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Tariq Ali: The West 'Created This Monster'

Tariq Ali: "The reasons these films are being made is precisely because of the occupation of the Muslim world by the United States and its allies."
Tariq Ali: "The reasons these films are being made is precisely because of the occupation of the Muslim world by the United States and its allies."
As the Muslim world continues to react, sometimes violently, to a film, "The Innocence of Muslims," that portrays the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light, observers are weighing in on the reasons behind Muslim anger.

One is Tariq Ali, a veteran Pakistani-born British military historian, author, and journalist who has written extensively on political Islam and the Middle East. He tells RFE/RL correspondent Frud Bezhan that the current situation is blowback from decades of U.S. policy.

RFE/RL: Why has "The Innocence of Muslims" caused so much violent outrage? Is there a historical, religious, or political explanation as to why defamation of religion in the Muslim world often leads to violence, as opposed to other regions and religions?

Tariq Ali:
The question you have to ask is why these cartoons  and films are being made at this particular time. Why weren't they made for most of the last century? The reasons these films are being made is precisely because of the occupation of the Muslim world by the United States and its allies, which have created an atmosphere of extreme Islamophobia.

You have, sometimes, liberals -- but usually the right and extreme right -- which feel it's a good thing to carry on provoking [extremists in the Middle East]. That's why they do it. It has nothing to do with free speech. The Muslim reaction to it is the same reasons that these guys do it. They feel occupied, they're angry, and the Arab world is in turmoil. So they react in that way. You can't isolate this from world politics.

RFE/RL: There seems to be a general assumption that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are "un-Islamic." How much of this is true and how much is it a myth created by extremist elements?

Ali:
A questioning of Prophet Muhammad is not tolerated. There is a form of idolatry of the Prophet that is actually against the spirit of Islam, which is totally opposed to idolatry. So, people react to these attacks on the Prophet as an attack on their culture. They know they're being provoked and they get provoked.

In the past, I have written that the best way to stop this would be to ignore these things, but the world is too volatile now.

RFE/RL: You say local grievances in the Muslim world against the West, and in particular against the United States, have a major role in the violent demonstrations. If so, what events have led to this?

Ali:
You have a situation today where the United States occupies a number of countries in the Arab world [like] Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya, which is a NATO protectorate, and they are very close to the military in Egypt. So that creates a new mood, which is why people react in this way.

Without a doubt [local grievances against the West play a big part in these protests]. The religion has been politicized. The reason for that, of course, is that during the Cold War the United States was backing most of these [extremist Islamist] groups to fight communism all over the world, especially in the Muslim world. Wahhabi preachers were sent with American approval by Saudi Arabia to create what we now know as political Islam. They did that and now they are paying the price for it. [The West] created this monster.

RFE/RL: Will these violent demonstrations in reaction to the defamation of Islam continue? How do you see it evolving going forward?

Ali:
The way forward is to create a way of life, not just in the Muslim world but the world at large in which people have some stake in the world in which they live.

At the moment, increasingly democracy is being hollowed out in the Western world, leave alone anywhere else. So people, to fill the vacuum, some move towards nationalism, as in China. And others move towards religion, like in the Arab world.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
September 20, 2012 22:05
a few opinions:

I am happy that the author said "a form of idolatry of the Prophet that is against the spirit of Islam". That is how I see this situation. These people have joined Muhammad to Allah as a partner, but the Qur'an states that Muhammad was just a warner, and anyone or anything else could have been chosen.

About the prohibition on idolatry, it makes sense in the context of a monotheistic religion, but I think Muslims would benefit from looking into the Hebraic roots. The original ban on idolatry in the Torah was sketchy. For example, the Ark of the Covenant had statues of cherubs (winged lions with human faces). The ban on "graven images" in the Ten Commandments could have been about Egyptian heiroglyphs. (and later expanded to include all non-abstract representations) This would mean it was originally a political thing, an attempt to block all influence of the Egyptian empire.

But for modern times, I think Islam is experiencing a major transformation comparable to the Reformation. Especially in areas of "traditional Islam" where pure-minded Salafism is taking root.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 24, 2012 23:31
Anonymous, these are illuminating points.

by: kafantaris from: USA, Ohio
September 21, 2012 00:14
John Stuart Mill proved long ago that the benefit of freedom of speech is that it assures the continuing growth and relevance of our most cherished institutions:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
In Response

by: hazarullah from: india
September 24, 2012 19:03
we are not machines to think about errors.we are humans.we should adjust with others humans.how can muslims will participate to discuss about these issues,when they already busy in acquiring basic human needs like food.For discussing anything,or for concluding the truth,both of the parties should be in same position.The people who are rich made the film,but how the other party can do that ? it is not worthy to provoke people against people.That is not freedom of speech that is freedom to create hatred.what about wikileaks....?why it is blocked in so many countries..?and now for this film,from where freedom of speech came...?which propels hatred and violence in other countries.because of that hatred unsocial elements get the fuel and try to do something on a targeted country.but if they cant do,they are trying in our country.(mumbai)because of that hatred we indians are suffering.and what about that cartoons.is there any dignity in doing those things about anyones prophet,and supporting those cartoons...?west should stop allowing these things,that will damage the peace of somany.one shouldnt comment on these type of sensitive issues.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 24, 2012 23:28
hazarullah, I agree with you. The western media is portraying the protests in each country as riots by extremists.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
September 24, 2012 23:09
The film-maker has a right to say and express what he thinks. The Islamic world has the right to protest. That is what freedom of speech - and expression - is all about.

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