Once again we Muslims take centre stage in the arena of world politics, our "anger" dominating the headlines over a poorly made YouTube video, called "Innocence of Muslims." And though the video is poor, both in content and production quality, the title alone is excellent.
As a Muslim, resident of North America my entire life, I have never heard the word "innocence" placed next to "Muslims" so many times by the media. So to the "Innocence of Muslims" creators, on this point alone -- thank you.
Today's blog post is dedicated to my fellow Muslims, with one exception.
The exception consists of the less than one per cent of Muslims who are engaging in violent anti-American demonstrations in a number of countries.
Why? Because that part of the community, that less than one percent of Muslims, does not have the time nor the heart for this message.
No, that less than one percent of the community, is working hard to destroy whatever efforts their fellow (mostly Muslim) citizens have made towards democracy in the Muslim world in an effort to replace it with another dictatorship, made up of salafi extremists. (Please note it appears there are no violent demonstrations taking place in the Gulf States likely because the would-be demonstrators there already compose the governments.)
To my fellow Muslims -- the 99 per cent who are peaceful -- here is my message. Online articles, information and resources, including amateur video productions, are everywhere.
On the topic of Islam, extreme interpretations of our scriptures backed up by sources many of us regard as inauthentic or out of date, receive millions of hits. Some of the information is posted by non-Muslims, but much is posted by those who call themselves Muslim, as well.
And amateur video productions on sites like YouTube and others are a thriving industry all over the world. From the diversity of amateur video production we see that people all over the world have a range of opinions on what is right and wrong, indecent and acceptable, not only in relation to religion, but regarding other matters as well.
And we cannot always "police" all of what is "out there" online. We cannot "police" it in North America. We cannot "police" it abroad. In fact, law enforcement all over the world seems to have difficulty literally policing truly offensive, criminal material, such as child pornography.
"Policing" opinions on religious matters is unrealistic in most instances. But some of you say "Innocence of Muslims" is a special case and should be banned. Personally, I disagree. "Innocence of Muslims" should not be banned, nor should any video that one finds disturbing because of its anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian or anti-religious content.
Why? For a number of reasons.
First of all, in relation to "Innocence of Muslims" we must take into account the following factors:
1. Merely because the depiction is suggested doesn't make it true;
2. Because there is no coercion allowed in Islam according to the Holy Quran, human beings are free to believe as they choose; and
3. Our Prophet Muhammad practiced a virtually super-human degree of patience, which we are supposed to emulate.
Second, in respect to anti-religious material in general, history and current policies show that when governments police the opinions of citizens the result is a dictatorship or at the very least a country that upholds injustice by censoring the criticism against it.
And when people are prohibited from making poor quality amateur YouTube videos, also at stake is the freedom of expression to speak out against the injustice of governments and others in a peaceful, constructive manner.
It means religious minority rights, women's rights, queer rights -- human rights -- become endangered further. It means any opposition to those rights may more easily result in violence against minorities. It means that violence against minority groups may be then condoned by governments who do not have the constitution, the resources, and/or the expertise to enforce protections for their minority inhabitants.
It means humanity suffers more not less. What else can be done?
My fellow Muslims -- our community has been under a magnifying glass for some time now. But in the past decade, great changes have taken place.
Though there remain many issues we must resolve among ourselves we are no longer afraid to discuss them today in the open.
Our Muslim community leaders -- who now hail from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, young, old, queer, straight, male, female, single, and married, are more confident now to express a variety of views, than previous generations, despite opposition and conflict, which at times originates from both inside and outside the mosque.
And unlike the previous generation, our reaction to the insanity of salafist and wahabi extremists, is swift and just -- as shown by the statements issued last week by a host of Muslim organizations in North America, condemning the violence at the American embassies and conveying condolences upon the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and members of his staff.
It is in stark contrast to what we watched, particularly, those of us growing up in North America, decades ago, when the reaction to the fatwa pronounced against British Muslim author Salman Rushdie, endangering his life and stifling free expression among Muslims, was relatively muted, or worse. (And we must speak out now to ensure Rushdie is safe, considering the fatwa's recent renewal).
We know now, as Muslims, we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice, particularly when the perpetrator claims to be Muslim and acts out in the name of our faith. But though we, as a community, may have matured, the media and public perception has not necessarily caught up with us at every turn.
Though there are plenty of pundits acknowledging we differ from the violent extremists who are taking advantage of the Arab Spring, there are others who continue to paint us all with the same monolithic, bigoted brush.
The words "Muslim Fury," "Rage in the Muslim World," are used without regard to the scant number of the demonstrators in relation to the entire global Muslim population.
And there are others hoping to screen "Innocence of Muslims" to a theatre audience -- perhaps to bring some of the extremists in our midst, out into the open and create a perception that their numbers are greater.
My fellow Muslims, we live in difficult times. My fellow Muslims what is the solution? Must the problems of the entire Muslim world be a burden that constantly rests upon our shoulders?
Perhaps the answer is yes. Perhaps our generation must rise to the challenge of our era, remembering the words of the great late Martin Luther King Jr who said:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
And perhaps we must examine our community at home and abroad, with extreme Islamic love. Perhaps we must react not only to deflect the negative light others throw on our faith but consistently, together shine one on those injustices regularly taking place in the Muslim world.
Perhaps we must ask ourselves, not only why American (and other western) embassies are being attacked but why there are places in the Muslim world where there is poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, honour killings, gender apartheid, persecution of religious minorities, homophobia, torture and murder of citizens by governments and war.
And perhaps we must ask ourselves what we must do, from where we stand, to peacefully, create a world of difference. And again remind ourselves of the words of the Holy Quran that now resonate so forcefully in the collective soul of our generation that -- "Allah will not change a nation unless it changes what is in their hearts."
Follow Shahla Khan Salter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/UniversMuslims