On the ‘Innocence of the Muslims’ a film by Nakoula Bassile Nakoula (or Sam Klein, Nakoula, M. Sedak, and ???)
I saw an image of a long-haired hippy-ish white guy in my Facebook home feed, and clicked on the link only to recoil at the crude, insulting short trailer labeled the “Innocence of the Muslims.” Then clicked on another to hear this trash repeated in a dubbed Arabic version. Suddenly, an IM came from a colleague at Oxford University (I will not name him because he might not want me to) and on his page, he and I and a few other folks who follow events in Egypt closely and tried to figure out the media postings of inaccurate statements about Sam Bacile (actually N. B. N) the fictitious filmmaker, first a mystery, then an Israeli, then an Egyptian Christian (which they had been fed by an Islamophobe who “consulted” on the project.) All that was clear at that moment was the Coptic allusions and accusations against Islam in the film made it very likely that the film was made by a Copt. Or someone who wanted the Copts to be hurt or attacked in Egypt.
9/11 is now a somber day. I personally stay indoors if I can, ever since someone killed my cat on 9/11. As I’ve been filing a report here on news of the day in Syria (which outweighs this incident in human blood and damage) I am at the computer working late, and the news of the day was very depressing. In Egypt, perhaps some do not know that 9/11/2012 was the Coptic new year and the day of martyrs. And indeed, a noted activist whose Egyptian citizenship had already been stripped from him played a role in getting this film noticed by Egyptian journalists. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/09/15/168613/anti-us-outrage-over-video-began.html
But as the fury spread from Egypt to Libya and 4 Americans, including Chris Stevens, the ambassador was killed, the background to this provocative and insulting film trailer became invisible and subservient to other meta-narratives about Muslims and Islamic world. Other media figures like David Kirkpatrick and illustrious journalists told us that al-Qa’ida had cooked this up to respond to US foreign policy in the region, or to wreak revenge on the death of Abu Libi (whom Ayman al-Zawahiri had eulogized on the eve of 9/11/2012.
An NPR colleague called me, and we had one of those “vetting” conversations in which I communicate my thoughts and journalists wonder about the implications of citing any of them. As I’m no longer at the prestigious U.S. Army War College, what good would I be as a commenter? (Maybe the person wondered why I was referring to Copts? And why did I say the al-Qa’ida angle was b.s. and promise never to use such a word on air?) He confirmed that I should be at the Harrisburg WITF studio in the a.m. for a show. I stayed up all night reading the news and then set out for the long, unpleasant drive. As a too-many-years-in-Cairo-resident and freewayphobe, I am unable to drive on highways and have to maneuver around them. Sure enough, I got lost, was unable to avoid driving right onto 283, suffering through a full panic attack as I went back over the river and doubled back again but arrived at the studio in time. But no-one appeared. An engineer finally poked his head out and said he received an email at 7:45 cancelling the studio arrangement. Ah yes-oh sorry-you didn’t get the message -we decided to change our show and move to Shadi Hamid of Brookings in Doha.
This would never have happened at the U.S. Army War College, or when I worked in universities for the 20 years previously. A next day commitment meant that knowing I would show up, so did the news person/team. But I don’t have the media value that I did and I’m no longer intraveneously connected to a Blackberry. It was not all fun, anyway. At USAWC, the Public Affairs officer would have been all over me trying to find out what I would say before I said it & trying to feed me talking points. And then the All Mighty Dr. Steven Metz would have yelled at me after the interview no matter what I said (since we supposedly have freedom of speech, but only those of us with particular political persuasions).
Shocked at the wasted evening & morning, I drove back, listening all the way to public radio and unbelievably slanted coverage of this issue, peppered by the occasional Muslim or foreign-accented voice, demanding “tolerance” and many interpretations of how this will play out for Obama or Romney (whose campaigns are so much more important than communication across the gulf of religious and cultural identities and confusions).
