Why fighting with the state? Reflections on the violent reactions to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film!

Yesterday, I was impressed by the news that the Pakistani government has distanced itself from one of its ministers, Ahmad Bilour, who promised to offer US $ 100, 000 for killing the maker of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film.( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/24/pakistan-death-threat-islam-film) . For me this is notable because I have been following up on the reactions to the film around the world and my question has been, why are these people fighting the state? It is not the USA state that has made the film, rather an individual with his own interests. The only thing that USA has done as the state is to provide a space where someone can express his/her own feelings and thoughts freely.  Freedom of Speech is one of the constitutional rights in the USA. This is the way they have chosen to run their domestic social rights and we should respect that. If we do not want Freedom of Speech in our countries let’s fight against it in our own country, if we have any…but we shouldn’t interfere with other people’s domestic rights.  Just like the way we can’t interfere with people’s families and how they run their homes, so let’s not interfere with the domestic affairs of states. As much as I may not agree with some of the US foreign policy decisions, I think there was no need to burn and attack US and other Western countries’ embassies for a film made by an individual. This was not a wise move. If the Islamists wanted to react, they should have focused on the individual and not the state. The US as a state does not have only one citizen the country is very diverse with its population composed of Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, etc.  If you burn the US embassy you are punishing all these people and not only the filmmaker.  I do not think any religion would allow for such moves that lead to killing of innocent people. So far, the violent reactions to the movie have led to the killing of at least 51 people. (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/24/pakistan-death-threat-islam-film) I urge all those who are reacting violently to film to do it in another name and not in the name of religion. There are other ways of protesting against an offence but not violently. In fact, if the Islamists had use pacifistic means to oppose the publication of the film, it would probably have been more productive in terms of policy change etc. The use of violence reduces them to radicals at best and terrorists at worst. Not apologetics.

 Arguably, the violent reactions to this film are just an excuse for a long time embedding grievances against the US. Otherwise how could these Islamists so quickly mobilize so many people who, probably, have not even watched the film? The militias in Libya and their attack on the US consulate in Benghazi cannot be wholly attributed to the film. Seemingly there were other reasons for that. Actually it is almost obvious that the Islamists are just taking advantage of the film. The fact that the militia group in Libya, Ansar al Sheria, is affiliated to Al Qaeda speaks for itself. Al Qaida and its affiliates are trying to spread across Africa and this should not be ignored.

 On July 27th I wrote a small article, ‘Why should we listen to what Tony Blair is saying about Islamic Extremism’ (see http://aikandekwayu.com/why-should-we-listen-to-what-tony-blair-is-saying-about-islamic-extremism/) and in that article I explained how there are different Islamic extremists groups in different parts of Africa that are radicalists and inspired if not affiliated to Al Qaida…these groups include: Ansar Dine (Mali), Boko Haram (Nigeria),  and Al Shabaab (Somalia). The Islamists in Libya has gained momentum due to power vacuum in Libya created by the Arab Spring. The international community needs to look into Africa and contain such Islamists’ groups from spreading especially by restraining their grassroots’ activities. African states should also start to look into emergence of such groups and pin them down before they become too complex.

 The state has now found itself in a complex situation of dealing with non-state actors. This has been especially the case in the period after the end of Cold War. The US has been fighting the Al Qaida for more than a decade now. This is the world’s hegemonic power fighting a non-state actor using enormous resources. Realism, a major theory of International Relations, is finding it difficult to explain the emergence of non-state actors and the need for the state to deal with them. However, the state still becomes an important unit in international affairs and this is probably why even these non-state actors in particular the radical groups turn up against states and not the individual.

 The violent reactions to the film and its impact on state institutions (embassies and consulates) have shown us that the state is bearer of its citizens’ actions. However, I think the groups should not have fought with the state as a reaction to the movie. If anything they should be advocating against the unacceptable perception of the religion, which should start with behaviour change in the parts of the radicals.

 It is good that the Pakistani government has distanced itself from one of its minister’s decisions. Similarly the US has tried to distance itself from the film made by one citizen. This is a proof that the state tries to protect itself against radicals.

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2 Responses

  1. John
    John at | | Reply

    I enthusiastically and emphatically approve of this message.

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