Bait and Switch
BAIT AND SWITCH
rld of page-click journalism, anger sells. In the words of MIT Media Studies professor Henry Jenkins: “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” And nothing spreads like anger. While your friends at UmmahPulse are happily advertisement-free, most of the blogosphere represents the monetization of the page-view – roughly 1p per pageview. Ever get spooked by how spot-on those google adverts are? You know, the ones that read your email and then decide which ads you would be most interested in, making them pop up almost telepathically in the margin?
Although we like to think that we are all incredibly spontaneous and thoughtful in our decisions and choices, the mundane reality is that we are creatures of habit. Learn someone’s habits and you can anticipate their needs in advance. Know how someone reacts and what makes them angry, and you’ve got a formula for driving up traffic to your website or story. Who had heard of Salman Rushdie before the Satanic Verses? More importantly, if you already know how someone is going to react to a certain stimulus, you can ready-make solutions which will be appealing, but ultimately to your own benefit, not to the benefit of the person whom you have “helped” by offering a pre-packaged solution.
By now, Muslim reactions to blasphemous material could probably be sold as a school kit: any half-wit seems to be able to get Muslims to start rioting and burning cars with a low-budget film orcartoon.
Muslims need to understand that while feelings of anger and indignation over the mocking of Islam and Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) are natural – as evidenced by the Sahabah themselves reacting when the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) was insulted in their presence – there is a clear pattern to the Prophet’s (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) own responses to such slights as well as his instructions to his companions. Specifically, he (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) taught that tolerance and forgiveness are the means through which hearts are softened and the opportunity arises to cure the antipathy of others. More importantly, however, our reactions and behaviours have been carefully studied through many well-measured provocations, so that at every level of Muslim society, our reactions can be stimulated andpredicted with great accuracy.
Those with an anti-Muslim or anti-Islam agenda (“Islamophobes” or “Islamohaters”) can take advantage of this latter fact to bait Muslims into violent anger, not only bolstering their own arguments that Muslims are irreconcilably angry and intransigent towards the West, but also by then baiting riled-up Muslims into doing that which is against their own long-term self interest.
By now, you’ve probably already heard all the gory details, so I will just summarize:
Act I: Otherwise obscure and unknown writer/publisher/film producer releases book/cartoon/movie designed to push Muslim buttons – various caricatures depicting the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) engaging in acts of violence, sexual deviancy or some combination thereof.
Act II: After a variable delay (five months in the case of the now infamous Danish cartoons), when someone brings said obscure offensive material to the attention of Muslims, pandemonium ensues. Various political parties within the Muslim world piggyback onto genuine Muslim feelings of anger and frustration, organizing large protests (let’s face it, Tahreer Square notwithstanding, most Pakistani/Libyan/Yemeni protesters don’t self-organize using Twitter and Facebook).
Act III: Protests turn violent. No clear answer on who catalyzes protests largely intended to be peaceful into becoming full-scale riots. Death and destruction (of mostly Muslim life and property) ensues. Often non-Muslim/deranged/disaffected assailants may attempt to attack the authors of the insult.
Act IV: Various Islamophobic commentators crow over how they were right, that all Muslims are just violent, anti-free speech, freedom haters (not to mention closet terrorists).
Act V: Further restrictions and/or attacks on Muslim rights and freedoms are justified by citing the inherently unpredictable/violent/hateful nature of Muslims – after all, “they hate us because we are free – never mind that we insult them while propping up vicious dictators to rule over them in order to strip them of their natural resources at bargain-basement prices…”
Muslim Baiting: Yesterday’s News or the Next Big Thing?
As Muslims, we need to understand that the motive to insult and denigrate the symbols of Islam goes well beyond the need to express simple hatred. Dictionary.Com descibes Race Baiting as “an act of using racially derisive language, actions, or other forms of communication to anger, intimidate or incite a person or groups of people, or to make those persons behave in ways that are inimical to their personal or group interests.”
It doesn’t take a genius to make the connection between race baiting and Muslim baiting (unfortunately UmmahPulse cannot claim credit for coining this phrase). It becomes apparent that there is a specific motive which underlies the insulting of Muslims – to goad Muslims into reacting in ways that can then be used against us.