In the evening, while waiting for students in my car, I heard the show. I was struck by the host’s rich, mellow voice and Christopher Dickey’s mildness in explaining that the film was insulting to Muslims BUT that didn’t really matter. A glance at the comments tell you all you need to know about American public opinion of Muslims. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2012/09/13/u-s-ambassador-killed-in-libya
As the protests spread, I read Omid Safi’s elegant “do what the Prophet would have done” – turn the other check, show mercy: http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/omid-safi/how-would-prophet-muhammad-respond-to-the-anti-muhammad-film
He focuses on the Prophet Muhammad’s surprising failure to enact the prevailing tribal ethic of revenge once the Muslims had conquered the Meccans near the end of the Prophet’s lifetime. True. And an excellent subject for a khutba (Friday sermon). However, Muslims also realize that the Prophet had already dealt with persecution utilizing two very different tactics – or three – hijra, creation of a community and jihad. The Prophet and his followers were forced to flee Mecca, establish their new community at Yathrib (Medina) in the face of persecution and then fight their enemies so that Islam could prevail. History is really very inconvenient – as both sets of responses (pre- and post-Meccan conquest) were valid.
I worried about what our new and not-yet solidified British-American Association of Muslim Academics should say about this incident. And decided that the carnage in Syria as a global event should take priority – at least for my own energies. Sadly, it seems that Lakhdar Brahimi has bought Bashar al-Assad at least another 45 days in which to kill some 200 Syrians a day, if not more.
Facebook friends attention is already onto the next photo, motto, post and story. Yet, I, am still sickened by the power of this lousy film trailer. What happens next time? What if Muslims could read and see the Islamophobic materials I saw when I worked for the government?
I have just read Tariq Ramadan’s admission that behind the “the celebration of freedom of speech hides the arrogance of ideologists and well-fed racists who feed off the multiform humiliation of Muslim peoples, the better to mock their “crazed” and “backward” reactions, thus to demonstrate the clear “superiority” of their civilization or the validity of their resistance to the “cancer” of retrograde Islam.” Yes, that rings true. But what’s his recommendation? Deja vu, revisiting 2001 or 2006 … he writes that Muslim intellectuals 1) have to educate their people [we do if we are permitted or hired to do so] 2) accept the diversity of Muslims [we already do]and 3) operate in contrast with preachers – appeal against emotionalism and mass blindness [no one listens]. This is not working. http://www.tariqramadan.com/spip.php?article12539&lang=en
So here is the ignoble and inelegant Facebook response that I posted today:
“To my friends who argue for absolute free speech. I have agreed with you in the past, when the issue was a book – from Sadeq al-Azm’s (many of you won’t know that book or that he received 100s of death threats from the Gulf), to Salman Rushdie’s book to the 500+ banned books in Egypt. I do recall protesters at the film made from Kazantzakis’ book, The Last Temptation of Christ and the bomb threat when “Muhammad, Messenger of God” was screened. I wavered on the Danish cartoons because that was a deliberate provocation, but not as insulting or fast-moving, or so thoroughly focused on creating havoc as this current piece of garbage.
Could we be more even-handed? We cannot protect ourselves in court if we are defamed by Robert Spencer and Pam Geller or Islamophobes in government employ and lose our jobs and our careers. We cannot ride buses or trains without seeing ads against Muslims. We’re not supposed to donate to charities other than the United Way. We’re supposed to denounce anyone wearing hijab or niqab. We are supposed to rail against the new Islamist governments of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen and never express any hope that they might at least be an improvement on the previous dictators and elites, or use their political ambitions to improve these countries. The American landscape allows for only have one type of moderate Muslim – pro-US policy moderates. Others aren’t “moderates.” Our intellectuals have to represent themselves as agnostics, or hyper-religious – nothing in between will do. We are supposed to guard full-time against anti-Semitism, not only within the US, but all around the world because in 2004 the US government passed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004. So the US State Dept. has a special office and funds to fight anti-Semitism around the world (which unfortunately is frequently identified with those who are not anti-Semites, but who oppose Israeli policies). Why is it open season on Muslims? Yes, they demonstrated and violence is wrong. But demonstrating is not wrong. And calling for sanctions against this film’s producer/writer/funders is not wrong. Google and You Tube have rules which forbid hate speech. Why don’t these apply to Muslims as a group?