'The West should fear the reactions'

A Sunni Imam and a participant in Lebanon's Islamic-Christian Dialogue, Bassam Tarraf is a firm believer in the peaceful coexistence of religions. Yet he is afraid that the reactions to Fitna might still get violent.
In 2006, angry Muslims set fire to the Danish consulate in Beirut. © AFP

MENASSAT: Have you seen Fitna and what do you think of it?

"Yes, I have seen Fitna. Like with the cartoons this is obviously closely linked to politics. No one can convince me that this is just a child's hobby. This was all planned a long time ago, a project to draw the attention of the Muslims away from other matters. All that the film maker wishes is to incite Muslims [to violence,] and to aggravate the differences between Europe and the Muslims.

"However, film such as these have become a normal thing nowadays. Just look at the Internet; it is full of defamation and insults. This is one of the results of the opening up of the media today. In my opinion, this is not freedom of expression, it's just ignorance. Islam is not an extinct civilization. Muslims are everywhere today, and someone is trying to get at them through their very personal beliefs, and the most precious person to their hearts. This is not just any personality we are talking about; the Prophet is sacred."

MENASSAT: Are you afraid of a repetition of the violent street protests in Lebanon in 2006 after the publication of the Danish cartoons?

IMAM BASSAM TARRAF: "Of course. People don’t have one and unique intellectual level. Emotions might lead them to lose control. There will be a reaction as a result of their resentment. They only master one way to express their discontent. Intellectuals have other ways, more civilized ones."

MENASSAT: Theologically speaking, is there anything actually blasphemous in Fitna, other than showing the Danish cartoon again?

IMAM BASSAM TARRAF: "Fitna is only an extension of the same idea that was behind the cartoons. It’s a way of deforming the image of Islam and the image of the prophet. There is an idea going around the film that Islam is a murderous and violent religion.

"Islam was a huge political power until 1900, and at that time no one stood against it. Today, Islam is not a political authority, governing the land as the film is trying to say. Because if that were true, you wouldn’t be seeing this what we call the 'recognition of the other.'

"As Muslims, we reject the concept of killing because if we kill, this would only discredit our religion. The Prophet is seen in the movie as a womanizer. This is abuse.

"The way the movie takes verses from the Quran out of their context is another form of abuse.
We all agree, especially in the media field, that if we take a sentence out of its context, this can change the whole meaning of it. This is what happened in Fitna. And this we call a major violation."

MENASSAT: Don't you think Fitna is a reaction to extremist Islam, the Islam of Osama bin Laden, rather than Islam as a whole?

IMAM BASSAM TARRAF: "Why do we always have to judge the whole nation because of the actions of one man? Have we ever adopted any of Bin Laden’s actions or believes? Those who made Bin Laden, are accusing us today of extremism. But we have repudiated him. There are imams who preach peace in the mosques every single day, who ask for piety and coexistence. The Islamic religion calls for love. Why not portray them? Why is it always the killings that have to be shown? This is why I said that there is a political dimension and a whole conspiracy behind all what is happening today."

MENASSAT: Did you talk about Fitna yourself during today's Friday prayer? What is being said among the believers?

IMAM BASSAM TARRAF: "The Organization of the Islamic Conference brought up the subject a while ago, saying that new developments would follow the publication of the cartoons. Yes, I have talked about Fitna today. I have tried to explain that this is an individual action. In other words, I have tried to extinguish the fire. We respect and appreciate the Dutch government's position when they declared that 'Wilders is not The Netherlands.' This is what I have tried to explain."

MENASSAT: Egypt's Grand Mufti has warned of the consequences of Fitna. Do you agree with him?

IMAM BASSAM TARRAF: "The West should fear the reactions. In Europe, if someone insulted your mother or father, it is not a big deal since the bonds are not strong enough. However, we Arabs, have different values. We uphold the family. Imagine now that someone is insulting your 'beloved,' as we call the Prophet. How would you react?

"Of course, there will be reactions. Some will be done by intellectuals such as demonstrations, rallies, a boycott. And if no serious action is taken as a result of these peaceful actions, I think the matter would evolve into something bigger. Do you think Muslims will allow Wilders to insult the Prophet, and just stand still, doing nothing? A lot of reactions are possible and certain. Some will certainly cause The Netherlands a lot of problems."