Cool heads

Sunni hardline preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir speaks during a protest against an anti-Islam movie, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Ahmad Omar)

The spontaneous protests that have erupted in response to the recent film and cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad may be understandable, but the reality is they have been destructive and counter-productive.

The burning of a KFC outlet in Lebanon, for example, hurts the Lebanese who run and work for it first and foremost, and the intended targets not at all.

However understandable the anger is, many of the actions can simply not be condoned. Any protest that causes material or human cost will be of no help to whatever cause it is supporting.

The heartfelt anger should now be directed to a more productive stage, and the issue should be pursued in the courts instead of being expressed on the streets.

Laws are available in Europe and the U.S. to this end. There have been many examples of the active Israeli lobby being able to enact laws against anti-Semitism.

Arab states are capable of recruiting the best lawyers and intellectual minds and to create the most effective case right in the heart of where the pain has come from.

Now that the most extreme reaction in the Arab world has died down it is possible to see that tackling the issue from a legislative standpoint would be more valuable.

Such a policy would be more likely to garner cross-cultural and cross-religious support, as evidenced by the statement from Christian Lebanese MP Butros Harb this week in which the MP, also a lawyer, said he would be ready to join with other lawyers to sue the makers of the amateur film which insulted Prophet Mohammad. Such actions would take the protests to a new level, now that cool heads have begun to make sense of the situation.

In the Arab world there are hundreds of talented minds who understand how the law works in the West; it’s not an impenetrable enigma. They also know from history the law is supreme and justice can be served through it.

The effect of seeking legal recourse would be much greater than any rally on the street, a tactic which has so far managed to support the view, poorly informed though it is, that such a response is representative of either the Arab or Muslim world.

Angry demonstrations and the burning of embassies and businesses will not get protesters what they want. Rather they are likely to reduce sympathy for their cause. They are no way to achieve justice.

Western states are committed to supporting freedom of religion and can enact laws to do so, but are unlikely to push for laws on their own initiative. Instead they will respond to cool, logical arguments and fervent lobbying.

Such a path may be more difficult than the immediate, emotionally driven reaction the world has seen in recent days but ultimately it is the only method for those protesting to get what they desire.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 22, 2012, on page 7.




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