THE Innocence of Muslims, a not so innocent piece of Islamophobic theatre, has evoked a reaction that must have its Orientalist sponsors smiling from ear to ear. Once again, Islam – according to them a rising tide against contemporary civilisation – has shown exactly how violent and uncivilised it can be.
But even the makers of the Innocence of Muslims (called “internet clever clogs” by journalist Robert Fisk) must have wondered what was happening when after its release on YouTube, the video was initially ignored by the public.
In fact, this tawdry 13 minute production – directed by a convicted felon, Nakoula Basseley – is so bad that it’s difficult to take it seriously. Just imagine PowerPoint backdrops and incoherent dialogue at a badly-rehearsed primary school play.
It’s for this reason that Innocence of the Muslims festered anonymously in cyberspace for several months.
Only after the fact, when Morris Sadik (a well-known Islamophobe and supporter of Bassely) supported it, and extremist Salafi-Wahhabis allegedly translated into Arabic at the time of 9/11, did it go viral. In the Middle East reeling from the events of the “Arab Spring”, and where religion and politics is a passionate mix, the Innocence of the Muslims set the region on fire.
The director Bassely, who’d hidden behind the pseudonym of Sam Bacile (just one of his 13 aliases), further inflamed passions when he claimed – fraudulently – that he’d raised 5 million dollars from 100 US Jews.
Bassely’s video had been supported by another shadowy Islamophobe, Steve Klein, a well-known religious neo-fascist calling himself a “counter jihadist”. The notorious Qur’an burner from Florida, Terry Jones – credited by US General Petraeus for endangering lives in Afghanistan – also added his voice.
Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador in Libya and a diplomat who actually understood the Arab world, was sadly in the wrong place at the wrong time when a gunman – said to be representing an Al-Qaeda sympathetic group – fired a rocket at the consular building in Benghazi.
The group of South Africans, tragically killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul, were also in the wrong place at the wrong time – yet more undeserving, innocent victims of a conflict stoked by malicious rabble rousers, one-eyed demagogues who are well aware of what their deliberate provocation will cause.
Images of embassies being besieged by enraged mobs certainly played into the hands of those who see Muslims as belonging to an unwashed horde itching to have a go at the West. The websites of anti-Islamic campaigners such as Daniel Pipes, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been awash with racist comment about Muslims.
However, their sentiment that all Muslims are conspiring against the West, is far from the truth. Libyan anger at Steven’s death was not widely publicised – as were the arrests of four alleged ring-leaders. The Libyan President apologised for the incident, and stated that Ambassador Steven’s demise was not a victory for Holy Law.
Then there is the fact that Muslims live in the West, the West that so many Orientalists claim Islam is trying to destroy. Millions of Muslims live in peace in countries such as the US, Great Britain, Germany and France – where the near bankrupt Charlie Hebdo magazine is cynically reviving its flagging sales by printing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
In Australia the Muslim community was quick to condemn any extremist form of anger at the Innocence of Muslims; this in the face of right-wing yobbos calling for changes to immigration laws. In Cape Town the Muslim Judicial Council also voiced its concern, as did prominent Muslim organisations in Ireland, France, England and the US.
So did the Mauritanian Shaikh, Abdullah bin Bayah, an internationally recognised Shari’ah expert based in Saudi Arabia, who even issued a fatwa (a juridicial edict) expressly condemning any violent response.
Whilst embattled Egyptian President Morsi’s response to the US embassy attack in Cairo was perceived as ambivalent by the White House, the scholars of Al-Azhar did make urgent pleas for calm.
And the Islamic Brotherhood Deputy President, Khairat al-Shater, did write to the New York Times saying that despite intense Muslim resentment of the video, the people of Egypt did not hold the US government, or its citizens, responsible for the acts of a select few abusing their rights to freedom of expression.
What needs to be understood by those who love to portray Muslims in the media as rabid mobs incapable of reason, is that overwhelmingly, Muslim community response to the Libyan killing and the Kabul suicide bombing has been one of utter disgust, if not sadness and despair.
At the same time Professor Vijay Prasad, the author of Arab Spring-Libyan Winter, concedes that in the Muslim community – particularly the Middle East and the Indo-Pak regions – there is a measure of historical suspicion and anger at the West. But it’s based on the distinction made between foreign policy and individual citizens.
Indeed, these are peoples who have been unfairly subjected to decades of international power politics, national humiliation and the opportunism of Al-Qaeda mavericks. And more recently in places such as Yemen and Pakistan, they have become the fatalities of US drone attacks.
Dr Hisham Hellyer, a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, notes that whatever has transpired (with regards to the Innocence of Muslims) it can either continue spiralling into madness, or it can be a driver for positive change.
“Our shared future should not be ultimately left in the hands of an abysmal filmmaker, or populist radical manipulators,” he writes.
US playwright, Wajahat ‘Ali, reflects the sentiment of millions of Muslims when he says that by choosing violence, a minority within the Muslim community betrays the legacy, spirit and wisdom of its prophet Muhammad whose well-known response to abuse was “patient etiquette and generosity”.
Or as the blogger Omid Safi, echoing Martin Luther King, concludes: “We are caught up in an inescapable network of humanity.”