Unlike the violent reaction in the Arab world against the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” the American Muslim community has reacted to the offensive video with calm and muted protest.
Community newspapers have published opinion pieces condemning the film and calling it blasphemous and insensitive to the religious feelings of Muslims while some community members have taken to the streets to express their indignation.
Hundreds of Muslims, mostly Pakistani-Americans, staged a protest in front of the United Nations on Sept. 28. Organized by Pak-America Rabita Committee and several other Pakistani community groups, the demonstration was joined by community members and imams of different mosques in Brooklyn, Queens and parts of New Jersey.
The protesters, holding placards condemning the film and demanding respect to all religions, chanted slogans against Islamophobia. They called upon the UN to mandate a universal law against hatred and bigotry in any form against any religion and faith.
“We want the United Nations to call a special session of the General Assembly to discuss the increasing incidence of insults to religion in the name of free speech,” Arshad Khan, chairman of Pak-America Rabita Committee, told Voices of NY. “We want an international law that bans disrespect of all religions so that no one can insult a religion or a prophet, especially Prophet Mohammad, on any pretext.”
“It’s important for the United Nations to wake up to its duty and ensure that no one insults any one by abusing freedom of speech,” Khan added.
The protesters dispersed peacefully after saying their Friday prayers in front of the UN building on First Avenue. According to a report in the New York-based Pakistan Post, the protesters were transported to Manhattan in chartered buses from different parts of New York and New Jersey.
One of the Brooklyn buses was partly paid by Pakistan’s State Minister for Information Samsam Bukhari, who was on a private visit to New York, the paper reported.The Pakistani minister also addressed a conference on Prophet Mohammad in Brooklyn on Sept. 25, where he advised the community to stay calm and create greater understanding among their fellow countrymen about Muslims’ religious sensitivities.
There were reports of similar protests in Philadelphia and Chicago. The Muslim community of Virginia has also announced a protest demonstration against the film in front of the White House for Oct. 6. The protest is being organized by several local Muslim organizations, mostly run by Pakistani-Americans.
The film controversy also echoed at the 27th annual United American Muslim Day Parade held Sept. 23 in Manhattan. Thousands of Muslims marched down Madison Ave. from 42nd to 23rd Streets to celebrate America’s Muslim heritage. The parade featured colorful floats, a marching band and Muslims from all walks of life and backgrounds.
A resolution was adopted at the parade, condemning what it called an “increasing incidence of Islam-bashing and Islamophobia.” It declared that freedom of speech is not a license to spread hatred, bigotry and profanity against any individual or faction and called such behavior “un-American.” It also condemned the violent reaction against the video in Muslim countries.
“We also believe that taking the law in their own hands, killing the innocent people and perpetrating any kind of terrorist act in the love of the Prophet is unjust. It is depressing and it is disgusting,” the resolution reads.
The resolution also denounced the attack on U.S. embassies and deaths of four U.S. diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in the Libyan city of Benghazi. A moment of silence was observed to pay respects to all those Muslims and non-Muslims who lost their lives in the backlash to the film.
American Muslim community leaders have been unanimous in denouncing the film and the violent protests against it in several Muslim countries. “We at the Islamic Circle of North America condemned those violent reactions,” said Professor Zahid Bukhari, president of ICNA, one of the largest American Muslim groups, in a YouTube interview with a New York-based Pakistani journalist.
He said American Muslims were also raising the question of the limits of freedom of speech. “Freedom of expression comes with responsibility,” Bukhari said, adding the topic should be addressed in an academic debate.
“Some elements want to create a wedge between Islam and the West,” Zahid Bukhari later told Khabar-o-Nazar (News and Views), a Pakistani community talk show that airs on Aaj TV, a leading satellite Pakistani TV channel, adding that violence in the name of Prophet Mohammad was against the teachings of Islam. He urged the Muslim community all over the world to keep their calm and promote greater understanding of Islam, which will create more religious tolerance.
Several Pakistani community writers in their editorial commentaries also condemned both the film and the violent reaction in Muslim countries and debated the abuse of freedom of speech.
“How would Prophet Mohammad React to the Film,” was the headline of an opinion piece in the Pakistan Post. Articles published in the New York-based Pakistani community media had similar messages about freedom of speech and that Islamophobia could only be countered through the promotion of inter-faith dialogue, understanding and respect for each others beliefs and religions.