An interesting piece from the Columbia Journalism Review looks back at the film “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked demonstrations, riots, and killings back in September, 2012. The writer, who is a Fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California–Berkeley, finds that the film, which had languished unnoticed on YouTube for eight months, was constantly pointed out by the pro-Mubarak media in Egypt, along with others inimical to Islamist politics. In other words, it was a matter of “black ops“.

I find nothing implausible in this analysis, but I also can’t verify it.

The Muhammad movie: look who fanned the flames
Despite what Western media reported it was not Islamist outlets
that stirred things up

Emad Mekay

Back on September 11, protestors gathered outside the US embassy near downtown Cairo, furious over reports of a video said to portray Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, in a brutally negative way. By the end of the day the people there would storm the embassy and tear down the American flag, jumpstarting protests that spread through the Middle East, including Sudan, Yemen, and Tunisia. Around the same time, the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and four Americans killed, including the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens.

Many of us have followed the various controversies since then—about the video and its US-based creators, about the demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere, and about the nature of the Benghazi attack and what UN Ambassador Susan Rice said about it in the days that followed.

As for what started the whole thing in Cairo, Western media seems to have located ground zero—Islamist media in Egypt. Many pointed to a particular talk show host, a sort of Islamic version of Glenn Beck. As John Hudson put it in The Atlantic Wire:

How on Earth did a poorly-produced, wildly obscure 14-minute YouTube clip spark violent uprisings from Yemen to Afghanistan to Algeria to Egypt? The answer is Sheik Khaled Abdullah, an Egyptian TV host who latched onto a trailer of the U.S. film Innocence of Muslims on Sunday, a move that has stoked anti-American sentiment across the Muslim world.

But a closer examination shows that the effort to stir people up about the Innocence of Muslims video came not from Islamist press outlets but from an entirely different camp: several secular outlets of the Egyptian media, largely run by Mubarak-regime supporters bent on discrediting the Islamists in the new government. Secular pro-Mubarak supporters lit the match. If we are to understand Egypt and the Middle East properly, that recent history should be reconsidered in that light.

January:17:2013 - 07:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
7 Responses to “Who Lit the Fire?”
  1. 1
    Jerry M Said:
    January:17:2013 - 14:24 

    Perhaps I am showing my ignorance here, but does it matter who started it? If x sheik roused the rabble by himself, or was goaded by y opponent to rouse the rabbble?

    In the case of the Danish cartoons or the video ‘Fitna’, I can understand the reason why Muslims were bothered. Some of the Danish cartoons are funny. Fitna is watchable, and by the standards of web videos, well made. This video isn’t watchable. I have seen 2 segments, one looks like a porn movie that is done badly. The other segment looks like some bad action movie with actors wearing military uniforms.

  2. 2
    bigstick1 Said:
    January:18:2013 - 01:38 

    I don’t think it was the secularist that killed people…… so no matter how they spin it to try to save face, Islamist are the ones who actually committed murder over a bad film trailer. So in other words, even in this light the only people who look bad are Islamist. Now they just added easily duped instinctual non-thinking predatory one cell organism to the list. Predatory animals often times have more intelligence than this.

  3. 3
    John Burgess Said:
    January:18:2013 - 06:39 

    @Jerry M & bigstick1: I think it’s important to realize that there are those out there trying to goad or tempt others into showing their worst side. In doing so, they believe they are furthering their own agendas by making the other people look worse than they might. While the ones who resort to violence are ultimately responsible for their own actions, those who push them toward it aren’t without blame.

  4. 4
    Chiara Said:
    January:18:2013 - 08:40 

    I find this highly plausible as a tactic, to scare the opposition, and especially Westerners, into accepting the status quoas opposed to an exaggerated and imminent menace.

    Mubarak used the same tactic while still clinging to power. Basically, “Think I’m bad? If I didn’t control them the bedouin would ride their camels right into the heart of Cairo. I’m the only one protecting you from rule by them.” I wrote about it (with the pictures) here.

  5. 5
    bigstick1 Said:
    January:18:2013 - 23:09 


    How did these individuals push them towards it? Did they advocated killing people or just made freedom of speech if the speaker or those an issue out of a film? How is it possible to have discussing it then get blamed for wackos actions? So just how are they responsible? Would you blame someone in the US who had issues with Christ being portray as Gay and then some group went wacko and slaughter people who had no involvement? Would that then make the person who states Jesus is gay responsible for wackos actions? In other words, I am not seeing it so maybe you can explain it further.

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    January:19:2013 - 07:45 

    @bigstick1: I don’t think their actions rose to the legal definition of incitement because they were not pushing for a specific action — storming embassies, killing people, etc. Their actions fell just short of it. By constantly pointing to the film, they made sure that people who would get excited and do things saw it. Some even helpfully provided Arabic translations of the film, just to make sure.

    Their actions were not criminal. They were malevolent, though. They could reasonably predict — based on things like the Danish cartoons — that mobs would be stirred up. They didn’t direct the mobs actions, but relied on the fact that the mobs would act stupidly, as mobs do. I think it’s sort of like building a fire and knowing that it would get out of control. They didn’t intend to burn the house down, but they intended that something get burnt.

    Of course the mob is responsible for its own actions. But would there have been a mob without the existence of the film being rubbed in their faces?

  7. 7
    bigstick1 Said:
    January:19:2013 - 19:41 


    There is this fact that many are saying these actions were already going to occur regardless of this film. The individual’s who committed the act simply like throwing salt in the fire by using the film to say see they made us do it. I have to wonder if these people who had already had this planned without the need of a film aren’t sitting back laughing at how we are eager to throw certain rights away in the face of tyranny. In other words we erase the line take two steps back and then redraw the line. At what point do we stop and stand with the sentiment that a film does not now or ever rise to the need to commit violence and when do we realize that we are playing into their hands by blaming others who simply point out what exists and comment on it in varying degrees.

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