Editorial: Content may offend

The threats reportedly made against a Muslim leader in Christchurch this week are an unwelcome attempt to stir up trouble where none exists. The threats have no doubt been made by the racist lunatic fringe that, while tiny, occasionally makes its odious presence felt in the city. Such malcontents do not need any foundation for their bigotry but, in this case, it is more than usually unfounded.

The extremist reaction to an extreme provocation has spread widely, coming as close as Sydney, where the police were forced to use teargas against protesters at the weekend, but there has been no sign whatever of any sympathy with such actions by anyone in this country. To seek to blame Muslims living in Christchurch for what has happened elsewhere is not relevant and not helpful.

While local Muslims, like just about everyone of whatever faith or political outlook, have denounced the deliberately inflammatory movie that has sparked the unrest, reaction here has been to treat it with the contempt it deserves and not to satisfy its makers by rising to its bait. It is a pity that that same mature reaction has not been followed elsewhere.

The makers of the movie, which purports to give an account of the life of the founder of Islam, clearly set out to insult and offend and they have succeeded far beyond what they could have expected.

When the cheaply and crudely made movie was first shown in a cinema in the United States, no-one turned up to see it. It was only after it had been given a voice-over in Arabic and a section of it was posted on YouTube that it began to excite a reaction. A Muslim cleric seized upon it and gave a sermon deploring it.

Since then, mobs in Egypt, Libya, Indonesia, Tunisia, Pakistan and elsewhere have rioted against the movie, attacking embassies of the US, who they blame for allowing it to have been made and promulgated.

First reports suggested, no doubt with the intention of further inflaming the situation, that the movie had been made by a Jewish financier. As it turns out, the instigator was a convicted fraudster of Egyptian Coptic Christian background, bringing further grief to that long-persecuted faith in Egypt.

The episode is an illustration, if one were needed, of how matters which once would not have seen the light of day can now be circulated instantly around the world and magnified out of all proportion. In the past, the movie would have had little chance of being distributed much beyond the district in which it was made. In the unlikely event of a copy managing to find its way to the Middle East, it would have been seized and suppressed by the authorities. YouTube's owner, Google, has now blocked distribution of the clip to some parts of the world, but only after the damage had been done.

While there can be no doubting the fervour of the mobs about insults to their religion, the riots are almost certainly driven by other, more profound sources of unrest. The initial fatal attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, for instance, appears to have been an al-Qaeda-inspired event to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US, while the continuing turmoil in Egypt and elsewhere has another source - disappointment with the outcome of the overthrow of the previous regime.

The insulting, obnoxious movie may soon be forgotten. The deeper problems are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

The Press