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Extreme reaction to film

Published Sep 19, 2012 12:05am


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AT one level, much of the furore over the somewhat elliptically titled film Innocence of Muslims could be described as predictable. After all, we have seen it before.

Coincidentally, it comes at a time when The Satanic Verses is back in the news because of Salman Rushdie’s memoir about the personal consequences entailed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous fatwa. The reaction to it was perhaps the first instance in living memory of globalised protests against a controversial literary text that many Muslims deemed blasphemous.

Rushdie, who remained in hiding for a decade under the protection of the British state, has, gratifyingly, lived to tell the tale. But numerous people — translators, publishers, even a pair of Belgium-based imams — were killed over that novel. Iran effectively rescinded the fatwa eventually, but it is sobering to note that an independent Iranian organisation has lately increased its bounty on the writer’s head by half a million dollars.

The sordid saga of the Danish cartoons, rescued from the obscurity they deserved by some Europe-based mullahs intent on making trouble, is even fresher in the collective memory.

In the case of the present provocation, there is an added frisson on account of the so-called Arab Spring. A great many Libyans are upset about the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi last week, and the authorities in Tripoli seem duly embarrassed. The irony, of course, is that the incidents that resulted in the fatalities occurred in a nation that Nato forces ‘liberated’ last year, and that too in a city celebrated as the cradle of the revolt against Muammar Qadhafi’s dictatorship.

It is perhaps pertinent to recall that at least one Nato general was honest enough to note at the start of the intervention that some of the forces the West was assisting in Libya were precisely the sort of forces it was combating in Afghanistan. What’s more, no lessons have been learned. The same mistake is being repeated in Syria.

It’s unclear from the available evidence whether the ambassador, Christopher Stevens — remembered by friends and acquaintances as a genial State Department Arabist — was deliberately targeted. The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi has been attributed to a group called Ansar al-Sharia, and it has been suggested that the violence on the anniversary of Sept 11 had little to do with the offending film: rather, it ought to be perceived in the context of the struggle for ascendancy within Libya.

Similar claims have been aired about the protests in Egypt, whose president has been accused of tardiness in condemning the violence and vowing to protect foreign missions. In Sudan, it is not just the US embassy that has attracted protesters but also the British and German missions.

Of course, the latter two governments have no more to do with the offending film than the US authorities. It is almost certainly the case that the protests across the Muslim world are in some part an excuse for venting anti-American — and, more broadly, anti-Western — sentiments. They are a sorry excuse. There are plenty of reasons to be appalled by US actions and manoeuvres in any number of Muslim countries. Innocence of Muslims should not figure among them.

The film was clearly intended as an Islamophobia-inducing provocation. The sensible approach would have been to ignore it completely. Judging by the 14-minute ‘trailer’ on YouTube, it has no artistic merit whatsoever.

What’s more, the cast and crew were apparently unaware of its intended purpose. They were told it was a depiction of Egypt 2,000 years ago. The anti-Islamic aspects of the dialogue were dubbed afterwards, as a canny American blogger, Sarah Abdurrahman, was among the first to cotton on.

Perhaps equally insidious has been the effort to portray it as an Israeli-funded venture. It was purportedly the brainchild of ‘Sam Bacile’, a Jewish real estate agent in the US, who claimed in interviews that the funds came from Israeli businessmen. This has turned out to be one of the many myths perpetrated by petty criminal Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a California-based American of Coptic Christian origin, who used the pseudonym ‘Sam Bacile’ to conceal his real identity, and who has thrived on publicity from a couple of fundamentalist Christian confederates.

It is useful to remember, in this context, that some fundamentalist Christians in the US support Israel unreservedly solely in the interests of hastening Armageddon. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to conjecture that Innocence of Muslims is a consequence of that mindset.

What’s not surprising is that some Islamists are willing to match the Islamophobes, absurdity for absurdity. Excerpts from the film apparently failed to excite much of a response after it was posted on YouTube last month, until it was dubbed into Arabic and a handful of Egyptians picked up on it, going to the extent of broadcasting bits of it on a private evangelical channel.

