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
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.