An open letter to Peter FitzSimons

Dear Mr. FitzSimons,

I read your open letter today and thought it warranted a response. Let me begin by saying I find any violence to be abhorrent, and I do not endorse it, or the actions of some of the protesters here and abroad. That said, I take issue with the media coverage of the issue and in particular, your own letter.

To start with, your blithe dismissal of the root issue helps no one. The role of the media should be to inform and educate, too often these days it works to inflame and sensationalise.

“Because on the other side of the Pacific, somewhere in California, some loser has thrown together some kind of amateur internet video insulting your particular god…”

First of all, the Prophet Muhammed is not a god. It’s all in the title, he’s a Prophet of Islam and he is revered within the religion. Secondly, that the video insults Islam is not the cause of the outrage across the Muslim world. It’s that it depicts the Prophet, something which is strictly forbidden within Islam. Whether the depiction is favourable or unfavourable actually doesn’t matter, you’re likely to get the same level of outrage. I don’t understand why this point is so often ignored, with journalists and media types instead saying that Muslims are reacting to people questioning their beliefs, which simply isn’t the same thing.

Does this excuse the frankly unbelievable response? No. Should you, no matter the issue, always seek to be factually correct and to craft a balanced response that doesn’t just denigrate the people involved? Yes. Always. At least try and inform your readers of the real reason these people were upset.

“Because on the other side of the Pacific, somewhere in California, some loser has thrown together some kind of amateur internet video insulting your particular god, you think it justifiable to:

-Take over the Sydney CBD.”

I really take issue with your tone here. It’s reminiscent of the ugliness often spouted by the likes of Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman and Pauline Hanson. You make it sound like an invasion, and a hostile one at that, instead of a peaceful protest march that later erupted into violence. Whether you intended it or not, that line also has overtones of hostility towards Muslims and in a broader sense, immigration and multiculturalism. That’s the phrase often used in the rhetoric of right-wing conservatives decrying immigration, multiculturalism and even asylum seekers, they’re “taking over”. The implication being they don’t belong.

You go on to say that in this country ,”It is NOT acceptable to do that here”.

I disagree. I believe we have freedom of speech in this country and the freedom to protest, regardless of the issue or its location. I think if people are outraged the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn’t taken more seriously and want to march for it, I say good on them. I’ll laugh from the sidelines but I won’t say they don’t have the right to do it.¬†They don’t have the right to destroy property or to be wilfully violent and I absolutely agree with you that the end result was stupid and harmful, especially in regards to the image of Muslims everywhere.

Now, you might ask yourself why I’m writing to you. Yours was not the most offensive response, not by half, and you’re certainly not on par with those individuals I mentioned earlier, so why you?

It’s precisely because yours was not a wildly offensive response, because yours is a moderate voice (unless I’m mistaken?) and it’s to the moderate voices I look to for reason, logic and accuracy. I wouldn’t bother writing to conservatives like Bolt or Akerman because they’re beyond help of any kind. I often wonder why people with a national voice don’t think harder about the influence they have, the sheer range of opinions they’re likely to affect, and why they don’t take just that extra five minutes to read what they’ve written and ask themselves whether it’s a fair and reasonable response. Maybe they do, I don’t know. Maybe they don’t. It may also be that this is a response fuelled more by the general coverage of the protests thus far and has been unfairly targeted at you, and if that’s the case, I apologise.

I’m just a little sick and tired of reading articles dismissing outright, or heaping scorn on, the beliefs of these people. For Muslims, it can be a matter of life and death in terms of seriousness. I don’t understand it, personally, I don’t think I ever will but I respect the fact that it’s something they care deeply about and if I’m talking about it, I’d try to at least be as accurate as possible in outlining the problem and refrain from being insultingly condescending. I could wish those within the protest, the leaders in particular, that were clearly and demonstrably trying to keep things peaceful and calm were being given as much credence as the angry fringe that took over – the same fringe that hijacks the vast majority of protests around the world, no matter the colour, creed, or issue being protested.

But then, I might as well wish for a media that was unfailingly clear, insightful, accurate and informative whilst upholding some kind of universal editorial standard for journalism to distinguish the news from bloated opinion. That’ll be the day.

I hope this finds you in good health.

Regards,

Omar.

P.S – You kind of look like a pirate. I’ve always wanted to say that…

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  1. Sick of Islam rubbish We do not have freedom of speech or protest in australia, go to america if you want that. His piece was also an OPINION piece, not a NEWS piece. It appears the truth of his OPINION has hurt you, which has in turn made me happy.