The very idea that a film such as this can in any way dent the faith of Muslims does not bear serious scrutiny. But then, one cannot fail to recognise that the idiocy of Islamophobes easily finds echoes in the Muslim world. It is unlikely that Nakoula sought to elicit the sort of reaction witnessed in Benghazi, but there can be little doubt he did seek to provoke a response. And he got what he wanted. It would undoubtedly have been infinitely wiser to deny him this satisfaction. But it’s too late for that.

Perhaps the most bizarre response to recent events came from Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who accused the Obama administration of pandering to Islamist sentiments. Romney has rightfully been taken to task for that ridiculous insinuation. It is nonetheless interesting to imagine, though, what Washington’s response would have been had the events in Benghazi taken place in Islamabad, Tehran, Damascus or Kabul.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (30) Closed

Gerry D'Cunha Sep 19, 2012 11:12am
I just want to give my simple example to my muslim brothers. In life one has seen,when you tease a person and he gets teased,that person is teased again and again and it goes on followed by other people,but if one does not heed the tease, it stops.This is what the film maker has done to tease the muslims. They have also teased the christians on Jesus Christ's films, but the christians have taken no notice because such films cannot degrade the great person like Jesus Christ.
Sineen Sep 19, 2012 03:48pm
this whole event was for the purpose of "reactionary politics"
lalit bagai Sep 19, 2012 09:51am
islam condones violence against those who insult the prophet. the laws on blasphemy , with capital punishment are meant to stop such insults, and mockery of the prophet. recently a mob of 2000 .enraged Muslims burnt a mentally deranged person in Pakistan,he was accused of having burnt a few pages of the Quran. it is curious that in effect mohammed,the prophet (PBUH), has a higher status than Allah. i feel that Muslims resent mocking of the prophet as much more serious than an insult to god. nonmuslims can not understand the devotion Muslims have for their prophet. muslims can not understand the attitude of nonmuslims towards their prophet and faith. both expect too much sympathy or understanding from each other.
Naim S Syed Sep 19, 2012 12:27pm
The more we react to these kind of provocations, the more we give upper hand to these provocateurs. They feel elated. As the Persian proverb goes - Jawab-e-jahilan bashed khamoshi, Silence is the best response to ignorance. Their efforts are frustrated if ignore them. We know that few exceptions apart, world by and large, considers religious offenses as undesirable and unwarranted. We live is a society which is more civilized than ever before. Today we have no dearth of means of communications and it would be difficult for any state to control the nuisance makers and trouble creators on net. It is the responsibility of religious scholar to make proper rebuttal if some scholarly issue is raised through any quarter. Ordinary followers of any religion should leave them to dustbin.
Kieran Sep 19, 2012 03:49am
A poll to determine what percentage of those incensed by 'Innocence of Muslims" had actually seen the film is unnecessary. First, no pious Muslim would wish to see it. Secondly, very few outside the Arab world would be fluent in Arabic. The emotions have been whipped up by Imams and clergy in mosques. That is the bane of the Muslim world. Muslims at large seem to need sermons and whipping up of rage by the clergy who necessarily would be Salafists or likely those with extreme views. Then there is the aspect of why Muslims in the Middle East (or in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir where protests have been the loudest) need to learn what is held sacred by those who are not Muslim, any more than those in the West need to learn just what is blasphemy or what outrages Muslims. This is a broader philosophical question that has unfortunately not been addressed at all.
AHA Sep 19, 2012 10:50am
Well said.
Toti34 Sep 19, 2012 10:14am
Particularly against those who did not produce that film Initiating destruction and killing innocent people is madness and crime.
Sudozai Sep 20, 2012 03:30am
Entirle agree with you
Adarsh Kumar Sep 19, 2012 11:16pm
