Sunday, February 05, 2006

Non-violent protests

Muslims must learn to calibrate their protests. The violent nature of some protests - by some extreme muslims - brings disrepute to the whole community. Even genuine causes can get tainted because of those actions.

Over the Prophet Muhammad Cartoon Controversy, there has been a call to boycott goods from Denmark. Boycotting of goods is a peaceful way to protest. Yet - there has been at least couple of instances in which embassies of scandanavian countries have been attacked. This is a disgrace.

Boycotting of goods has been a form of protest practised all over the world - including the West. Ralph Nader - former US Presidential candidate - has been an advocate of this method of protest over many issues in the past. The US has sometimes imposed on its own or through the agency of UN economic sanctions on many countries.

The blame for the incident is not originally with the Danish government. True - the Danish PM was insensitive, but much of Europe is like that. The rhetoric on Freedom of Speech is high and religion gets scant respect - any religion in fact. Boycotting in a blanket manner all goods from Denmark doesn't look reasonable. It is actually select media outlets in Europe and elsewhere that is showing lack of understanding and the fact is most of them are not under government control. So what to do?

Media survives on advertisements. A planned - if necessary sustained - boycott of goods that advertise on the offending media outlets is more targetted and reasonable way to react. This will bring back the focus on the issue. Get a list of media outlets that indulge in provocative activities, prepare a list of companies that advertise in those media and organise boycott of those goods. Internet is available to give wide publicity to such a campaign. The same model can be extended in case of countries that indulge in violations of principles and act in an illegal/immoral/autocratic/imperialistic manner. Big business - which would see their bottomline suffer - will make the organisations see reason.

One must not forget in all this: Freedom of Speech is very important. We cannot react in a way that throttles that freedom. We must also not forget violence is ugly and counter-productive. It hurts innocents in most cases and serves as a bad model for the younger generation to follow. And boycotts should not be organised on every other trivial issue. If used carefully and sparingly, it is a useful way to bring changes. The world is more integrated today than ever before to express opinions in a forceful, but also peaceful manner.


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