Last week,I posted an appeal on my Facebook page. It stated: Friends,I am writing this to appeal to you to add your voice to condemn the film,mischievously titled Innocence of Muslims,which has understandably agitated Muslims worldwide. After watching its trailer on the Net,I am convinced that it is an extremely offensive film. It has been made with the intention of provoking Muslims by insulting Prophet Mohammed. The depiction of the life of the Prophet is so scurrilous and objectionable that it also surely offends all right-thinking and religious-minded non-Muslims.
The film has triggered violent protests in many parts of the world. Such protests are likely in India,too.
There should be a ban on this film in India and worldwide. We should urge our government,and governments of other countries,to take steps to make it inaccessible on the Internet.
This is not an ordinary matter of defending the freedom of artistic or intellectual expression. Debate among differing points of view is a pre-condition for Truth-seeking. The Internet is a revolutionary tool that fosters such conversations and quest globally. However,Net freedom cannot be misused purposely to defame any religion and to hurt the core beliefs of any faith community.
One may legitimately object to some Muslims reacting violently. Protest,even in the case of the worst provocation,should be always peaceful. However,let us be realists. The principal blame for the ongoing violent incidents around the world must rest with those who have made this highly condemnable film.
Hence this appeal,which I am making in my personal capacity. Let us resolutely work to create conditions,in India and the world,that promote mutual tolerance,understanding and harmony among all faith communities.
My Muslim friends welcomed the appeal. Some wondered how a person belonging to the BJP could make such a sensible and sensitive appeal. One of them disseminated it in the Urdu press,which got me many appreciative calls. But what heartened me the most was the overwhelmingly supportive response I received from a majority of Hindus who commented on it. Together,all of us contributed,to a tiny measure at least,to goodwill and better understanding between Hindus and Muslims.
A few Hindus did react negatively. The refrain of their criticism was: Do non-Muslims react with arson and murder when their prophets,gods and goddesses are maligned? They have a point,which Muslims should ponder over. Nevertheless,it is necessary for all of us to recognise that all faith-systems are not the same. Each has originated and evolved differently. Perhaps,God,our common Creator,likes this multiplicity and diversity of spiritual paths,all of which lead,ultimately,to Him. The vital differences that set them apart from each other should not only be accepted but also respected. If we desire peace and harmony among various faith-based communities,we should follow the precept of Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Mahatma Gandhi: Respect the other faiths as they are,not as you would like them to be. Needless to add,fanatics among Muslims too should learn to respect non-Islamic faiths in the same sensitive manner,and desist from provoking the religious sentiments of others.
In the specific context under discussion,what needs to be recognised is that in no other faith-system is its founderand the scripture revealed to himaccorded such a defining and all-important place as Prophet Mohammed and the Holy Quran are in Islam. The adherents of no other religion have such a strong,collectivist and emotional attachment to their Book and their Prophet. There are certain foundational principles of Muslims belief-system that are sacrosanct to them,irrespective of the country they live in. At least some of the friction between non-Muslims and Muslims arises due to the formers lack of sensitivity and understanding on this score.
Prohibition of visual representation of Prophet Mohammed is one such foundational canon in Islam. The film that has ignited angry protests by Muslims worldwide not only violates this basic Islamic code,but it also does something far worse. It portrays the founder of Islam in a vile and venomous manner. Notably,all the Muslim ire so far has been inflamed only by the 13-minute trailer of the film,uploaded on YouTube. One can imagine the damage that could be caused by the circulation of the muck contained in the full movie.
The moot question is this: should governments permit misuse of the Internet for free circulation of such defamatory and inflammatory material? No,not at all. If it is legal and justifiable to ban such films,books,etc in the non-digital space,it is equally justifiable to do so in the digital space. Of course,this should be done in rare cases,taking all the relevant factors into consideration. In my view,the Indian government must block Net access to the trailer of this anti-Islamic film without any further delay.
But the debate on the film and its fallout cannot end here. Right-thinking Muslims also have a duty to wage a consistent and determined fight against fanaticism in their own community,which often erupts in emotionally charged and violently expressed protests. Many innocent lives have been lost in acts of misdirected outrage; this must be unequivocally condemned by the community. Nonviolent expression should be the only mode of protest,whatever be the provocation. After all,Islam itself forbids actions that lead to the killing of innocent people. Holy Quran exhorts that killing one innocent person is equivalent to killing all of mankind,just as it likens saving of one innocent person to giving life to all of mankind.