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'Muhammad' filmmakers and violent protestors are 'unrepresentative'
Matt Pickles | 25 Sep 12
The world’s media have pored over the Islamaphobic ‘Muhammad’ video, and the resulting violence in Muslim-majority countries, over the past week.
Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, says that both film and violence merely represent ‘two populisms’ and, in a post on OUP Blog, calls for the ‘great majority of citizens caught between two populisms’ to speak out against extremism.
Professor Ramadan stresses that the violent demonstrations do not represent Islam. ‘Such actions are simply anti-Islamic and against Muslim values,’ he writes. ‘The demonstrations were in fact first organised by a tiny group of Salafi literalists who were attempting to direct popular emotions against the United States and the West in order to gain for themselves a central religious and political role.
‘We should not confuse this tiny minority who are using a populist religious discourse, with the millions of Arabs, and mainly Muslims, who took to the streets during the Arab uprisings in a non-violent way to call for freedom, justice and dignity.’
Professor Ramadan urges that people look at the factors underlying the violence, rather than just focusing on the incriminating video. ‘Whilst nothing can justify the popular violence, we must try to understand why the people are reacting so intensely,’ he says.
‘One can see that American and European Muslims, through the successive controversies in Denmark, the Netherlands, France and now the United States, are not reacting violently. Instead they take a peaceful, critical stance in spite of feeling hurt by the cartoons or the video.
‘However in the southern Muslim-majority countries, the majority of people face poverty, unemployment, corruption and sometimes lack of social and political hope.'
He adds: 'From day-to-day they rely very much on their belief, the meaning of their life and the sacred in order to survive, so when they see the ‘rich and comfortable’ people of the West mocking and ridiculing what they consider to be sacred, they are doubly offended.’
Professor Ramadan says that the media and public are focusing on a clash between the extreme ends of two populisms. ‘If we look at what is happening with the West today and the Muslim-majority countries, the great majority of citizens are caught between two populisms,’ he writes.
‘We can see now that in the United States as well as in Europe we have the tea party, the neo-conservatives, and the new evangelists that are now creating a new enemy of Islam and the Muslims — portraying them as “a cancer”, aliens and foreign citizens, outsiders within, who are threatening the very essence of Western culture. All the rhetoric is based upon fear, racism, bigotry and very often Islamophobia.
‘On the other side we have minority Muslim groups who are indulging in a similar religious populism, advocating the fact that “we are more Muslim when we are non-Western” or clearly against the West. There is no other way but to enter into a kind of ‘clash’.’
Professor Ramadan concludes with a call to the majority of people in between these two extremes. He says: ‘It is therefore critical today for the citizens caught in between these two populisms to become more vocal themselves, to create a kind of new ‘we’ in the name of the same values they advocate: proactive coexistence, mutual respect, and knowledge of one another.
‘The common challenges are education, poverty, social justice, and understanding. The people should not be misled nor fool themselves into recognising those who are truly in the wrong. This is the very message of the Arab Muslims.
‘Millions of people in the South are showing that they cherish the same values as Western citizens. Let us celebrate this in a reasonable way and not be driven by blind emotions.’
You can read Professor Ramadan’s full post, '5 things we should know about the Libyan and Egyptian demonstrations', on the OUP Blog.
Top image: President Obama, alongside Secretary of State Clinton, speaking after the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya; Bottom image: Slogans at a Tea Party rally in Minnesota in 2010 (credit: Fibonnaci Blue)