The “Muhammad” Movie: Respecting the Other’s Sensibilities

I have refrained from writing a full length article on Moro issues for quite a while now because it is quite easier to just do micro-blogging on Facebook and Twitter. But I guess I’m now forced to do so because I was interviewed for a banner article on The Manila Times and I’m afraid the reporter misunderstood my statements. The article is titled Why Muslim Filipinos Stay Calm.


I prefaced my interview with the assertion that the movie reportedly titled “Innocence of Muslims” had nothing to do with the death of the US Ambassador to Libya. It was merely used as a cover-up because the US would be hard put to explain why their “favorite” Libyans from Benghazi killed the US Ambassador who knew well these people since the US government provided arms and political support to this group against the Qaddafi regime.

I also explained that the concerned movie clip had been posted on Youtube since around July. Why then did it immediately spark worldwide unrest only on Sept 11, 2012 – the time of the killing of the US Ambassador.

Instead of quoting me, the article contained a rather long editor’s note which read:

 [Editor’s note: After US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Ambassador to the UN kept on saying for two weeks that the September 11 killing of Ambassador Stevens was solely the spontaneous act of Muslims angered by the film, they finally admitted last week that the assassinations were a premeditated operation by an Al-Qaeda-linked Radical Islamist group. The Libyan president announced this finding on September 12. US military and civilian intelligence reported this to the White House on September 12 but President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice chose to lie about it. Apparently, US intelligence had also warned the White House in early September that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were mounting an attack in Libya to commemorate 9/11.]

It’s the longest editor’s note I’ve read in a news article. But it certainly is better than just quoting me or other people on the subject.

When the first news of the Ambassador’s killing came out, there were no mention of the film that supposedly caused it. See this links: Libyan attack Group Linked to US Ambassador’s Death and Chris Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, killed in Benghazi attack.

The spin that that the killing was sparked by Sam Becile’s movie clip came later. This was facilitated when an Egyptian TV station aired a 2-minute excerpt of the trailer. It can be fairly assumed that airing the movie clip on TV anywhere in the world, including the Philippines, the Muslims of that place will make a hue and cry about it.


The reporter ended his article with quotes from me:

I asked another Muslim professional who studied in the Middle East is Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas about lawyer Harry Roque and his insistence on showing the trailer of “The Innocence of Muslims” to his law students.

He is a graduate of Petroleum Engineering from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has a master’s in Media Studies from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Engineer Abbas said Roque is a “media hound” who likes much publicity to the detriment of others.

“Who is he to judge the film when has no knowledge of Islam nor the life and times of Prophet Muhammad,” Engineer Abbas, fuming mad, said.

“If Roque is trying to invoke freedom of expression then that is a dangerous act that he should not have been done in the first place. The issue here is sensibility. He should have been sensible enough not to show that trailer though there is the so-called freedom of free expression,” he said.

He said that in the United States though the Ameican people have the right to free expression, yet they won’t call anymore the American black as “niger” because of the sensibility involved, and just like we the Bangsamoro people who are the minority in this country as we are still fighting for our right to self-determination, and by all means that freedom of expression should not be invoked against us the Moro people, Engineer Abbas further said.

First of all, I was not fuming mad. I was seated in the restaurant and was not even gesticulating. Perhaps since I speak rather fast when I speak English, the reporter interpreted it as fuming mad. I may be a bit angry, but certainly not fuming mad.

I saw the interview on ANC TV with Mr. Roque and he kept on insisting that he was showing the film to his students as part of their course on Human Rights. As I wrote earlier in my Facebook posts, Roque could not give a clear analysis of the film because he is ignorant of Islam and its teachings. He doesn’t even know who the characters are. How then could he tell his students why or how the movie could be seen or interpreted by Muslims?

He also does not know anything about Film or Media Studies. Thus, he could not explain the ramifications and implications of a movie based on communication or film studies theoretical frameworks.

I don’t remember saying that showing the film is a dangerous act. In fact, I posted a link of the Youtube clip on my FB wall the minute I saw it. As I wrote in my FB wall, it is better for Muslims to see the clip so they would know what they are up against.


I said the issue here is not Freedom of Expression but SENSIBILITIES, i.e., RESPECT FOR THE SENSIBILITIES OF OTHERS. I then gave the example of the N-word as taboo in today’s American society.

Any movie or book or speech can always cite the Freedom of Expression as its defense. I even told the reporter that I take the Voltairean view that I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it. But when it comes to respecting other people’s sensibilities, then it is really a different matter.

An anarchist, a communist, a capitalist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Christian have the right to say anything about their ideological dogmas or criticize those of others. But when they start slandering icons and publishing falsehoods, that is another matter altogether.


Harry Roque defends the showing of the anti-Islam movie as Freedom of Expression and that the media should be a free marketplace of ideas. Why then are some films not allowed in the Philippines? Bernardo Bertolucci’s  movie Last Tango in Paris, which starred Hollywood icon Marlon Brando, was banned in the country. Other Bertoluccis films like Novocento (with Robert DeNiro and Gerard Depardieu) and The Dreamers cannot be shown in the Philippines without cuts from the Censors. Schindler’s List and The Piano were at first banned but were later shown because of public outcry. Sexually explicit films like Winterbottom’s 9 Songs or John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus cannot be shown in the Philippines. Where is the freedom of expression there? Or are the Philippine authorities simply respecting the sensibilities of prudes?

Even TV shows like Game of Thrones, Spartacus and even Sex In The City have to be censored.

Even art works that are deemed blasphemous were caused to be removed by the government.


Harry Roque maintained that so many lives were spent by the Filipinos for the Cause of Freedom and they should not let their guard down now, whatever the Muslims say.

I say that Muslims or Moros have lost more than 50,000 lives, billions of dollars worth of properties and millions of people displaced – all in the name of FREEDOM.

We are still fighting for our Freedom, especially the right to Self-Determination. Our lands have been declared PUBLIC DOMAIN, our territories are under MILITARY OCCUPATION, our RELIGION and CULTURE(S) are not respected.

Peace does not mean NO WAR. Peace means all the people in the land are accorded the same rights, privileges and respect. It means that everyone enjoys the Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom from Want, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said. The Moros do not enjoy such freedoms in this country.

We do not have media organizations to give venue to our freedom of speech and expression. A rally in Mindanao a year or so ago that was attended by tens of thousands of Moros was not even featured in mainstream media. (See my post Mranaos rally to Demand Independence). We do not have Freedom from Want. The poorest citizens in the country are the Moros. We do not have Freedom From Fear as our territories are under military control and at any time, bombs can start pouring in. As for Freedom of Worship, even Muslim schoolgirls are banned from wearing HIJAB or headscarves in their schools. Muslim pupils / students are also forced to take Christian religion classes in schools, even non-sectarian private schools.


The Manila Times article is not an example of Peace Journalism. It is a sorry attempt to promote the government’s and media’s agenda to quiet down the Moros’ uproar against Sam Becile’s movie.

In its long lead about moderation, it quoted a dead Moro advocate for moderation: “(We) condemn the raging war in Mindanao, the burning of churches and the mounting destruction, heavy collateral damage inflicted on innocent civilian sectors (of society)—Muslims and Christians alike.” But the quote mentioned burning of churches (were there any?) but no mention of destruction and desecration of mosques. And the heavy collateral damage involved mostly Muslim civilians as the battle zones are usually in Moro territories.

Its last quote in its lead section is: “Violence would lead mankind to nowhere.” But violence is not only physical. It is also mental, emotional and psychological. Sam Becile’s movie is indeed very violent as it makes fun and slanders not only the Prophet of Islam but also his wives, Companions, the Holy Qur’an, the very God of the Muslims, the religion of Islam and thus, all the Muslims in the world – past, present and future.


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