NEW DELHI — In India, calls from Muslim leaders for restraint and a swift government ban on a controversial anti-Islam film have ensured that protests against the film have been sporadic. India has the world’s third largest Muslim population.
The condemnation of the anti-Islam film by Muslim religious and political leaders in India has been strong and unequivocal. But the message to the community has been simple: do not resort to violence.
Asaduddin Owaisi is a member of parliament in Hyderabad, a southern Indian city with a large Muslim population. He also heads a Muslim party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
“We have told the community, we have requested them that, yes, all of us are pained and hurt, but the best way of showing our pain and anger is not to allow our emotions to take over. Fortunately the people at large have understood the message given by our ulemas, our scholars, our political leaders," said Owaisi.
In the last week protests have erupted in the southern Indian city of Chennai, and in Muslim-majority Kashmir. In Chennai, protestors smashed security cameras in the U.S. Consulate. In Kashmir’s main town, Srinagar, stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police. But the backlash against the film has been relatively tame compared to other countries.
Muslim leaders in India give some of the credit to the government's quick reaction to the anti-Islam film, which insults the Prophet Muhammad. Access to the video was blocked in India by Google under laws which prohibit the circulation of “offensive material." The Indian government also said it strongly condemns all acts that disparage religious beliefs and hurt religious sentiments.
India is a secular democracy, but the country's past experience with communal violence has made leaders more cautious about material which may offend religious feelings. In 1988, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, triggered violent protests and prompted a ban. Earlier this year, Muslim groups opposed Rushdie’s visit to India to attend a literary festival.
But while reaction to the anti-Islam film may have been muted, some analysts say anti-American sentiment has deepened among Indian Muslims.
"Anger, anguish, hate, everything is burning… these things cannot be removed," said Manzoor Alam, chairman of Institute of Objective Studies in New Delhi. "Now this hate is penetrating in the minds of the Muslims against America also. Reason is that by saying simply that some individual has done under freedom of expression, nobody is believing this word because freedom of expression is hurting billions of Muslims."
Owaisi hopes that a French magazine's publication this week of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad will not mean an end to the restraint seen thus far. The government is likely to block access to the cartoons.
Still many are hoping that calm will prevail in this Hindu-majority nation, where Muslims make up the largest religious minority with 140 million.