The narrative surrounding the protests and violence in the Middle East is that it is occurring because a film called Innocence of Muslims depicts Mohammed. It’s against Islamic law to create images of their prophet, and this movie certainly crosses that line as it has an actor portraying him. This same reason was credited for the fury in reaction to a drawing of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2005. This led to a Danish embassy bombings and fires across the Middle East:
As well, threats were directed toward the creators of the American television series South Park for featuring Mohammed in a bear costume in an episode in 2010:
Interestingly, in the summer 2001, South Park featured an image of Mohammed in an episode alongside all the figures of the major religions: Jesus, Buddha, Moses, and others:
For some reason the tides changed in that decade, and now a depiction of Mohammed is lethally taboo.
Truth be told, though, it’s not just the depiction of Mohammed in Innocence of Muslims that’s getting people’s goad. The film–or rather the extended trailer lasting almost 14 minutes–shines a very unflattering light on Mohammed, Muslims, and Islam in general.
Featuring slayings of innocents and resisters–some almost comically gruesome, plenty of womanizing by Mohammed and his followers, asserting Mohammed as homosexual and pedophile, and demonstrating Islam as nothing more than a improvised set of rules to favor the movement’s leaders, this trailer does a “nice” job of touching on every way to irritate and inflame a religion’s followers. It takes what is most sacred to Islam and mocks and desecrates it to extreme levels. And to help get away with it, the filmmakers duped the actors by having them recite the scripted lines and then dubbing in different words in post-production.
When looking at the deception and poor taste of the filmmakers, combined with the reaction from the Middle East, there are two common angles to this topic: one that gets after the movie-makers for causing the violence that’s led to untold property damage, further eroding international relations, and the killing of Americans and locals abroad. The other gets after the protesters for doing all this. It’s an important distinction where to place your scorn, because the one you blame is the one you demand more from.
U.S. officials are taking both sides, prefacing their condemnation of the violence with a condemnation of the film:
Diplomatically, this may be best. Legally, I have to wonder why the FBI reportedly detained the filmmaker for questioning:
This is a mess of a situation, and much must be done to clean it up. But beyond the on-the-ground X’s and O’s of how to move forward, the intriguing questions remain about the fury in the Middle East. Why do they get so angry? (Have psychologists studied this phenomena?) We take it granted as this has happens repeatedly, but it is extraordinary:
It appears to be one so rigidly defining that it proves too brittle to withstand the satirical attacks of a film.
Watching it, I actually laughed at how silly it looked and over-the-top it was.
Apples to apples, I would think that most Christians viewing a comparable indictment of Jesus might even laugh at such an attempt to rouse them. Christians I know who are strong in their faith use it as a shield against naysayers, able to stand the barbs of others. This film about Mohammed is so barb-full that it becomes a joke making fun of itself.
And here, in all it’s glory, is the 13:51 seconds that has triggered chaos, vandalism, and death:
Then again, I do think one has to simultaneously take an apples to oranges approach. Americans either by word or deed have been riling up the region for many decades. This film is the latest in escalating tensions in a region of growing instability; it didn’t just happen in a vacuum. Nor is it the first example of a group taking exception to a film. I remember how angry some Jewish groups got over The Passion of the Christ. Sometimes things that seem trivial to one person is a big deal to another.
Nonetheless, the rage in the Middle East all seems to go back to the age-old lesson: not caring so much about what others think. If people insult you or your religion, you don’t have to get so incredibly angry. I am open (actually hopeful) that there’s more to explaining these emotional explosions than a movie.
This is worth discussing, because I want to expect more from these charged and reactive populations. To dismiss their activity as usual or normal, I think, implies a severe loss of respect: When a young child eats too much candy we blame the adult looking after them. “The child doesn’t know better,” says the common knowledge. We can blame this film-maker for poor taste. We can blame him for taunting. We can blame him for creating hateful art. But by pinning the violence on him, what are we then saying about the Muslims? Who have they become in the above analogy?
to new plateaus,
p.s. Please chime in if you’ve anything to add. This is a tough topic to cover in one article, but perhaps it can be used as a jumping off point for further discussion below.