Let’s be careful not to let the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya reinforce negative stereotypes about Muslims and lead to deadly retaliation.
Whether the attack was a response to the film “Innocence of Muslims,” or whether the protest over that film provided the attackers with cover, it cannot become a justification for retribution and attacks on ordinary Muslims here or in Libya.
It must be noted first that the film is a piece of blatant anti-Muslim propaganda. It portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, a pedophile, a bumbling idiot, and a bloodthirsty fanatic and anti-Semite.
Second, the film is not an anomaly. Rather, it joins a slew of similar films produced by a well-funded Islamophobic network. Another such film is the “Third Jihad,” shown for months to NYPD recruits as part of their training, which argues that Muslims in the United States plan to infiltrate and take over the country.
Third, the Islamophobic network has attacked mosques around the country and incited fear and hatred. A mosque in Joplin, Mo., was burned to the ground in August, and there has been a 50 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since 2010, according to the Southern Poverty law Center.
Fourth, the Islamic fundamentalists in Libya have reinforced the stereotype that “Innocence of Muslims” peddles: that Muslims are violent fanatics. They have played into the hands of the far right here.
When we focus on the far right in Libya or Egypt, we erase the almost 2 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom are nonviolent, and who voice their positions peacefully.
Let’s also remember the controversy over the Danish cartoons, when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran caricatures of Islam and the Prophet. A range of editorials, essays and peaceful demonstrations poured forth, but the Western media skipped over these in favor of violent demonstrations by Islamists.
When the Western media make such choices, they obscure the diversity of political thought and action in Muslim-majority countries, and they let an unrepresentative fraction of the population stand for the whole. The equivalent would be to depict Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who called for the burning of Qurans on Sept. 11, 2010, and who has promoted the anti-Muslim film, as representative of all Americans.
“Innocence of Muslims” is a film produced and promoted by the far right in the United States. The violent reaction to it came from the far right in Libya.
At the end of the day, the far right in one country has more in common with the far right in other countries than with any other segment of the world’s population. The vast majority of ordinary people are sensible and nonviolent.
In this election season, let us not allow the far right to set the agenda.
Deepa Kumar is the author of the new book “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.” She is associate professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.