Since last week, the Arab world has been rocked by protests over a 14 minute trailer for a film called ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on YouTube, depicting the Prophet Mohammed in the worst possible light. Angry Muslims protesting outside the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya got violent and attacked the building, killing the US ambassador in the process. In total, anti-American protests have erupted in a dozen countries: Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia among others. Protesters in Jos even had to be dispersed by soldiers firing into the air.
It is clear that the only purpose of the video – financed by a Coptic Christian under an alias and promoted by the fanatic pastor Terry Jones, who burned a Qur’an in 2010 – was to incite Muslims, and it worked. In the past, high ranking US officials have appealed to Pastor Jones, to the effect that his actions put American lives in danger, but he obviously has not heeded. A person’s ‘freedom of speech’ ends when it causes unnecessary distress to another, especially when religion, race or ethnicity is targeted in a malicious and insensitive manner, with no attempt to start enriching conversations or promote understanding. This is the other side that isn’t talked about enough.
That offensive video has now given a perfect excuse to Islamic extremists to whip up religious fervour and attack Western interests, potentially increasing their political standing in the process. It could roll back some of the gains of the Arab Spring, which seemed in part to be a rejection of extremism. However, the reality is that the Arab world is still very much in flux. There is a battle for its heart and soul between fanatics and moderates. Moderate Muslims have since begun to speak up and denounce the attacks. This is a good thing, and they should go beyond that to take over religious structures from those who have used it to promote violence. The name of God should never be cause for murder.
It also got me thinking about Christian fanaticism. This kind is rarely openly violent, at least not any more, but is just as deadly. It is insidious, and destroys just as many lives. It manifests in the slavish obedience to men of the cloth – or suit, as is increasingly widespread – which makes them above reproach and labels anyone who speaks up against their excesses, a troublemaker. Christian fanaticism manifests itself in a simmering intolerance toward people of other faiths, denominations and even atheists, viewing them as people to be ‘converted’, or otherwise put down and mocked.
It includes setting ourselves up as judges of the morality of others, while ignoring our own failings. There is a 14 year jail term for anyone guilty of practising homosexuality, but national awards for brazenly corrupt public officials, and seats of honour for them in many of our churches and mosques. One is tempted to conclude that no nation does hypocrisy like Nigeria.
When a house of worship constitutes itself into a nuisance, depriving others of the peace and quiet due to them in their homes, or when a solitary man or woman with a megaphone does so with equal efficacy, the insensitivity that goes with fanaticism becomes obvious. Why do we assume that the best way to showcase our faith is at high noise levels? Could it be because our day to day lives is insufficient testimony?
Fanaticism also comes with insecurity; this overwhelming desire to defend our professed faith from any insult, real or perceived, as if such a defence is proof of devoutness and brings with it extra blessing. It seems to be a competition as to who can show the most passion, the most fervour, about whose God is ‘better’. If God, Jesus, Allah, the Prophet Mohammed or other deities are so powerful, do they really need the passionate defence of mere mortals? Are these deities not sufficient in and of themselves?
It is not just those who fly planes into buildings, strap themselves with explosives and burn Qur’ans we should be afraid of. Every time we hand over our decision making to mere mortals, and look down on those who don’t profess the same faith we do, every time we do these things, we need to look in the mirror.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.