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The Awful Film That's Ignited Anti-American Fury in the Middle East

Amateurish films funded by religious fundamentalists aren’t uncommon. But translate them into the language of other religious fundamentalists, and you can spark a hell-storm of murderous fury. Yesterday a chanting crowd of approximately 2,00...

by Daniel Stuckey
Sep 12 2012, 3:40pm

Amateurish films funded by religious fundamentalists aren’t uncommon. But translate them into the language of other religious fundamentalists, and you can spark a hell-storm of murderous fury.

Yesterday a chanting crowd of approximately 2,000 Egyptians stormed the walls of the American embassy in Cairo, while another mob in Benghazi stormed the U.S. consulate there. In Egypt, the mob scaled the embassy and tore the U.S. flag to pieces while raising a black Islamic flag of their own. In Benghazi, RPGs were fired at the consulate which was also set to flames. Twenty gunmen fired rounds and rockets, one of which killed Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya who’s spent the last five years serving there. Three other Americans were also killed on the consulate grounds in Benghazi last night.

Rioting on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the protesters were apparently enraged by a 14-minute trailer for Innocence of Muslims, an amateurish film produced by a 52-year old Israeli-American that overtly ridicules Mohammad, depicting him as a woman-hating, overzealous pedophile, a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

(Update: There’s growing suspicion that the attack was planned for September 11, and that the uproar over the video was used by organizers as a cover for the attack.)

While the trailer above was uploaded to YouTube in July, the video gaining the attention of bloggers and Facebook pages in the Middle East is a version that’s been recently dubbed into Arabic, after a right-wing pastor began promoting it with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as "International Judge Muhammad Day."

A YouTube spokesperson said the website would not remove the video. The website’s guidelines call for removing videos that include a threat of violence, but not those only expressing opinions. YouTube’s practice is not to comment on a specific videos.

“We take great care when we enforce our policies and try to allow as much content as possible while ensuring that our Community Guidelines are followed,” the YouTube spokesperson said. “Flagged content that does not violate our Guidelines will remain on the site.”

Still, you likely won’t find the video on television, although Global Post correspondent Erin Cunningham tweeted that many Egyptians think the video is all over American airwaves. While analysts this morning are explaining the nature of the video or discussing the everyday security of U.S. officials in Libya, producers are staying clear of airing scenes from the film.

“The main problem is I am the first one to put on the screen someone who is (portraying) Muhammad. It makes them mad,” Sam Bacile, the man responsible for the film, told the AP. “But we have to open the door. After 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Muhammad.”

(Update: Sam Bacile is likely an alias.)

An Arabic television report on the video hosted by controversial TV host Sheikh Khaled Abdallah hyping the video as an American-Coptic plot

“I feel sorry for the embassy. I am mad,” Bacile added. "I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good. America should do something to change it."

A consultant on the film, Steve Klein, told The Blaze that when he vowed to help Bacile make the movie he warned him that "you're going to be the next Theo van Gogh," referring to the Dutch filmmaker who was killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a film that was seen as insulting to Islam.

"We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen," Klein said.

If you’ve spent any time in the 21st century, you likely know that many Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any manner, let alone insult the prophet and call him a pedophile. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who is one of the film’s promoters, inspired deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 by threatening to burn copies of the Koran and burning one in his church. He also once allegedly hanged President Obama in effigy. Jones’s response toward the riots and violence stirred by the video are, not surprisingly, unapologetic.

Extremist Coptic Christians have also been promoting the film. Medhat Klada, a representative of Coptic Christian organizations in Europe, told the AP he was concerned about the feedback effect of the protests, which only promotes the movie further. “They don’t know dialogue and they think that Islam will be offended from a movie.”

If you hit play on this video before reading any further into this article, I caution you, it’s awful. Imagine a 12-year-old kid attempting to create an amateur Sacha Baron Cohen-esque film with no societal awareness or understanding of consequences. I kid you not, no matter what your connection to religion, this film will flummox your morning, afternoon, evening, commute, sick-day; what have you. Watch it with a glass of cold water.

Protesters destroy U.S. flag at embassy in Cairo

What does the film say? The Atlantic summarizes:

It’s still not clear, but it appears to compare Mohammed to a donkey and Muslims, according to one translation, to “child-lovers.” The New York Times’ Liam Stack, offering some offhand translations of the scene shown above, called it a “doozy.” The man in the scene says of his donkey, “This is the first Muslim animal.” He asks the donkey if it likes girls; when it doesn’t answer, he bursts into laughter and says, “He doesn’t like girls,” according to Stack. Other scenes in the above clip seem to portray Muslim Egyptian characters, who for some reason all have strong New York accents, as immoral and violent, particularly toward the Christians whom they pursue with near-genocidal fervor. A number of Islam’s founding figures, including the prophet, are accused of homosexuality and child molestation.

Terry Jones (via)

As crowds gathered outside, officials at the American Embassy of Cairo tweeted a condemnation of the video, and published a press release, calling out the unforgivable bullying by such religious fanatics like Jones and the creators of Innocence of Muslims.

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

The message didn’t appear to help much. Later in the day, the Embassy deleted the tweets and the message, apparently because it didn't make an effort to defend the principle that even offensive speech deserves tolerance, a message crucial to the Obama administration as it attempts to promote democracy in the Middle East. "Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry," the Embassy tweeted later. The White House disavowed the Embassy’s early statements, but not before Mitt Romney attempted to score political points by blasting the administration for “sympathizing” with the protesters.

The text around this illustration translates as, “Remember your black day 11 September” (via)

Bacile, who has gone into hiding, says he is concerned for family members who live in Egypt. But he also says he intends to make “200 more hours” of video just like this one.

Follow Dan on Twitter: @danstuckey