I saw the trailor. It was shocking.Having read English traslation of the Prophet's (MPBUH) life I just couldnot reconcile with the crude manner in which His life is shown in this film. After all the people of that time would not have accepted him as God' messenger. I agree with you, there was no need to overreact. The fool who has produced it, expected this. I can assure you he has invited his own death.No need to issue any fatwa.We cannot blame the US Govt and its people for the act of one of their mentally deranged citizen.
imran Sep 19, 2012 09:26pm
What did Prophet PBUH do when somebody insulted him?
H L Sep 19, 2012 09:24pm
One question, that is answer to your question. What would Prophet Mohammad (SAW) would have done if he would have been living? That is what I will do.
v Sep 19, 2012 07:06pm
Read your books, found absolutely nothing special.
Arindam Sep 19, 2012 06:15pm
A mindless reaction to a mindless act - period.
Shankar Bandyopadhay Sep 19, 2012 05:11pm
Completely agree. Muslims also are very good at playing the victim. Whether the issue is big or small the reaction is always violent.
akmal Sep 19, 2012 05:10pm
Agreed. No need for imams in the mosques. We can directly pray to God without the imams. There should be a ban on political speeches by Imams..
Joe Sep 19, 2012 02:47pm
A well-reasoned analysis, succinctly written. It's wonderful to see an article like this. It shows that a voice of reason exists instead of the street turmoil. Frankly, it's what the mullahs should have been saying all along, if only they had the heart and faith for it.
Humera Sep 19, 2012 01:29pm
I guess it has already been done in London, not sure?
Yogesh Sep 19, 2012 01:20pm
That would only confirm some of the things portrayed in the film.
john Sep 19, 2012 01:16pm
Innocence of Muslims
Syed Geelani Sep 19, 2012 01:10pm
at the same time, Muslims also should be made to read other religious books so that they get some enlightenment.
Alan Sep 19, 2012 01:06pm
therefore, there will be many more imitations. What people fail to realize is that US culture encourages rebellious free speech and you can pretty much count on many more films now.
Uza Syed Sep 19, 2012 10:38am
Hate to agree with you.
Akhtar Zakaria. Sep 19, 2012 09:11am
We Muslims love and respect the Prophet more than our fathers, our sons, our brethren, wives, tribes, wealth acquired, the business and our dwellings. Had the earlier Muslims not offered sacrifices for the cause of Islam, Islam would not have been what it is today. You are a drawing- room- sitting writer. How would you react if somebody called your mother, your sister, your wife , your father and sons and daughters the names called to the Prophet in that film. You forget that the day is not far off when these very questions will be put to you by your Creator.
Gopinath Sep 19, 2012 08:41am
"No religion condones violence....." Then why do you and your co-religionists resort to violence at the least provocation? Followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc very rarely resort to force, unless attacked with force. Muslims on the other hand react violently, immediately and then claim that theirs is a peace loving faith. !!
conclusion Sep 19, 2012 08:02am
The director of this film has been successful , not because of his film , but because of muslim world .The download count has been increased tremendously .Muslims have again proved they are not the smartest people on earth.It is very easy to ignite their sentiment.
Kiran Sep 19, 2012 03:17pm
Wow, now muslims are very angry, but where was this anger when taliban destroyed bamiyan buddhas. Having said that, every one should respect other religions but respect for human life should come first which is essence of all religions.
pankajdehlavi Sep 19, 2012 05:57am
Surprisingly, Saudis never agitated nor give silly reactions on such movie clips. They just peacefully condemn such acts or gracefully ignore. While all other later converted nations show overly reactions. May be they don't want whole world to know the tactics played with them by Saudis to strip them from their wealth, women and faith.
jamil Sep 19, 2012 05:24am
Without a doubt I agree with u !! and one more thing muslims can do they should start distributing islamic books for free to non-muslims and ask them to read which actually will highlight our real principles and values.
Feroz Sep 19, 2012 05:17am
No religion condones violence whatever be the provocation ....... period !
Sue Sturgess Sep 19, 2012 04:09am
Without all of the protests, almost no-one would have heard of this film, let alone watched it. Now millions of westerners are watching it, to find out what all the fuss was about - the complete opposite of what the protests sought to achieve!