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Protests undermine the true message of Islam



18 September 2012

Dr Ghena Krayem: "The protests in Sydney did little good in promoting any cause or communicating any message other than one of offence and insult to the wider Australian community."
Dr Ghena Krayem: "The protests in Sydney did little good in promoting any cause or communicating any message other than one of offence and insult to the wider Australian community."

The protests in Sydney's CBD on Saturday undermined the true message of Islam and the very message the protestors sought to defend, write Dr Ghena Krayem and Mehal Krayem.

This is not an apology, for we have no reason to apologise. Nor is it a defence for the disgraceful display of human behaviour that took place on Saturday afternoon by people who happen to share our religious belief, because we owe no such defence.

It is merely a personal, subjective reflection on the events that have come to bear concerning the film, Innocence of Muslims, directed by former softcore porn director Alan Roberts.

There's nothing artistically sophisticated or even remotely cutting edge about a film that demeans a person held dear to Muslims the world over. In fact there's nothing sophisticated about slander full stop.

According to news reports, Innocence of Muslims is a horribly Orientalist portrayal of Islam, one in which the Prophet Mohammed is portrayed in the most offensive of ways. Muslims and non-Muslims alike have condemned the release of the bigoted and provocative film.

What was intended to be a peaceful protest in Sydney's CBD at the weekend came to be dubbed a 'riot'. It was also openly compared to the Cronulla riots of 2005. Regardless of how offensive the content of the film is to Muslims, few are left doubting that the Sydney protest's reaction to it was any less reasonable and indeed equally offensive.

It has been reported that the death of a US Ambassador Chris Stevens, in the Benghazi consulate was the result of protests that turned violent earlier last week. A death that Muslims all over the Western world have strongly condemned. A life lost with no justification.

We do not wish to take away anybody's right to protest; of course protests have been a legitimate apparatus of democracy for centuries. Almost weekly there is a demonstration in Sydney protesting a myriad of social issues and anyone who's even marginally politically inclined has probably attended one.

However, the protests in Sydney on Saturday did little good in promoting any cause or communicating any message other than one of offence and insult to the wider Australian community. Understandably it has given ammunition to those that hold animosity towards the Muslim community and undoubtedly the coming days will bring forward claims that Muslims will never truly be Australians.

This is not to suggest that the cause of the protest was not valid, it certainly was. In fact had it been better (and legally) organised and carried out in a peaceful manner as many protests in the past have been, then we may have been talking about how the nation stands in solidarity with Australian Muslims in regards to the offensive nature of the film.

Instead, the protestors, some of them children, carried signs that proclaimed, 'Behead all those who insult the Prophet', 'Our dead are in paradise. Your dead are in hell' and 'Obama, Obama we love Osama'. This is hardly projecting the image of peace they apparently intended. Conjuring associations with terrorism and barbarism and spreading hatred is contrary to both our democratic beliefs and Islamic values.

Unless this was an academic exercise in irony, on all accounts protestors missed the mark with their placards, which were at best ill thought and at worst reinforced long-held beliefs that Muslims will never belong.

It is made even more ironic by the fact that these placards, banners and chants are far from the conduct that befits those who follow in the footsteps of a Prophet who came with a message of peace and mercy. Ultimately they undermine the true message of Islam and the very message the protestors sought to defend.

But let's be clear, this wasn't simply a protest about a film. It was a protest intended to address years of abuse suffered by the Muslim community and in particular by a section of the community that clearly feels marginalised and disenfranchised. The inconsistent messages on the placards being paraded by protestors were as clear an indication of this as anything could be.

Admittedly it did nothing, but give an already fearful section of the Australian community more reason to be afraid despite the fact the protests were not a true reflection of the way most Muslims choose to carry themselves.

It's safe to assume that nobody came off looking their best, not the protestors, not the police and more sadly not the Muslim community.

Regardless of what the intentions of the proportionally small group of protestors were, this action did nothing for a community that already has a serious PR issue. The entire community is implicated and left to deal not with facts, because most people have already made up their minds about the 'facts', but with an image of a religion that appears to use brutality or at the very least disrespect the notion of peace. An image that most Australian Muslims believe does not accord with the message of the greatest flag bearer of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed.


Dr Ghena Krayem is a lecturer at Sydney Law School. Mehal Krayem is a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Technolgy, Sydney.


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