Now that the furore has died down, Andy Schmulow asks us to look past the angry Muslim protests in Sydney and the Middle East over ‘that film’, and embrace the new modern Muslim world.
First, I’m unashamedly pro-Israel. I mention that not as disclosure, but because with that in mind what I have to say may surprise you. Second, Walleed Ali’s excellent and insightful piece in the Age was, I’m sure, substantially correct: that Muslims rioting about The Innocence of Muslims did so not because of the film itself, but out of a sense of dispossession, marginalization, and the humiliations they have endured from the West.
Why else would some Muslims be attacking the German and British Embassies? What did those countries possibly have to do with a jumped-up home movie which by all accounts is an incendiary, crude, insulting piece of trash peddled by a convicted felon in cahoots with a pornographer? Dr Ali’s excellent piece is on record and I commend it to you.
Correct as Dr Ali’s observations are, he is also quite obviously wrong. The past two years have not only reversed the trend, they have been one of the finest periods in the history of the Islamic World, and a golden moment in human history. The courage and the dignity, the resolve that people throughout the Middle East have displayed during the Arab Spring has shattered my perceptions of Muslims. I have stepped-back in awe at the greatness of these people. I’m humbled and I’m awed.
Ordinary Egyptians in Tahrir Square strapped loves of bread and colanders to their heads to protect themselves against rock-throwing government thugs. At the conclusion of the demonstrations, the crowds cleaned the square and re-laid the stones they’d dug up to throw. No one ordered or forced this. It happened because that’s how fundamentally decent people behave. The same people who peacefully (until attacked by their own government) stood up and said, ‘we’ve had enough.’
We want to live in a country where our vote counts, where we are safe in our houses, where we can worship in peace and take our kids to school in safety and the government doesn’t rob us blind and torture us if we disagree. We want to be free, as we deserve to be. We want to be able to read what we like, and we want a future for our kids that’s better than our past. And we’d very much like someone to clean up the trash.
They weren’t demonstrating for more opportunities to kill Westerners, plant bombs, fly aeroplanes into buildings or go on Jihad. They were demanding all the freedoms we hold dear and espouse to value. They are us. But better than many of us, because they risked their lives armed with kitchen utensils and stuff from the supermarket hardware aisle, to fight for what we take for granted.
And the Egyptians were inspired, and somewhat embarrassed, by a plucky minnow that most of the rest of the world had barely heard of. Tunisia, an arid polyp of a country that has set in motion an epochal chain of events. It was a performance that made me want to cheer. And after Egypt, Libya. A country ruled by an idiot who had robbed his people of everything, even the institutions of government. Ordinary Libyans doing the best with what they had to hand to fight a half-decent army. Land Cruisers vs tanks, Kalshnikovs vs helicopter gunships. Courage and a belief in the inalienable righteousness of their struggle: that fair is better than unfair. Honesty is better than dishonesty. Universal franchise is better than having to put up a day longer with that fool in his tent. Not: “We’re angry because we haven’t had a Lockerbie in far too long now.”
Yes the low point was the tragic and despicable murder of an American diplomat who by all accounts was a good friend to the Libyan people. And yes, I’m sure it is utterly bewildering for people who say, but the Americans protected the Libyan people from Gaddafi in the air, if nothing else the ingratitude is sickening. But I have no doubt the vast majority of Libyans feel the same way. Perhaps why I saw footage of a Libyan holding a sign apologising to the United States.
And as for Syria, my God. What the Syrians are enduring to be free is heartbreaking, and at times nausea inducing and incomprehensible: children tortured to death over a period of days with power drills and cigarettes and electrocution. Children!
I don’t care that Syria is technically at war with Israel. That’s Syria’s monstrous government. Syrian people however are another story. I would be proud to call a Syrian a friend. And when they emerge victorious – which they will, I will cheer again.
Yes Libya is messy. Yes the Muslim Brotherhood has assumed government in Egypt and Tunisia. And maybe it’s not smooth sailing -yet. News flash, democracy is built. It takes time. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country has been democratic for a decade. Ok it was led by an Islamic Cleric at one stage. So what? They’re better governed today than they were under Soeharto. And they’re not plotting to attack Australia.
Given time, and with plenty of lurching and catastrophes (of which the Tripoli Embassy attack was one), and possibly even failure, but let’s hope and pray not, these countries of the Arab Spring will emerge as a great and valuable part of the narrative that is human history.
What happened in Sydney was appalling, and the image of a child holding a placard calling for beheadings was grotesque. But these people are not modern Islam. Modern Muslims lately have been heroic and inspirational, and as the West’s influence begins its now inevitable decline, perhaps these people will be the ones to take cherished shared values and breath into them new life?
What happened in Sydney is not the failure of The Islamic World. It used to be. Now it’s a failure by those who were rioting to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the successes and the brilliance and nobility that is the modern Muslim man or woman.
Ali says in Sydney they protest out of failure. Ironic. Because all around them are courageous and noble achievements