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Focusing On The Good And Beautiful

I’m deeply saddened to learn of this week’s attacks on American Embassies in Egypt and Libya, and the ongoing unrest and violent protests in several Middle Eastern countries, ostensibly in reaction to an insulting portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings upon him.

Western media has (per usual) done a lackluster job of both explaining the reasons for the outrage, as well as sharing the condemnation of these attacks by mainstream Islamic leaders in the United States and around the world.

Benghazi LoveWhen a Google search on the phrase “Islamic Response to Bombing in Libya” returns Ann Coulter’s homepage and news coverage of Terry Jones’ support of the offensive film, and completely overlooks this news article, or this article, or this radio report, or this editorial, all featuring condemnations of the attacks from Islamic leaders around the United States, or this condemnation of the attacks by Tunisia’s ruling political party, or this condemnation by Libyan leaders, or this coverage of the response by Muslim scholars from Egypt to Indonesia, or this demonstration in Libya apologizing for the attacks, or this excellent analysis of the facts surrounding film and worldwide response, it’s hard not to scream conspiracy.

However, even if you, like me, are dedicated enough to dig around for a more complete look at the story, you may notice there are a few crucial points that news reporters and editorial writers have almost universally failed to touch upon.

It’s true that any visual portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings upon him, are inherently offensive to believing Muslims, even when they are not coupled with insult.

However, although aniconism is a cornerstone of Islamic faith, so is tolerance: because there is no vicarious sin or salvation in Islam, most Muslims encourage what they believe to be right behavior but ultimately do not intervene (in cases of victimless crime). Each person will be asked about their own poor choices and rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and no one individual will stand to accounting for the actions of another. For this reason, and contrary to Western beliefs about the religion, tolerance has been at the core of Islamic society since the beginning.

In answer to the many pointed complaints I have heard from people critical of Islam, that Muslim religious and political leaders have not been vocal enough in their condemnation of the recent attacks, I point not only to an obvious media bias (as demonstrated above), but to a major cultural difference in the approach to wrongdoing between Western and Islamic society.

Western society invests a tremendous amount of intellectual capital into pointing out mistakes, analyzing mistakes, and planning how to correct mistakes. By contrast, the highest course of action in Islam is to avoid drawing attention to what is wrong, and to steer people towards that which is right. Muslims are taught to “enjoin what is good, and turn away from the foolish” (Qur’an 7:199) and to “repel the bad with something better” (Qur’an 41:34).

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for the attacks, I also believe it is disingenuous to paint the outrage in the Muslim world as purely an overreaction of religious sensitivity. When a simple issue such as an offensive cartoon or movie portrayal makes people angry enough to kill, it is more likely a case of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Decades of injustice have not been righted by one Arab spring. Although great strides have been made, there are still millions of people living under the intense pressure of poverty, oppression, and violence, at levels unknown to the average Western observer.

Of course this does not excuse the killing of innocents. In His description of whom He loves, Allah includes “those who control their rage and pardon other people” (Qur’an 3:134). But if it happens occasionally that a spark hits a tinderbox, it’s far too simplistic an analysis to paint the event as an issue of free speech and religious sensitivity.

The far more compelling story, in my eyes, is not the statistically rare occurrence of Islamic terrorism, but the surprising number of people who are living in the tinderbox of poverty and oppression, and still choose to greet each day with courage, grace and love – people who, in focusing on the good and beautiful, live the true example of the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings upon him, who was sent “as a mercy to all the worlds” (Qur’an 21:107).

Image Credit: Mohamed F. Jaauoda

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Update 12/03/2012
This morning Upworthy delivered this most awesome follow up video right to my inbox.

You should definitely watch as Tom Ricks throws down some truth on Fox News: