What the Save Maryam campaign completely misses
During my time as an anti-racism campaigner I developed an understanding of the shock tactics utilised by the far-right in attempts to drive Islamaphobia. An example being scare-mongering in the BNP’s 2010 election broadcast, where Nick Griffin claimed to be “terrified” for the future. “Very soon this country will no longer be our country,” he says before showing a clip of a mosque along with a voice-over claiming British people have become “second class citizens” to “foreigners”.
You could say the “Save Maryam” campaign, which holds an uncanny resemblance to Kony 2012, is the other side of a double-edged sword. The aim of the campaign is to raise £2m to bring Islam back into the lives of Indonesian Muslims who are converting to Christianity. Although the intentions may be positive, the campaign’s video may mislead viewers and potentially be interpreted to demonise Christianity. The video also risks insulting the millions of practicing Indonesian Muslims as they are depicted as weak and without the knowledge of Islam.
Contextual codes are embedded to send out the message that Christianity is stealing people from Islam. When referring to Christianity the word “them” is emphasised, suggesting “they” are an opponent and detached from the audience. This allows the narrator to be on the audience’s side offering the solution to the dilemma, playing in-tune to a good versus evil dichotomy.
Depicted as lost and vulnerable, 14 year old Maryam is passive to propaganda delivered to her via TV channels and helplines provided by Christian missionaries. Christians help “shut away her problems and give her a sense of peace” implying her problems have not actually been resolved and the peace she has is false. According to the campaign, Islam must set up TV networks and phonelines to propagate their ideologies. The video calls the situation an “alarming” and a proclaims a questionnable figure that 2 million Muslims are converting to Christianity each year. The campaign manifests on the inner-most fears of Muslims by threatening to take away what is most important to them; Islam.
As well as suggesting those practicing other religions are doing so because they are being manipulated, “Save Maryam” irresponsibly oversimplifies the issue of “Christianisation” in Indonesia. It claims from a policy briefing by the International Crisis Group (ICG): “If the growth of Christianity continues at its current rate, by 2035 Indonesia will cease to be a Muslim-majority country.” This policy briefing in the video has been dated 24th November 2012 and cannot be found on the ICG website.
However a 2010 policy briefing by the ICG - “‘Christianisation’ and Intolerance” sheds light on the situation. It resonates with the concerns outlined in the video such as the use of Arabic calligraphy on the front of Christian conversion booklets applying a false pretense that it maybe Islamic in content. It also speaks of blasphemous incidents and Islamaphobic blogs including one with a photograph of someone standing on the Quran with an obscene hand gesture. A sixteen year old Protestant was held accountable for the photo and spent 1 year in prison. Having such negative views on other religions at such a young age shows the extent of religious intolerance in Indonesia.
What the “Save Maryam” campaign fails to address is the mass mobilisation of terrorism groups who use “Christianisation” as justification for vigilante attacks. The report shows how aggressive evangelical Christian Proselytizing in Muslim strongholds may lead to moderate Muslims and Salafi jihadis sharing a platform. The report states that in 2009 some sent to terrorism training in Aceh were encouraged to support attacks on foreign aid workers who were conceived as missionaries trying to convert the Acehnese. It goes on to say terrorism networks have become weaker however systematic exploitation of the fear that Christians are making inroads on Islam might attract new followers. The situation is volatile and it is important to avoid raising tension between religious groupings in both Indonesia and the UK.
The charity behind the campaign, Mercy Mission, has received over 500 donations from the UK alone totaling over £20,000. Should we question whether it is ethically correct for Mercy Mission to have charity status and the ability claim exemption from tax on donations whilst launching irresponsible campaigns?
Thankfully, it seems many of those backing the campaign are focussing on promoting Islam rather than scapegoating the Christian community. The holy month of Ramadan is an important time for Muslims wishing to perform Zakat (charity). Many Muslims may be vulnerable whilst seeking a worthy cause to donate. Some may be susceptible to believing the idea that the Save Maryam campaign is Dawah – spreading the message of Islam.
However, there are better ways spread the message of Islam – primarily through good deeds within the communities we live in. Sharing the knowledge of Islam is worthy, and as the ICG shows “the right to follow religion is a basic human right” but there is no need to put down competing religions or to indoctrinate people through the use of technology.
And in the meantime the charity money could be better spent on a Maryam elsewhere. After all, Maryam could be a child in Palestine in need of healthcare. Or a child in East Africa suffering from insecurity, poverty and disease. She may even be one of the 950 million people in this world who are malnourished. Is money not better spent on food and clean water rather than setting up a TV channel? Essentially, Maryam could be anybody, anywhere, seeking a little help and guidance and there are plenty of pure charities out their willing to take that initiative.