd gathered outside, claiming she had burnt pages from an Islamic textbook. Her mother described trying to hold off the mob. "A woman hit me," she said, "and slapped my face. People started running into the house to catch my daughter. I was scared they might kill us. We were all crying. My daughter was very upset." The family said Rimsha survived by locking herself in the bathroom. Her 14-year-old sister, who was locked in the house with her, was also traumatised by the events. "A lot of people had gathered," Rimsha's sister said, "and they were saying: 'We will cut off the hands of the people who burned the Koran.' Rimsha wouldn't come out of the bathroom. Later the police came and took her away." The entire family was at risk, according to Rimsha's father - a slight man with a hunted look, who used to earn his living as a house painter. He told our correspondent that their Muslim neighbours had threatened to set them alight. "They were saying: 'We are going to burn you inside the house,'" he said. "'We are not going to spare you or your kids. Then we will burn the homes of the other Christians.' "Even after we left the area they were saying: 'Bring the girl and the family to us. We want to kill them.'"

And why would Rimsha's family keep a noorani qaida in the house?

"We don't have [Muslim] books in our home," Rimsha's father said. "We don't use them and none of us could read them."

[08] Perhaps the arrest of Rimsha's accuser is slowly but surely enabling fair-minded Pakistanis to rethink their attitude toward the blasphemy laws. At least that is the case if the following Pakistani voices are anything to go by.

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