Bismiallahi rahmani raheem,
“Why don’t Muslims protest peacefully?” “Oh my God! See how violent Muslims are!” these are some frequently heard remarks in the backdrop of recent events. If you happen to be a Muslim living in a multicultural society, the chances are you have heard them sometime or other.
However when we talk about violent protests we tend to forget some key issues. It’s well known discussing without proper understanding of a given situation is like trying to find our way in pitch-darkness. We may feel to be moving on but in what direction is unknown and quite likely may bring harm to us. Therefore it’s always important to understand a situation properly before we form our opinions or take remedial actions, lest we grope in darkness.
Firstly, whoever likes it or not the facts tell us, an overwhelming majority of Muslim protests are peaceful. Of around one million protests held worldwide for the Danish Cartoons only a few hundred were violent. Still fewer, a dozen or so were deadly or destructive and those too were in troubled places like Lebanon, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. (The locations themselves speak for the settings of those protests.) Besides we humans have a tendency to seek the exceptional and ignore the common, which in this case happened to be a handful of violent, destructive protest.
Then there’s another entirely different take to the whole matter, that of the long-term historical perspective. Mr. Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute says, “Some commentators have complained about Muslim sensibilities in this regard [i.e. Popes speech about Jihad]. But in my view, this sensitivity is a feature of post colonialism. Muslims were colonized by Western powers, often for centuries, and all that period they were told that their religion was inferior and barbaric. They are independent now, though often they have gained independence only a couple of generations (less if you consider neocolonialism). As independent, they are finally liberated to protest when Westerners put them down.
”There is an analogy to African-Americans, who suffered hundreds of years of slavery and then a century of Jim Crow. They are understandably sensitive about white people putting them down, and every time one uses the “n” word, you can expect a strong reaction. In the remarks the pope quoted about Muhammad, he essentially did the equivalent of using the “n” word for Muslims. It is no mystery that people are protesting.”
Finally there are many ‘Why’s remaining to be answered. Svend White’s post ‘Why Muslims don’t protest peacefully like civilized Westerners?’ covers a range of overlooked issues behind the violence that many associate with Muslim protests. For lack of space I will not repeat his points here so please check that post, it gives a good insight in point format.
All in all the notion of violent Muslim protests is a gross exaggeration of reality and will only serve to radicalize the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims which is exactly what extremist in both Muslim and non-Muslim sides desire. Further for a number of reasons violent protests are counter-productive for Muslims in this world and the hereafter. Therefore it’s our responsibility to remove the situations that tend to favour violent protests. There are many things that can be done but I believe the best way forward is to study and apply the techniques used by our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he was facing similar or even more daunting situations.