Hong Kong's peaceful protests against US video show restraint

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 2:36am

Protests in Hong Kong against a US-made video that has enraged Muslims have been in sharp contrast to those in the Middle East, Pakistan and elsewhere. Here, they have been largely peaceful and orderly. Leaders have stressed the need for calm and reason. Such restraint is a lesson for other Islamic communities.

Muslims have a right to be angry. The 14-minute movie trailer posted on the website YouTube ridicules the Prophet Mohammed, a crime in the eyes of adherents to the faith. Extremists were quick to take advantage, as they have in the past, and religious and political leaders have been slow to condemn and curb the mayhem. Fortunately, the violent demonstrations that claimed dozens of lives, among them four American diplomats in Libya, have fizzled out in most places.

Why they did not persist - as they did for months after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet in 2005 or in 1989 after Iran's fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie - cannot be put down to a single reason. The Arab spring that has toppled several Middle Eastern governments, ushering in democratically elected leaders and intense political competition, surely played a part. In Libya, new Islamist leaders, while initially caught off-guard, have been forthright in condemning violence, prompting tens of thousands to turn out against the militias behind the killings. Such leadership is lacking in Pakistan, where the government has failed to criticise railways minister Ghulem Ahmed Bilour for offering a US$100,000 bounty for the filmmaker's death.

Hong Kong's society is far removed from where the killings have taken place. It respects all religions, which are protected by law. There are sizeable communities of Buddhists, Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims and they have long lived together peacefully. But whatever the circumstances, religious leaders still have a responsibility to preach tolerance.

The thousands who marched to the US consulate on Sunday were from a cross-section of society and the Muslim world, but were united in their disgust of the video. Rally leaders made sure the protest was kept in check and the only mishap was a minor scuffle with police. One organiser, the Pakistan Islamic Welfare Union, made plain that while the video was unacceptable, the violence in Libya and elsewhere was not, calling it deplorable. It is this peace and understanding that Islamic leaders and governments elsewhere have to strive for.