Matt Duss in Salon:
Not since the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee honeymoon tape has a crappier film received so much attention. Having watched the trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims,” it seems to me that the best possible response would be a new episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Tragically, some in Egypt and Libya apparently thought this crude propaganda was worth rioting over, and the riots have now left four people dead in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.
The attacks on the American embassy and consulate, and the deaths they caused, are clearly a criminal outrage, and responsibility belongs solely to the killers. There’s obviously no equivalence between producing a crude propaganda film and taking part in a violent riot. (Though new reporting suggests that the film may actually have had very little do with the violence in Libya.) Such a tragedy shouldn’t be used to limit speech, however offensive. If you don’t support the free speech of clearly talentless, bigoted provocateurs like the pseudonymous Sam Bacile you don’t really support free speech.
It’s important to understand, however, that “The Innocence of Muslims” does not spring out of a vacuum, and that the outrage that greeted it was intended, even if the murder of a U.S. ambassador was not. The film – which, Bacile claimed, cost $5 million and was financed by more than 100 Jewish donors, though neither has been verified – shares ideas with a growing transnational movement that preaches hatred of the Islamic faith and seeks to exacerbate tensions between Islam and the West.
Bacile himself acknowledged this goal in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying that it was intended to showcase his view of Islam as a hateful religion.
More here. And Robert Fisk has this to say in The Independent:
When a Danish cartoon in a hitherto unknown newspaper drew a picture of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb in his turban, the Danish embassy in Beirut went up in flames. When a Texas pastor decided to ‘sentence the Koran to death’, the knives came out in Afghanistan – we are leaving aside the little matter of the ‘accidental’ burning of Koranic pages by US personnel in Bagram. And now a deliberately abusive film provokes the murder of one of the State Department’s fairest diplomats.
In many ways, it’s familiar territory. In fifteenth century Spain, Christian cartoonists drew illustrations of the Prophet committing unspeakable acts. And – just so we don’t think we have clean claws today – when a Paris cinema showed a film in which Christ made love to a woman, the picture-house was burned-down, one cinema-goer was killed, and the killer turned out to be a Christian.
With the help of our wonderful new technology, however, it only needs a couple of loonies to kick off a miniature war in the Muslim world within seconds. I doubt if poor Christopher Stevens – a man who really understood the Arabs as many of his colleagues do not – had ever heard of the ‘film’ that unleashed the storming of the US consulate in Benghazi and his own death. It’s one thing to witlessly claim that the US would go on a “crusade” against al-Qaeda – thank you, George W. Bush – but another to insult, quite deliberately, an entire people. Racism of this kind stirs many a crazed heart.
More here. It now seems that “Sam Bacile”, the filmmaker, is a pseudonym for the Coptic Christian filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Gillian Flaccus in the Huffington Post:
The public face for the anti-Muslim film inflaming the Middle East is not the filmmaker, but an insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran whose unabashed and outspoken hatred of radical Muslims has drawn the attention of civil libertarians, who say he's a hate monger.
With the Coptic Christian filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in hiding, film promoter Steve Klein has taken center stage in the unfolding international drama. He's given a stream of interviews about the film and the man he says he knew only as Sam Bacile, and is using the attention to talk about his own political views.
Nakoula, who used Bacile spelled multiple ways as a pseudonym, contacted Klein months ago for advice about the limits of American free speech and asked for help vetting the movie's script, Klein said in an interview with The Associated Press. The filmmaker asked the 61-year-old grandfather if he would act as a spokesman if the film “caught on,” and he agreed.
More here. And I posted this to my Facebook wall yesterday:
Every few years, it seems, we go through a cycle:
1) Some ill-advised and/or racist provocation to Islam is published in the West, designed specifically and very deliberately to elicit violent protest in the Islamic world.
2) Someone, somewhere, in the Islamic world obliges. A few people are hurt or even killed.
3) That a clash of civilizations is imminent is confirmed in many Western minds.
4) Other Western minds piously and “bravely” reiterate their commitment to free speech and how we must not ever give in to intimidation by barbarians.
5) No one (at least in the mainstream media) bothers with any sort of in-depth historical/political/economic analysis of why there is so much anger in various Muslim-majority countries and the West's complicity in, if not responsibility for, oppression and injustice there.
Here's what I had to say about all this when the Danish cartoon madness happened six years ago. I think with a few substitutions it applies fairly well to the current crisis in Libya and Egypt: