Protesting Peacefully: Jackson Height’s Muslim Community Angered By Youtube Clip

There’s an uneasy silence in the Muslim community of Jackson Heights in reaction to the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” but behind closed doors, discussions in private over dinner have expressed anger and disgust at another attempt to ridicule Islam.

Dressed in a traditional Arab thawb and supporting a beard, Mujahid Islam, 44, is a furniture manufacturer at 72nd street and one of the few who agreed to talk, only hesitantly, as emotions ran high in the community.

“Such videos create misunderstandings between different cultures and societies that follow completely different sets of values,” he explained in Urdu. Islam added: “Similarly, there are different kinds of Muslims everywhere. Some will react peacefully while some will not.”

Islam, a regular worshiper at the Darul Furqan on 72nd street in Jackson Heights, came to the US in 1991 from Gujranwala, Pakistan, however, agrees that violence was no way to present one’s anger against this clip while making passing references to the damage done back home in Pakistan.

“Violence is no way to react to such a video. We are as American as we are Muslims but both should not be confused. Peaceful protests should be held. However, we condemn the violence in other countries such as Pakistan, Egypt and Libya,” explained Islam. But he added that such videos must not be hidden under the garb of free speech.

Released on July 02, 2012 by Producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, the 14-minute trailer has infuriated a majority of the Muslim world that believes it was an apparent attack to ridicule their beliefs.

The death of American ambassador Chris Stephens after the US Consulate came under attack in the port city of Benghazi in Libya speaks volumes about the intensity of the reaction in Muslims majority countries where governments have failed to control the situation.

Only one week ago, a federal minister in Pakistan announced a bounty worth 100 million dollars for the person who would kill the filmmaker. President Asif Zardari has distanced himself from the minister, but has failed to create a bridge between violent protests and its delicate relationship with the United States.

However, condemnation of the movie from various countries including the US might improve the deteriorating circumstances that have lead to many deaths across the globe.

But despite such gestures, Mohammad Ali, a cab driver living in Jackson Heights who came to the US from Banha, Egypt, disagrees vehemently that entire governments were to blame for this mayhem.

“American media needs to understand the Muslim point of view before covering the reaction of the Muslim world. Respecting Prophet Muhammad for Muslims,” he says, “is an article of faith without which a Muslims ceases to be a Muslim.”

Ali, 38, explains that inter-faith understanding can only be created if there is inter-faith dialogue and cultural interactions and the media should play its role to bridge the gap rather than to widen it.

Mohammad Ali, who recently saw the change being brought in Egypt as a case of collective effort, understands that Muslims should not take the law in their own hand but work in a collective manner to get laws made to protect their faith.

“If the US Constitution allows such freedom, it’s good and we respect it,” he said. “But we also reserve the right to take that filmmaker into a court of law and prosecute him for hate speech which is also part of the US Constitution.”

India, the world’s largest democracy, has seen a timid reaction from its largest minority, albeit in comparable terms only.

Mohammad Akhter, a 46-year old Indian businessman from Hyderabad Deccan living in Jackson Heights, believes that only those countries have witnessed peaceful reactions where state control and laws remain stringent.

“Muslims in India are a minority with Hindus forming 85 percent of the population due to which we remain calm with our reactions on such issues,” argues Akhter.

“I don’t understand why a movie like this was made in the first place? I didn’t even watch it because it will cause more anger,” he said. “Everything in this world is done for a purpose, isn’t it? Didn’t the film maker have a purpose? Or did he only want to test our faith?

Such questions have been left unanswered; giving way to more conspiracy theories and further misunderstandings which experts believe is the source of the problem.

More protest rallies have been planned in front of the UN General Assembly session on Friday, amid calls by locals in Jackson Heights to draft legislation in the US Constitution that specifically protects Muslims, Islam and their Holy Book in the future.


About Shehzad Ahmad

Shehzad is a broadcast journalist from Pakistan and has worked in print, online and broadcast outlets back home.