“Innocence of Muslims” & Malala Yousafzai

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The dichotomy prevalent within Pakistani society between liberals and extremists is more than apparent.  Two recent incidents have highlighted this bifurcation: the release of the film, “Innocence of Muslims” on the internet and the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai.

The film.

NakoulaBasseleyNakoula, a naturalized US citizen of Egyptian origin, released the 14 minute trailer of a film titled “Innocence of Muslims” which had been dubbed in Arabic, on the internet.  The sacrilegious content of this film demonizes Islam and its Prophet.

This provided the Al Qaeda and its affiliates a propaganda windfall who aroused Muslim sentiment and appealed for violence against US diplomats “to take revenge upon those who attack our Prophet.”   The immediate outcome of which was the assassination of the US ambassador in Libya along with three diplomats at the American consulate in Benghazi.

This appeal resonated in the insurgency-ravaged tribal agencies of Islamabad where, on 15 September, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman, EhsanullahEhsan, declared: “We invite the youth of Pakistan to stand up in defense of their religion and its sanctity.  You are no less than the lads of Benghasi…”

The same day that the TTP issued its statement, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, met President Zardari and sternly denounced the film which he described as “disgusting and reprehensible.  It seems to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and provoke rage.” But these words, which were a repetition of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said earlier, fell on deaf ears.  It was Nakoula and his fiendish instinct that proved triumphant in provoking Muslims to violate Islam’s doctrinaire emphasis on peace and non-aggression.

The outrage in the Islamic world was undoubtedly justified but the violence that ensued was starkly at variance with the Quranic injunction: “And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God’s messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they talk of other things…”(4:140).

In contrast the violent reaction to “Innocence of Muslims” has provided the film a publicity bonanza which would otherwise have cost its producers a fortune.  The Pakistan Government did more than any to promote the trashy film through its harebraineddecision of declaring a public holiday which achieved nothing but cost the country billions.

The correct and dignified thing would have been to sue the producer of the film.  In an article, Yasser Latif Hamadani, explained that despite the freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court in 1942 was: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem.  These include lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous and the insulting or fighting words those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year-old girl from Swat, refused to be intimidated by death threats from the TTP for seeking her right to education and for this she received a bullet in her skull.  Malala miraculously survived this but it is uncertain what the future may hold for her as she lies barely conscious in a hospital bed in Birmingham.

There has been public outrage but this has not translated into a nationwide surge in support for military action against terrorist groups in North Waziristan, the only tribal agency where, till now, the Pakistan army has not launched any operation.  Every political leader in the country has condemned this hideous incident, but, most of them have been noticeably diffident about castigating the TTP even though it has, with despicable nonchalance, claimed responsibility.

The self-righteous chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan, could do no better than say that drone attacks were responsible for the TTP’s attacks on civilians.  Ata-ur-Rehman, the brother of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (F) Chief, similarly proclaimed from the floor of the house that the ‘real culprits’ for the assassination attempt on Malala were drone strikes, and, young people would be well advised not to slavishly follow the dictates of the US-led West.  Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami chimed in with the absurd statement that excessive praise for the bravery of Malala had been the cause for the murderous attack.  In addition, a ludicrous narrative was concocted that Malala and her father were American agents.

When Imran Khan was questioned on his failure to condemn the TTP, he responded unconvincingly: “We have local affiliates and supporters.  Sure I can give big statements against the Taliban but that would make them (his supporters) Taliban targets.”  Such spineless cowardice was thus on display in contrast to the courage of Malala who did not abandon her fight for education for girls and said that even if the TTP tried to kill her she would look them in the eye and ”tell them what they are doing is wrong.”

Furthermore, the government, once again, failed miserably to galvanize countrywide support to conclusively defeat the TTP and its terrorist affiliates. The only political party represented in the Parliament and the Sindh Assembly that was forthright about the need for militarily confronting the TTP in North Waziristan was the MQM.  Another voice staunchly in favor of militarily crushing the TTP was that of the Chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council, Haji Sahib zada Fazal Karim.  He told journalists in Multan that the TTP only “want to implement their ideology, which is terrorism.”

In his address to the ECO summit in Baku, President Zardari declaimed with insincerity: “I want to speak to you today about the Daughter of Pakistan – my daughter Malala Yousafzai.”  But she is only a step-daughter whose simple desire for a proper education without fear will not be fulfilled so long as the country does not cure itself from what someone described as “an intolerant and severe nationalism that conflates piety with patriotism.”