As the attempt to define Islamophobia remains on course, the two typologies of Islamophia as suggested by Dinet and Ibrahim will be relevant here. As discussed by Professor Lopez, Dinet and Ibrahim identified what they called ‘pseudo-scientific’ and ‘clerical’ Islamophobia. Pseudo-scientific Islamophobia refers to the work of certain Orientalists who engaged in the study of Islam and Muslims and present a euro-centric view of Islam and Muslims, while clerical Islamophobia refers to the work of some evangelical Christian missionaries who attempted at converting Muslims into Christianity.
This typology is relevant to what is happening today in terms of the attempt to produce series of films, books and other cultural outputs that solely focus on presenting a negative picture of Islam and Muslims. Both orientalist scholars and some evangelical Christian missionaries have produced volumes of work that is the main source of scholarship about Islam and Muslims today in the West. Such scholarship, incomplete and biased as it was, presents a picture that will take time substitute. So the reality at the moment is you have two different conceptions of Islam, one as understood by Muslims from the original Islamic sources as written and disseminated by Muslim historians and scholars, and a version of Islam that has been produced by orientalists.
The late Professor Edward Said, a Palestinian American, and Christian by faith has succinctly explained the origin of Orientalism: “Orientalism is a field of learned study. In the Christian West, Orientalism is considered to have commenced its formal existence with the decision of the Church Council of Vienne in 1312 to establish series of chairs in “Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Avignon, and Salamanca”. Yet any account of orientalism will have to consider not only the professional orientalist and his work but also the very notion of a field of study based on a geographical, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic unit called the orient…moreover, the orient studied was a textual universe by and large; the impact of the orient was made through books and manuscripts…when a learned orientalist travelled in the country of his specialisation, it was always with unshakable abstract maxim about the “civilisation” he had studied; rarely were orientalists interested in anything except proving the validity of these musty “truths” by applying them without great success, to uncomprehending, hence degenerate, natives”.
An important point to note from Said’s treatise was his assertion that the impact of the work of orientalists was made through the massive production of books and manuscripts. These manuscripts which constitute the corpus for understanding other cultures in the West is what shapes the understanding of the producers of films like “innocence of Muslims” in combination with other factors that have to do with the current political climate, such as the war on terror, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the interest of global capitalism which benefits from dividing the world in to “we” and “them”, “East” and “West” etc.
This was further complicated by what one will describe as the “intellectual vacuum” in the Muslim world. Intellectual vacuum in the sense that the average Muslim is left whirling around without properly being educated in the classical tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), a tradition that is available in numerous work of Seerah (biography of prophet Muhammad), and collections of his sayings. Clear reference points are available on how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) handled such matters, an example includes his visit to Taif and how he was stoned by the people, yet he remained patient and refused to be provoked by their anger and ignorance, in fact he prayed that may they be guided, and eventually they were guided by the Almighty Allah. But his patience at the end of the day made him not only victorious over these enemies, but achieving the impossible, which is converting them to join his fold and stand for the path he was calling for in the 23 years he spent trying to build a successful community of believers.
The production of such films is annoying and condemnable, but as Muslims we should be guided by knowledge and intellect in our response rather than emotion. So how should Muslims respond to these provocations? The first answer is simple, ignore them; otherwise all demonstrations must be peaceful. The second answer is for a collective resolve as suggested by the Tunisian government to have a global declaration against the production and dissemination of materials that denigrate any faith.
In conclusion, one lesson from this imbroglio is that the outrage about “innocence of Muslims” is not just about the film, or free speech, rather, as brilliantly explained by Marwan Bishara, a senior Aljazeera analyst, and former professor of international relations at the American Universty in Paris, and the author of The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions, released in January 2012; the problem at hand is not about freedom speech, but the speech that comes from Washington, the speech that is so arrogant and couldn’t apologise to the drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan that leaves innocent civilians dead. That is the cause of the outrage.
Dr. Yusha’u (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES