On Saturday afternoon, about two thousand gathered to protest the anti-Islam film that has sparked outrage around the world.
SHAME, SHAME, U.S.A.. Those were the words most chanted during a protest, Saturday, across from the U.S. consulate building on University Avenue. Controversies revolving around portrayals of the prophet Mohammad in Western popular culture have been happening occasionally for years, but this time it’s a trailer for a movie called The Innocence of Muslims that has been stirring up strife around the globe.
For the uninitiated, the 13-minute low-budget clip depicts Mohammad as a bumbling idiot. The film was made as a deliberate insult to Islam. The director actually dubbed over certain lines, changing the focus of the film, and fooling the actors, who thought they had signed up for something else.
The film has been linked to the recent murder of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Other protests related to the video have been responsible for more deaths. For its part, Google has refused to remove Innocence of Muslims from YouTube, citing free speech—though that hasn’t stopped protesters from rallying outside U.S. consulates worldwide.
Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. gathering was starkly different from the images that had come out of, say, Australia. The advertisements promised peaceful protesting. Quite frankly, there aren’t many who can deliver on that promise better than Canadians. The consulate building itself was blocked off by police officers and horses, which meant that the crowd of roughly 2,000 was left to occupy the corner of University Avenue and Armoury Street (elsewhere, a lone anti-protest protester wandered from corner). The event mainly consisted of a variety of speakers. Most spoke in favour of freedom of religion, and against the U.S., for its “increasing spread of anti-muslim messages.” According to Syed Rizvi, one of the protest’s organizers, the core message was that “freedom of speech is not a license for hatred, bigotry, and Islamophobia—or, for that matter, anti-Semitism, or any other insulting or disparaging remarks against any group of people.”
When media attempted to question some of the civilian protesters, organizers quickly pushed us away. They wanted us to speak to their designated media spokesperson, because they were afraid we would “spin” the words of anyone who wasn’t careful.
The spirit of the event was both admirable and frightening. Protesting to ensure that all faiths and religions are tolerated is fair, but one has to hope that everyone involved understands the irony in their resenting an entire nation because of the actions of just one of its citizens.
Photos by Kyle Bachan/Torontoist.