Bacile and ‘de-imbecile-ization’ of the public sphere
Paper Edition | Page: 6
Five million dollars is not a small amount. If Sam Bacile, the amateur moviemaker of Innocence of Muslims, chose to abide by the tenets of his religion — he says he is a Jew — that amount of money would be enough to save the lives of thousands of starving people in Africa or of war victims in the Mideast.
If Bacile really cared about America, the country where he lives and is a property developer, he would be able to help hundreds of homeless Californians after the mortgage scandal ruined the American economy several years ago.
Yet, his choice was different. Sparking conflict, shedding blood and endangering thousands of lives was better for him than peaceful morality.
“Islam is a cancer,” he said. Surely, in this case, he forgets or reduces what Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Why should Islam be singled out?
If a religion is taken as a cause of brutality such as contemporary terrorism, can we not see that all religions ever on the earth have been used to excuse killings, massacres and so on throughout history?
Together with political and economic causes, for example, did Jewish rulers not use religion to exterminate the Christians in Yemen in the sixth century? Was not Jesus — the symbol of peace — tortured and killed in the name of religion also? Were the Jews not expelled from Jerusalem in seventh century with the Aeliae Capitolae by the Roman Titus, who also razed Solomon’s Temple, due to a certain extent to religion?
Nowadays, not only in the Muslim world, do we not see that religion is often no more than a commodity for political or economic gains?
What then actually is this cancer? The religion itself or the people whose minds are stuck and therefore are not able to understand the phenomena better and who convey illogical opinions as facts?
We cannot always depend only on historical interpretation. Historical findings are never a complete answer to the puzzle. There are always the missing parts which are then rebuilt through perspective, assumption and interpretation.
With this relativity of history, despite the thousands of books we might read, we cannot claim that our understanding of a religion is final and is therefore the truth itself. If a scientist made such claim, he would be boasting and betraying his scientific doctrines.
Regarding our existence, with building peace as the absolute aim of every human, we should start from what is already in front of our eyes and not from the suppositions of nothingness. In other words, we have to start from the fact that diverse religions and conflicts caused by them are already there.
Regarding any endeavors to create peace, the domain of the peace makers is certainly not the theological affairs of religions. Instead, they have to deal with what appears in the public sphere.
With an assumption that a religion is something socially constructed, the door is opened for the peacemakers. They have to deal with the internalization of peaceful values and minimize those of violence.
Included in this are all endeavors to ensure that religious clerics understand and believe in peaceful values and are eager to disseminate them.
Second, there must be a belief that a religion could not survive if there was no wisdom in it. The bloodshed stories attached to a religion are the empty part of a glass from which we will only imbibe nothingness. Our thirst will be quenched therefore only with the water deeper down; “the surviving wisdoms”, i.e. what the true founders and guardians of the religion wanted to share.
As a starting point, we must include the social media, we might have to question what YouTube’s spokesman said, “We take great care when we enforce our policies and try to allow as much content as possible while ensuring that our Community Guidelines are followed ... Flagged content that does not violate our Guidelines will remain on the site.”
While there have already been casualties with many more to come, why can we not avoid a catastrophe from happening because of our interpretation of Guidelines? If the video does not directly contain “a threat of violence”, has it not already incited violence because it directly insults a community?
Besides, simply by watching the 13-minute trailer, we will understand that it is not only about expressing an ahistorical and “imbecilic” opinion, but also the use of social media to maintain hatred between different religious followers.
Again, for the sake of peace, we can only drink from the full part of the glass and multiply our efforts with what is available as a starting point. Liberalism is necessary, but liberal fundamentalism can take us to a new kind of totalitarianism with its new kinds of chaos.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation and the Ciputat School for Democratic Islam.