There is, of course, a further wrinkle. Running close behind race baiting is the “bait and switch” manoeuvre. Wikipedia describes the bait and switch as “a form of fraud, most commonly used in retail sales but also applicable to other contexts. First, customers are ‘baited’ by advertising of a product or service at a low price; second, the customers discover that the advertised product is not available and are ‘switched’ to a more expensive product. The goal of the bait and switch is to persuade buyers to purchase the substitute product in order to avoid the disappointment of not having got the bait, or as a way to recover sunk costs expended to try to obtain the bait. It suggests that the seller will not show the original product or service advertised but instead will demonstrate a more expensive product or a similar product with a higher margin.
Now, suppose you’ve burned some overturned cars and/or spent your entire Sunday afternoon holding placards outside a shuttered embassy without any results. What to do now? Well, we could perhaps ask that some laws be passed to prevent this from happening again, as well as engage in dialogue that would help to emphasize the universality of religious ideals. And therein lies the switch.
Before going any further, it is important to realize that most European countries already have laws in force which can be used to prosecute purveyors of religiously demeaning materials, even if the intent is not to incite hatred or violence:
§ 130 Public Incitement (1985, Revised 1992, 2002, 2005)
(1) Whoever, in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace:
- incites hatred against segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
- assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population,
shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to five years.
§ 189 Disparagement of the Memory of Deceased Persons (1985, amendments of 1992)
Whoever disparages the memory of a deceased person shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine.
He who in public, either verbally or in writing or image, deliberately offends a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their hetero- or homosexual orientation or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine of the third category.
The European Union:
European Union Framework Decision for Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2007), which establishes that the following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:
Publicly inciting to violence or hatred, even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
While these laws were originally drafted to prosecute Holocaust denial, they very clearly can also be applied to malicious works directed against Islam. So one would be tempted to wonder why the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Heads of Delegation of the Member States of the Organization of Islamic Conference recently released a statement demanding governments to “take all appropriate measures including necessary legislation against these acts that lead to incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence against persons based on their religion… as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue at the local, national and international levels.”
First of all, the laws already exist and, more importantly, “interfaith dialogue” as we know it has been used effectively in recent times as a means to instil doubt among Muslims by way of undermining the unique qualities of Islamic aqeedah. Instead of acknowledging and respecting the clear differences between Islam and the beliefs of the other Abrahamic faiths, interfaith dialogue always seems to conclude with a bland statement implying that we’re all the same, and that all religions are essentially subordinate to a greater ethical narrative which supersedes any particular religion.
And so the switch is complete. On the one hand, new (unnecessary) laws would be drafted whose reciprocal implementation would be demanded in Muslim countries. These laws would restrict Islamic activity in the West while paradoxically protecting missionary work in the Muslim world. Simultaneously, Muslims would be engaged in further rounds of linguistic acrobatics which result in the average lay-Muslim believing that it doesn’t really matter which religion you follow as long as you’re a good person – exactly the argument used by Christian missionaries doling out cash, healthcare and free education throughout the Muslim world. It’s win-win (or lose-lose, depending on your perspective). Bait and switch indeed. Not a bad return on some cartoons and a low budget film production. We just need to connect the dots.
One final question: “So what should Muslims do?” First, do as the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) did after he was rejected and pelted with stones in Taif – turn to Allah. At a time when the whole world seemed to have turned against him, Muhammad (sallalaahu alaihi wasallam) turned to his Lord and betook himself to prayer. The following touching words are still preserved as those through which his oppressed soul gave vent to its distress. He was weary and wounded but confident of the help of his Lord:
“O Allâh! To You alone I make complaint of my helplessness, the paucity of my resources and my insignificance before mankind. You are the most Merciful of the mercifuls. You are the Lord of the helpless and the weak, O Lord of mine! Into whose hands would You abandon me: into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who would sullenly frown at me, or to the enemy who has been given control over my affairs? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about.
“I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which illuminates the heavens and dispels darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world as well as in the Hereafter. May it never be that I should incur Your wrath, or that You should be wrathful to me. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone.”
The believer must always remember that if he wishes to complain about any affair, he should turn first and foremost to the One who is the Controller of All Affairs. If he feels that he has been humiliated by these insults, which indeed he should, then he must remember that all honour and nobility originates not in the words and expressions of humankind, but with Allah. If he still feels that some action must be taken, he must exercise extreme caution because, more likely than not, he is entering a trap which will only be sprung by his own actions.
عن أبي هريرة عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا يلدغ المؤمن من جحر واحد مرتين – رواه البخاري
Abu Hurairah (r) reported that the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wassalam) said: “A Believer is not stung from the same hole twice.” (Bukhari)