Imane Kurdi writes a thoughtful piece in Saudi Gazette about how strange – and terrifying – it is that masses of people can become violently reactive to a silly little piece of cinema. She notes that the film was not made as a film, but as an incendiary device, one designed to roil the mob, but also that no one had ever heard of the thing until it got translated into Arabic and posted to YouTube. Her telling of the deceptive way even the actors in the film were abused is of note.
In speaking of the film, Ms Kurdi asks, “Surely there must be a law against this kind of thing?”
No, there is not. At least in the United States there isn’t. And that’s a very fine thing.
Speech we all agree with needs no protection. Who’s going to attack it? We like it! But if we all believe exactly the same thing, then what room is there for the individual? What force is there that will turn dissatisfaction with the status quo into progress? For millennia, people believed that slavery, for example, was just fine. All the major religions condoned it, though they may have had their particular rules governing it. But someone grew dissatisfied, saw that there was something very wrong with it. That person created waves and upset many people who were perfectly satisfied with the way things were. What would be the result if any who criticized slavery were immediately and automatically condemned? The first European antislavery laws didn’t come about until the 16th C. The last laws banning the practice didn’t come about until the middle of the 20th C. During that time, in different places, arguments were made both for and against it until governments found enough internal consensus to put it outside the pale. Sometimes, as with the American Civil War, it took the deaths of hundreds of thousands to make slavery unlawful. I doubt very much that it would have stopped if all opponents had been slapped into jail for raising their voices.
But isn’t a film that insults religion different? Not really. What people hold sacred differs across cultures and religion, and even among individuals. Religious texts are not known for their generosity in spirit toward followers of other faiths. If we’re going to react to religious insult, what would be the proper reaction to the calling of Christians and Jews, “apes and pigs”?
The answer is that we don’t react very strongly against it. We acknowledge that the statement is ignorant, perhaps malicious, and then ignore it. It is a weak faith that is troubled by what other people think of it. It is a weak god who cannot stand in the face of an insult. The irony strikes me that those who would fly into violent reaction against a religious insult are actually taking upon themselves the role of their deity. Are they so smart that they know what God wants? Are they so dumb that they can’t tell the difference between a word and a sword?
Like a red rag to a bull
The events of the last few days have left me almost as frightened as in the wake of 9/11. Of course the murders of Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi and the growing anti-American protests across the Muslim world do not compare to the atrocity of the twin towers attacks, but there are common denominators and common consequences.
But first, a word about the so-called film. Has anyone seen “The Innocence of Muslims”? All we have seen is a 13-minute trailer on YouTube which no one had noticed until it was translated into Arabic. It is not a film, it is an incendiary device. It is a blasphemous caricature that has put verbal insults into pictures. It is the work of a small group of individuals, who exactly remains to be seen, but the initial statement that it was made by an Israeli-American named Sam Bacile, cost millions of dollars paid for by donations from Jews is clearly another incendiary device. Sam Bacile is most likely Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian American Coptic Christian, and the “film” did not cost millions but around a hundred thousand. Who funded it is still as mysterious as who exactly made the rag, but the likely suspects at this time are an alliance of militant Egyptian American Coptic Christians and right-wing US Christians.
The actors thought they were making a film called “Desert Warriors” set in Egypt 2000 years ago. The dialogues they spoke bore no resemblance to the dialogue that was later dubbed over their voices. They had no idea they were making an incendiary device, they thought they were making a low-budget film. The licence for shooting the film, for recruiting actors for the film, the whole film-making process was done under the terms of “Desert Warriors”. Only after the film was completed was it used to create the incendiary device we have now seen in action. I repeat: the insults were dubbed over the dialogue, the actor who is now seen to be portraying the Prophet (peace be upon him) was acting an altogether different role, that of “Master George”, no-one — apart from the criminals who made the film — had any idea they were making an anti-Islamic propaganda tool.
So why is the American government to blame? Why all this anti-American sentiment? A handful of criminals full of hatred for Islam wishing to create a spiral of hatred create 13 minutes of insults and post it on YouTube and we blame the whole American nation? Just because it was filmed on American soil? Did Chris Stevens really die for something he had absolutely no responsibility for?