Responding to the Violence in the Middle East – Let’s Make a Movie

Between the busyness of the ministry fall launch, my thoughts have been pre-occupied by the violence in the Middle East in response to the offensive YouTube movie The Innocence of Muslims.

Today, I find myself reading news of the violence in Pakistan that is said to be in response to this film and now it’s almost two since weeks since the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in the American Consulate in Benghazi and I find myself wondering what should/could be down about this.

Every time I see an angry demonstration in the Middle East, I think the following things:
– “Here we go again.”
– “I’m so glad my parents immigrated from Egypt.”
– “May the Lord be with the Coptic and Protestant Christians in Egypt and the Middle East right now.”

Just about every time such a scene occurs we get the following reactions:
– Commentary about how Middle-Eastern Muslims are not as peaceful as some have insisted.
– Contrast of the Middle-Eastern Muslim mentality and the Americanized counterpart.
– Bill Maher and friends reiterating the violence motivated by religion.
– And some of my fellow Christians tend to offer some things I would categorize as “unhelpful.”

Each reaction has a subset or other reactions from all sorts of demographics. Some of my fellow Christians are quick to point out that we are routinely ridiculed and do not respond with violence. We do sometimes respond with buying ridiculous amounts of fast-food chicken but that’s not really the same. Nevertheless I do find myself wondering how should a Christian respond?

– Some will quickly say “By turning the other cheek!” but forget that it wasn’t their cheek that was struck.
– Some will firmly suggest we respond in kind whether it be with violence or rhetoric.
– I’d like to cut to the chase and say with love but I find that to be a bit trite so allow me to unpack that a little.

I am not a pacifist because I find the position to be inadequate (and even in some cases, unjust, particularly to those that cannot defend themselves). Further, I think there is merit to just-war theory though I am sympathetic that not all wars/battles/attacks could be deemed as such. I am not militant because I believe such demonstrations of power should be used as a last resort depending on the situation. I do believe that love conquers all. I believe there is great power in seeking forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking and I find them to be necessary pursuits in instances like this one.

Some will wonder why the need to seek forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking. After all, not all of us are to blame, in fact, very few of us are. And while that is certainly true, I am praying the solutions that are needed are found in what we can represent.

If you know me personally, you know that I appreciate sarcasm, parody, satire, etc. For a split second, I even found humor in the picture of the Arab protester stomping on the American flag that was set on fire all while wearing Nike sneakers with the caption below that read, “You are doing it wrong.” But that was a split second because unfortunately, many are being injured and some brutally killed and this puts it all in perspective.

And though I do enjoy humor, parody and such, I do not enjoy seeing people’s faith being mocked and it does bother me to see any sacred figure insulted sadly, this is the reality in which we live in. To dismiss certain offenses is a cultural value that I’ve been raised with along with most of us in the West. And while it blows my mind that there is significant population of “Arab extremists” that believe that a majority of Americans have desired to create a movie mocking the prophet Mohammed, their perception is their reality and for the sake of good, those who can respond should.

So back to the question, how do we respond?
Well it depends who you are.

If you are the President of the US, you respond with protecting your delegates/ambassadors and their families because you have the responsibility to do so. You also channel your efforts to communicate to the respective governments in cooperation in bringing these evil-doers to justice.  You advocate for the protection of those in harm’s way – like Coptic and Protestant Christians who tend to bear the brunt of these violent episodes.

If you regard yourself a Christ-follower, you pray for those who hate and who are violent. And you look to promote the common good. So with that in context, I offer this possibility that I find interesting.

The alarming realization of this movie is that its such a crappy looking, poorly acted, silly project yet has caused a great deal of bloodshed and turmoil. This should remind us of the power of media. And while a great deal of speculation has risen from the production of it (what was told to the actors, what it was originally titled, what the characters were originally named, the rumors of overdubbing) – it is what it now is.

Therefore, is it possible that those who are actually talented at movie-making and intentionally seeking peace could respond with a project that projects a counter-response?

It would be amazing if it were a project produced by a group of Christians that would say, “Though we are Christians, we desire to love and respect all people, including you.” It would be interesting if it could be a made in an “Open Letter” style.

Perhaps it could make clear that we too find things like, The Innocence of Muslims to be offensive and a piece of garbage. It could clarify that often misconstrued portrayal of Americans to the Middle-Eastern world. We are not all characters of the Jersey Shore, not only are most of us nonviolent but our culture respects different ideologies, including Islam, many examples could be cited. In fact, it’s from this mindset that we express why we are so baffled by the violence. It should seek forgiveness, not because we were involved in the making of such an insulting piece of “media” but for the sake of peacemaking.

I know this may sound a bit naive. I know that most who have been raised their entire lives hating the West will not suddenly change their mind. But I am thinking an attempted long-term, “setting the record straight” approach is an option to consider – especially for the sake of the next generation that is already suspicious of their government, their news outlets and perhaps even their upbringing. I would suggest that open-sourced projects found on places like YouTube can leverage globalization in a virtuous way.

I think we learned that the solutions will not be found in our foreign policy. Even President Obama learned that his election did not significantly alter the perception of Americans in the Middle East.

If a crappy movie trailer could cause so much turmoil, I can’t help but wonder what a well-made documentary “Open-Letter” movie project seeking forgiveness and peacemaking while offering clarity and charged with hope could do.

Any filmmakers out there?


  1. Debispragetti says:

    points well made sir. You may have seen my prior thoughts on this, mostly about ideology and how American freedoms aren’t understood by the rest of the world and while we are allowed to be religious our religions create sub-cultures. Therefore we easily misunderstand what its like to be brought up in a rigidly religious mass culture, so intense that this kind of thing would be permissible and encouraged.
    I am among the millions of Americans that did not know of this movie before the protests, nor have I attempted to see it since. Its a quiet rejection of the movie and its ideas, but isn’t that the American way? You can express your ideas and I don’t have to agree with them, but I do need to be respectful about my disagreement. While I can see why this movie is viewed as vulgar, I’m not certain we can prosecute those who made it for they were acting upon their freedom of speech, or if we can prosecute, should we violate their freedoms because they expressed something found to be vulgar and inciting? I mean, if we want to start punishing people for creating “vulgar movies” there is an entire industry we can take down.
    Tangent aside, you are right, conversation trumps violence and research trumps ignorance of other religions; in the American mind. Others might view us as brainwashed and find it risky to converse. Our open view of religions can be too dangerous for the devout. Our established comfort level of openly discussing ALL topics isn’t shared by the rest of the world and can cause people to panic simply because they aren’t comfortable talking about any and everything under the sun.
    So if we are going to start a conversation, how do we go about it, more so, how would those protesting want us to go about it? Most of all, the question my mind keeps returning to, are these violent reactions turning the Muslim religion and culture into something super sacred that no non-Muslim will even be allowed to speak of this religion in any way? Because I cannot imagine that going over too well in a country that is very accustomed to saying whatever they want, unfiltered and all too often in front of a camera or on social media.

  2. (First know that I posted a reply to this earlier and don’t know what happened to it)

    Right, none of us knew about this “movie” – it just wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
    Can we punish the making of such things without infringing on Constitutional rights? I think we can actually – we do categorize things we deem as “hate speech.” Does this apply here? Maybe, maybe not.

    It will be interesting to see what happens and if any precedents are set as a result.

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