The evangelical Arabic satellite station, al-Haya (Life TV), regularly takes the Muslim prophet to task, especially on two weekly programs: Hiwar al-Haq (Truth Talk), hosted by Coptic priest Fr. Zakaria Botros, and Su’al Jari’ (Daring Question), hosted by ex-Muslim Rashid. Both shows revolve around asking uncomfortable questions about Islam and its founder in an effort to prompt Muslims to reconsider the legitimacy of their faith. (It is on these shows that the aforementioned, unflattering assertions of Muhammad originate; see here and here for English summaries.)
These broadcasts are viewed by millions of Arabic-speaking Muslims around the world. That the satellite station strikes a Muslim nerve is evinced by the fact that it is formally banned in several Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, and is regularly condemned by Islam’s demagogues on mainstream Arabic media, including al Jazeera.
When the programs first began airing, they certainly caused uproar in the Muslim world.
Then, Muslims regularly called in cursing the hosts, promising them death and destruction (both here and in the hereafter). Al-Qaeda reportedly put a $60 million bounty on Fr. Zakaria’s head; and the priest is on CAIR’s radar. (See the father explain his mission in this rare English interview.)
But over time, the uproar has...begun to subside:
Needless to say, Life TV’s hosts — especially the flamboyant Fr. Zakaria — are hated by Muslims around the world. But to the careful observer, the outrage appears to be subsiding, ostensibly replaced by apathy — that is, the default strategy when threats and displays of indignation fail. Most callers are now Muslim converts to Christianity, who encourage and thank Fr. Zakaria and Rashid (often in tears). Conversely, the diminishing angry callers usually spew a barrage of insults, culminating with a “may-you-burn-in-hell,” and quickly — almost as if ashamed of their childish behavior — hang up.
This of course leads to the obvious question:
Now, back to our original observation: how can Life TV get away with outlandish weekly disparagements concerning Muhammad, whereas Western cartoons spark widespread outrage? Considering that millions of more Muslims watch Life TV than have ever heard of South Park makes the question doubly puzzling.
The answer is simple
Far from being cowed by the daily death threats, however, Life TV and its unrepentant hosts have responded by upping the ante and providing even more anecdotes discrediting Muhammad. Rashid recently examined the theological implications of Muhammad’s hatred for the gecko lizard, which the prophet accused of being “an infidel and enemy of the believers.” Muslims who kill it in the first strike receive 100 “heavenly-points,” whereas those who kill it in two strikes receive only 70. More graphically, Fr. Zakaria recently examined canonical hadiths (authenticated Muslim accounts) that record Islam’s first believers eating Muhammad’s feces, marinating food in his sweat, drinking the water he gargled and spit out, and smearing his phlegm all over their faces — all to his approval.
To a degree, by perpetuating a knee-jerk response to the slightest hint of Muslim displeasure, the West has trained the Arab street to expect their riots to work:
By constantly buckling in to the slightest Muslim displeasure — whether by altering films, removing museum art, or canceling book launches — the West has perpetuated a vicious cycle wherein Muslim sensitivities are ever heightened and outraged at the slightest slight, and Western freedoms of expression are correspondingly diminished and trampled upon. What’s worse, such self-imposed censorship falls right into the hands of homegrown Islamists actively working to subvert Western civilization from within.
Conversely, by holding fast to onetime Western principles of free speech and open dialogue, Life TV has conditioned its Muslim viewers to accept that exposure and criticism of their prophet is here to stay. As Fr. Zakaria often points out, every religious figure is open to criticism: so why should Muhammad be sacrosanct? (Indeed, Comedy Central, which was quick to acquiesce to Muslim demands to censor South Park, is “brave” enough to run an entire cartoon series mocking Jesus.)Ibrahim makes the point that in the case of Life TV, the issues being raised about Mohammed are based directly on the sources, leaving angry Muslims little wiggle room--as opposed to the stuff that South Park presents. He suggests that the material appearing on cartoons like South Park should be less of an issue to Muslims than the more offensive material Life TV reveals.
I think that point is lost on Muslims for now, but the idea of Free Speech does need to be hammered home.
Technorati Tag: Mohammed and Islam and Free Speech.