Islamophobia grow and Muslim growth

Mohammad Yazid , Jakarta , | Wed, 03/05/2008 2:15 AM | Opinion

Muslims have no way of halting the spread of Islamophobia, as voiced by various groups in European countries. The anti-Islam impression is natural, because in reality many Muslim majority countries have lagged behind and suffered setbacks in various fields.

Given this trend, Muslims do not need to regard it as a threat or insult. It is wiser to take the negative image as a form of correction and challenge.

This positive move will be far more favorable to the Muslim community as a whole, by changing the bad image of Islam as depicted in the film Fitna — which in Arabic means war, or division.

The film, by Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) chairman Geert Wilders, portrays Islam as a dangerous ideology. Wilders, according to some media reports, insists Islam is not a religion and that the Koran is a fascist book and incites Muslims to kill. He also has reportedly demanded the banning of Islam.

As reported recently, the film, lasting for about 15 minutes, is slated for release in March via the Internet on http://www.fitnathemovie.com. However, even before its release, the Dutch politician’s production, widely branded as a manifestation of Islamophobia, has received strong reactions from Muslim circles.

The Taliban last Thursday threatened to attack Dutch military facilities in Afghanistan if Wilders insisted on releasing the picture. Al-Qaeda also threatened assaults on various Dutch interests, while Iran’s parliament demanded the Dutch government guarantee the film would not be released. Egypt and Iran have already threatened economic sanctions against the Netherlands over the film.

For other reasons, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen last Thursday called on Wilders’ MPs not to release the movie because it would endanger the lives of Dutch citizens all over the world and disturb Dutch business relations with Muslim nations. At home, the call was backed by Pieter van Geel, head of parliament’s Christian Democrat Verhagen faction. Many groups in his own country have criticized Wilders.

The protest against the film by the Muslim community is very understandable because the movie was from the beginning produced for the purpose of insulting a religion. Nonetheless, it by no means implies that any violent reaction by Muslims can be tolerated. This mutual aggression will worsen the anti-Islam impression in Europe and justify the message conveyed by the film.

The time has come for the Muslim community to realize that in several European countries, freedom of speech is indeed guaranteed by their constitutions. This is unlike Muslim-majority countries, where freedom of dissent is much less respected. In this connection, Muslims needs to learn the significance of freedom and truth already practiced in far more advanced countries with non-Muslim majorities.

The filming of Fitna, though, should be regretted if freedom of speech serves as a mere cover to insult a religion. The meaning of freedom itself in this context is thus narrowed, instead of having strengthened the principle of human rights in its broad sense. Besides, as a work of art, the movie at least has restricted the meaning of appreciation, which esteems the values of truth accountable to universal merits.

From the same angle, Wilders’ Islamophobia through Fitna has considerably missed its target and created an impression of vulgarity.

From the logic of freedom of thought, Wilders’ accusation that the Koran provokes people to kill is not exaggerating, because the holy book’s Attaubah chapter, verse 12, contains the order to kill heathen leaders. Many Muslims feel no guilt when they act accordingly, as happened in Indonesia during the Poso conflict. However, the verse should be understood as an order of a conditional nature.

Thus, Wilders and parts of the Muslim community interpret it literally, so that the opposite is impressed, far from the essence of this verse. Moreover, other chapters of the Koran have many verses upholding the principles of respect for life.

In this way, the best response for the Muslim community is to use the same weapon of freedom of opinion and create quality films capable of enlightening the masses in order to keep abreast of current advancements in various areas and change Islam’s bad image in Europe.

Retaliation through acts of violence like suicide bombings, as already committed many times by certain groups, including those in Indonesia, has only worsened the image of the Islamic world and sacrificed innocent lives.

In the context of democracy, demonstrations staged by some Indonesian Muslims to condemn the publication of the Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in Denmark’s Jylland-Postan newspaper, seen as insulting the Islamic faith, should be appreciated as long as they are peaceful.

With the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia needs to assume an active role in creating positive impressions in the effort to minimize Islamophobia in Europe. Frequently regarded as negative, Islamophobia can on the other hand be seen as a positive form of correction. The rise of this irrational fear is badly needed if the Muslim community is supposed to improve itself.

This is a tough challenge to the Muslim community, requiring the hard work and sincerity of relevant parties. Sadly, many of them are not aware that such negative impressions result from criminal acts and ignorant practices that according to Islamic teachings must be avoided. The problem is aggravated by the large number of Muslims caught up in the fault-finding mind-set rather than the spirit of self-correction.

The writer is a member of The Jakarta Post’s opinion desk. He can be reached at yazid@thejakartapost.com

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