    September 17, 2012 at 4:04 am · Reply
  2. 's Avatar
    Omar We don't have freedom of speech or protest here? That's news to me. Also, it's an opinion piece on the news, reporting on actual events, and as such is as bound by the necessity for truth and accuracy. It should also be bound by reason and logic, and since it's aimed specifically at a group of people, I stand by saying it should try not to belittle and demean that group, at least if there is any genuine attempt on behalf of the author to send a message. I made sure to address my comments to "journalists and media types" as well as referring to the media as a whole, precisely because the line between journalist and miscellaneous media individual has blurred to an almost unrecognisable point. If you're writing a piece on the news, presented on the front page of a national newspaper, right there alongside "breaking news" and headline news, your article should at the very least be accurate and be held to the same standard as the material and the brand it's presented by. As for your last, baffling comment, I was not hurt by his opinion. I was disappointed by the lack of truth as well as the racist overtones in the letter. Not sure why hearing someone was hurt would make you happy but to each their own. Have a good one. :)
    September 17, 2012 at 4:54 am · Reply
  3. Troy Omar, this is not my article, however I believe it offers a counterbalance to your own. WHERE do I start? Perhaps with the viral image that will come to define this episode: a child who'd be three or four hoisting a sign triumphantly above his head blaring ''Behead all those who insult the Prophet'' while a woman, presumably his mother, thinks this is cute enough to capture on her smartphone. Alternatively, I could begin with the observation that the trailer for the anti-Islamic film that ostensibly started this all, Innocence of Muslims, is now a blockbuster, with YouTube hits in the millions thanks largely to the protesters around the world who think nobody should see it. This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow, somewhere, anywhere.  No. Let's start with the fact that so few of the protesters who descended on Sydney's CBD this weekend seem actually to have seen the film that so gravely offends them. When asked by journalists, they bluntly admit this, one even adding that she refuses to watch something so offensive. It's almost impressive how cyclical this stupidity is. But it's also instructive. In fact, this is the key to making sense of something so gobsmackingly senseless. The protesters - at least the ones quoted in news reports - know nothing except how offended they are. That, you see, is all that matters. This isn't about a film. It's about an excuse. We know because we've seen it all before, like when Pakistani protesters vandalised American fast food outlets and burnt effigies of President George W. Bush in response to the Danish cartoons. We know because so much of the weekend's ranting was nakedly gratuitous: ''Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell''. Pardon? Which dead? Weren't we talking about a movie? This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow, somewhere, anywhere. There's nothing strategic or calculated about this. It doesn't matter that they are the film's most effective publicists. It doesn't matter that they protest using offensive slogans and signs, while protesting against people's right to offend. It doesn't matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point. It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It's not instrumental. It doesn't achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless. Accordingly, it is not an option to leave an insult unanswered because that is a sign of weakness, rather than transcendence. The irony is that it grants an extraordinary level of power to those doing the offending. It puts them constantly at the centre of your world. That's why, when Gallup polled 35 Muslim majority countries, it found that of all the gripes the Muslim world has against the West, among the most pervasive is the West's ''disrespect for Islam''. And it is this disrespect that is the overarching grievance that subsumes others. Everything, global and local, can be thrown into this vortex: Swiss minaret bans, French niqab bans, military invasions, drone strikes, racist stereotyping, anti-immigrant politics, and yes, even films so ridiculously bad that, left to their own devices, they would simply lampoon themselves. This is what gives Innocence of Muslims meaning: not its content, but its context. It's a symbol of contempt, which is why protests against it so quickly turn into an orgy of anti-Americanism. So, ''Obama, Obama, we love Osama'' they scream, mainly because it's the most offensive rhyme they can muster. Osama, too, is a symbol; the most repugnant one in their arsenal. How better to prove you exist than to say something outrageous? That the Obama administration immediately condemned the film in the strongest terms doesn't register. Nor that the White House took the extraordinary (and ultimately unsuccessful) step of asking Google to pull the video. This is invisible to an audience of humiliated souls waiting desperately to be offended and conflate every grievance. Indeed, they need the offence. It gives them the chance to assert themselves so they can feel whole, righteous even. It's a shortcut to self-worth. The trouble is that in our digital world, there is always something to oblige. Anyone can Google their prejudices, and there is always enraging news to share with others. Entire online communities gather around the sharing of offensive material and subsequent communal venting. Soon you have a subculture: a sub-community whose very cohesion is based almost exclusively on shared grievance. Then you have an identity that has nothing to say about itself; an identity that holds an entirely impoverished position: that to be defiantly angry is to be. Frankly, Muslims should find that prospect nothing short of catastrophic. It renders Islamic identity entirely hollow. All pride, all opposition, no substance. ''Like the Incredible Hulk,'' observes Abdal Hakim Murad, a prominent British Islamic scholar, ''ineffectual until provoked.'' Sometimes you need a scandal to demonstrate an underlying disease. And that's the good news here. The vast bulk of Saturday's protesters were peaceful, and Muslim community organisations are lining up to condemn the outbreak of violence. But now a more serious conversation is necessary. One that's not about how we should be speaking out to defend our prophet and ourselves. One that's more about whether we can speak about anything else.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:50 am · Reply
  4. 's Avatar
    Omar Hey Troy, in the interests of recognising authorship, I'll put the link to that article by Waleed Aly here. There's a lot to like about it and I agree in large part with it. There's plenty to find deplorable about the protests and the uprisings around the world, but reporting it should come with context and accuracy. I don't think this article is a counterpoint to my own but rather supplements it. Thanks for commenting.
    September 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm · Reply

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