Don’t legitimize hate and violence

To the Editor:

From U.S. media coverage we get the impression that the Muslim world is burning with anti-Western anger over an Islamophobic film, with hordes of violent protesters on the streets threatening us all. Actually, however, most Muslims have found that video as trashy and offensive as we have.

To be sure, the protests have tapped into understandable and lasting grievances over racist, neocolonialist U.S. policy in the Middle East, as well as religious sensitivities about depictions of the prophet Muhammad. But our media have mostly ignored the following facts:

• Early estimates put participation in anti-film protests at between 0.001 and 0.007 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims – a tiny fraction of those who marched for democracy in the Arab spring.

• The vast majority of protesters have been peaceful. The breaches of foreign embassies were almost all organized by the Salafist movement, a radical Islamist group that seeks to undermine more popular moderate Islamist groups. It was the Salafists that distributed the film far and wide to instigate the rage. Their tactics resemble those of anti-Muslim U.S. pastor Terry Jones (who first promoted the film in the West) and other Western (often Christian) extremists. 

• Libyan and U.S. officials disagree as to whether the killing of the four Americans was pre-planned to coincide with 9/11, and therefore not connected to the film. 

• Apart from Libya and Afghanistan, up to Sept. 20 the protesters had killed no one. The deaths cited by media were protesters killed by police.

• Nearly every major leader, both Muslim and Western, has condemned both the film and the succeeding violence.

• When the pope visited Lebanon at the height of the tension, Hezbollah leaders attended his sermon, refrained from protesting the film until he left, and called for religious tolerance.

• After the attack in Benghazi, ordinary people turned out on the streets with signs, many in English, grieving and apologizing for the ambassador’s murder and saying the violence did not represent them or their religion.

• A leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood wrote in the New York Times: “We do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for the acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.”

We must be careful not to view the Muslim world as an homogenous unit. In both Western and Muslim worlds moderates far outnumber extremists. The Muslims I’ve known — as a missionary in Malaysia and Singapore, and as a peacekeeper in Palestine — were all among the vast majority who are moderate, friendly, gentle, courteous, generous, hospitable and respectful of me and my faith.

Uninformed, one-sided anti-Muslim comments — whether in pulpit, pew, or private conversation — only serve to perpetuate (and heighten) the us vs. them, good guys vs. bad guys, Christian vs. Muslim climate that legitimates the hate and violence on both sides that we are now seeing.

 Doug Wingeier


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