I wrote a couple of days ago that cultural and ideological imperialism must be confronted but only when situated within the wider framework of justice and the rejection of oppression, and when guided by a specific political position. Hizbullah’s response to the “Innocence of Muslims” movie and its planned protests for the coming week are situated within this framework. In his speech this evening, Nasrallah used the short movie clip as a tool for mobilizing the Arab masses against US imperialism and an opportunity to unite Muslims at a time when Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are at an all time high. Such ecumenical steps must also be viewed in the context of accusations by some [Wahhabi and Salafi] Sunni clerics who allege that the Shi’ites revere Imams Ali and Hussein far more than the Prophet Mohammad.
Although Nasrallah echoed the Salafists’ concern with the sacrilegious aspect of the offense, he emphasized the political implications and motives behind the movie. While acknowledging the use of Christians like Terry Jones and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as front men, Nasrallah held Israel responsible for the film, and saw in it a dangerous attempt to incite strife between Christians and Muslims: “Those who stand behind such offenses are the Zionists, yet these are being attributed to Muslim or Christian apostates, such as the Christian pastor Terry Jones who had burned the Holy Quran, or the Coptic Priest who is said to be behind the anti-Islam film, those who made the movie knew that Muslims would be enraged by it, therefore attributing it to the Christians to cause conflict between Muslims and Christians. “Israel” wants to see Muslims attack Christians, kill them and burn their churches.” As these excerpts suggest, Nasrallah sought to direct Muslim anger towards Israel and to politicize the the nature of the protestors’ grievances against the movie, from a purely religious or ideological outcry into a politically charged outrage against Zionism and those who support it.
Nasrallah viewed the movie as even more dangerous than all previous offenses against Islam including Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran burning incidents because it was posted on the internet where it can be much more widely disseminated. The other danger was that Israel could set fire or destroy the Aqsa Mosque as it did in 1969: “if we remain silent, we would convey a wrong message to the Israelis that they can destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and that we are a dormant Ummah.”
While not explicitly blaming the Obama administration for the movie, Nasrallah expressed Muslims’ demand for “the US government to withdraw the video from circulation and refrain from publishing the whole video and punish those who insulted the dignity of the Islamic Ummah,” and to hold those behind it to account.
Nasrallah focused a large part of his speech on exposing the double standards practiced by the US in granting the right to freedom of expression. While the US invokes the right to freedom of speech in the case of a movie which insults 1.4 billion Muslims, it penalizes those who take stands against Zionism or question the holocaust. Such double standards are especially evident in its criminalization of anti-Semitism. Nasrallah was referring here to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 which George Bush signed. The Congressional bill requires the State Department to monitor global anti-Semitism and rate countries annually on their treatment of Jews. Not only does the bill penalize violence against all symbols of Judaism, but anti-Jewish propaganda in media and school curricula is carefully monitored as well. In light of this criminalization of anti-Semitism Nasrallah pondered “why doesn’t it issue a law that criminalizes offenses against other religions? The US elections are approaching, and it is the responsibility of Muslim expatriates in the US to work for the issuance of such a law”.
Nasrallah further called on Islamic and Arab organizations to help prevent a reoccurrence of such an offense by exerting their efforts towards “an international resolution that criminalizes attacks against monotheist religions and Prophets Moses, Abraham, Mohammad and Jesus.”
Another interesting thread of Nasrallah’s speech was his call on the Arab people to move beyond the protests against US embassies and pressure their regimes (read GCC countries and Egypt which either restricted or banned protests). Nasrallah is clearly using the protests as a means of embarrassing “moderate” Arab regimes. Particularly scathing was his observation that “many Arab leaders did not do anything regarding this movie. I swear had the movie been against the personality of one of the Arab kings, they would have been more enraged than they were after the spread of this movie.”
Although Nasrallah didn’t cite any examples, one need only recall how the Saudi monarchy raised hell when the British-American drama-documentary “Death of a Princess” ( a movie about the execution of a Saudi princess) was released. The movie didn’t even mention Saudi Arabia or the princess by name, yet still resulted in the breakdown of relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia. The US managed to escape a similar disruption in relations by banning the movie in many states. Such is the nature of Arab and western hypocrisy that Nasrallah sought to highlight in his speech.
Without belittling Hizbullah’s genuine outrage at the vile movie, the movement is clearly also trying to position itself as the protector of Muslim rights and sanctities and in the process, injecting this Islamic campaign with a virulently anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist political discourse as opposed to a purely anti-Western civilizational one.