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'I heard them mutter "bloody Muslims"...'

Police at the scene of the protests

by RANDA ABDEL-FATTAH

I was sitting with my husband and two children in a restaurant in Sydney yesterday afternoon. The television mounted on the wall was loudly blaring the news of Muslims in Sydney’s CBD protesting against the film, Innocence of Muslims.

Images flashed across the screen: angry Muslim men clashing with the police. Muslims holding up placards such as ‘behead all those who insult the Prophet’. My husband and I exchanged dreaded looks. The other restaurant patrons were watching in horror. Their disgust was palpable.

I heard a couple mutter “bloody Muslims”. I wanted to approach them and implore them not to judge us all by the actions of a few. But I felt weary and doubted that anything I had to say could overcome the visceral impact of the ugly images on the news.

What happened in Sydney was utterly insane. Along with my Muslim friends and family, I stayed plugged into the social networking sites. Friends who were at the protests fed us up-to-the minute information about what was going on and how they were feeling.

The majority sentiment was that the protest had started out peacefully until a minority of extremists hijacked it. There was also a strong sense of fear as people detected a dark and tense shift in the atmosphere, starting with a stronger police presence and then tear gas.

All I could do was lament the fact that some of Sydney’s Muslims had felt compelled to protest in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. I am a devout Muslim and feel deeply offended by the film Innocence of Muslims, which is a low-budget, cheap, despicable attempt to insult and defame prophet Muhammad.

I also support peaceful protests as a legitimate expression of people’s democratic rights. I’ve been along to a fair few and spoken at some as well. But I don’t think they’re always particularly constructive and especially not in these circumstances. The first victim of these protests is Islam. That’s the irony. The angry, ranting man and woman on the street is dishonouring the example set to us by Prophet Muhammad who was attacked and persecuted all his life but who always responded with dignity, patience, and kindness.

Randa

One of my favourite stories is about a woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about whether she was unwell.

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There are many such examples throughout Muhammad’s life. Stories I learnt growing up as a child and which I now teach my children. Which is why, if people sincerely wish to protest and condemn the film then they should honour the prophet and live by his example.

The really infuriating thing about the whole situation is that the film was clearly made with the intention of provoking a violent reaction from Muslims. And so some Muslims, presumably in an attempt to repudiate the claim that Muslims are violent, took to the streets and engaged in violent protests.

Confused? Me too. It’s a vicious cycle that’s based on a distorted logic and completely warped idea about Islam. It’s as though the extreme elements in the protest thought, ‘hmm, how can we degrade the image of Islam even further and validate every Islamophobic stereotype about our faith and community?’

Well, congratulations, extremists. Job well done. Yet again a minority spoils all the good efforts that have taken place for social cohesion and mutual respect and understanding in the post 9/11 period.

Some of these extremists will claim that all non-Muslims hate Islam and Muslims. Just as some extremists claim that all Muslims hate non-Muslims and ‘the West’. Both camps thrive on a binary view of the world. One based on ‘us and them’. It’s a convenient and simple position to adopt because it means you don’t have to engage, understand, empathise, imagine or connect. You just have to hate. Not only is this decidedly against the tenets of all the religions of the world, it’s a pathetically lazy way to live.

The only saving grace from this disturbing affair is that the extremists at the protest represent a minority, not only in Australia but worldwide. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Unfortunately when a fraction behaves badly, every Muslim stands accused.

Let’s not let the extremists and unthinking people on all sides control the political and religious discourse. Let’s repudiate violence, hatred and stupidity by showing all extremists that we retain the moral high ground.

See some of the scenes from the protests below…

Randa Abdel-Fattah has written eight books, including Does My Head Look Big in This? Randa is also a lawyer, human rights activist and mother. You can find her website here and her Twitter here.
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