Innocence of Muslims is a satirical anti-Muslim video created and produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian- American based in Los Angeles, California. The video is fourteen minutes long and, therefore, better referred to as a trailer rather than a feature film. However, there is a full feature film, to which Innocence of Muslims is rumored to serve as a trailer. It is shot in a low budget fashion, with a poorly written script that was overdubbed onto the footage after shooting the actual movie. The trailer ridicules the Islamic prophet Muhammad, underrating His religious importance and depicting him as a womanizer (Innocence of Muslims).
The film came at a time, when Egypt was at a point of political unrest. The Egyptian citizens were fighting for their political freedom against tyranny. The trailer only added to the aggravation of the Egyptian population that desperately needed a period of peace and serenity. The United States was waiting to choose a new leader at that time. In the case of the United State, the trailer turned an unnecessary heat towards the nation and its leaders at a crucial political period. The international Muslim society was also sensitive to a considerable degree to any anti-Muslim content, either in the form of speech or publicized materials, created to provoke any reactions from the society (Leithead).
This short trailer reminds the worldwide audience of the significance of the media society, and the impact the content hosted on the various media sites, both local and international, has on the viewers. A lot of controversy surrounds the creation, funding and the distribution of the trailer, not forgetting its director (Leithead). This paper seeks to explain the various controversial issues surrounding the film and its implications on a religious and international front, as well as the media society.
In order to analyze the required information and tackle the issues presented in the movie, I have watched the thirteen minute trailer off the internet site YouTube. I will also go through various reviews and articles from different credible sites on the Internet with the purpose of further understanding of the views of the people affected and the ways, in which they were affected.
The History and Creation of the Trailer
The creation and directing of the trailer is accredited to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The director, Nakoula, is an Egyptian-American living in the United States, Los Angeles, California, to be exact. He is a fifty-five year old Coptic Christian known to have served a prison sentence after being charged with intent to manufacture the drug, Methamphetamine, in 1997 (Leithead).
Nakoula directed the trailer under the alias of Sam Bacile, who claimed to be an Israeli national looking to create a fictional, historic Arab film about tribal wars between desert communities enhanced by a comet that arrives on Earth. The initial film titled Desert Warrior was shot with a cast of 80 people, all of whom are angered by the use of their faces in the production of an offensive product.
As Sam Bacile, Nakoula posted promotional trailers on YouTube. These trailers were done in the English language and served as stage setters for the Arabic dubbed film that was to follow. The trailer is alleged to have been bank rolled by the Jewish community, a claim that excessively angered many (Hayes). Nakoula claims to have received funding for the film from his wife’s family in Egypt. A not-for-profit Christian organization based in America, Media For Christ, obtained rights to shoot the film in August 2011 with the director Nakoula offering his home as the set.
The film was promoted by the anti-Muslim preacher Terry Jones known to have publically declared his intentions to burn the Quran. His comments about the Quran caused an uproar amongst the Islamic society. His involvement with the trailer further widened the rift between himself and the international Islamic society, making whatever little goodwill towards him, which is still left in the hearts of the members of the Islamic community, dwindle further (Hayes).
The impact of the trailer was felt far beyond the American and the Egyptian nations. It caused an uproar that stemmed from the Egyptian nation and spread throughout other Islamic nations. The law of the United States was also challenged, and Google Inc. was not spared by the international community, as well (Leithead). The implications of the film not only took effect on the international level, but on a personal level as well. The actors of the trailer, as well as the director received their share of repercussions from the production of the film.
Implications on the Actors
The Actors and actresses of the film have been ridiculed and looked down upon due to their involvement in the film. One of the film’s actresses, Anna Gurji, wrote to the creator of Sandman, Neil Gaiman, who is also a renowned author. She sought Gaiman’s help in a bid to explain her side of the story. Gaiman offered to host her story, unedited and unchanged, on his blog, so that the world might have a chance to know her side of the story. The two met at the reading of the Blood Kiss, a film under production, when Gaiman tabled his offer (McMillan).
According to Miss Gurji, the trailer released is different from the one they casted for. In her email to Mr. Gaiman, she confirmed that the initial movie’s title is Desert Warrior and not Innocence of Muslims (McMillan). She goes further in explaining the ill treatment towards her as an actress by different people for getting involved in such a malicious content. She affirms that no member of the cast was aware of the true purpose of the film. The movie, in which she was involved, was an adventure movie with a fictional setting. It told the story of tribal leaders engaging their tribes in wars in order to obtain a comet (Hom).
She further reassures the international audience that no mention of the prophet Muhammad or any reference to any Islamic content was made throughout the film. It was clear that the anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim content was overdubbed after the actual filming was done. She describes the pain of being wrongly accused (McMillan). She emphasizes the emotional torture of seeing riots erupt over a film that was wrongfully produced and seeing people killed over the same film that was intended for their entertainment.
In her email, she refuses to hide and change her normal lifestyle claiming that she had done nothing wrong and, thus, had nothing to hide. She urges the international community, whether Muslim or not, to stop the violence and the killing of the innocent, but focus on the peace and resolution of the whole saga in a peaceful manner instead (McMillan). From her story, it is clear that the film had a negative psychological and emotional impact on its actors and actresses.
Impact on Arabic and Muslim Nations
In Arabic and Islamic nations, the broadcasting and the distribution of the trailer dubbed in Arabic angered the masses. The impact was first felt in Egypt, and this was where it was felt to a considerable extent. The trailer begins with a scene of violence. It shows the attack on Christians, a trashed medical clinic in Egypt with the Egyptian police looking at it, but doing nothing to help them (Hayes).
The trailer came to light in Egypt, after it was aired on Al Nas, a television channel in the country, hosted by Sheikh Khaled Abdalia. This fueled the anxiety in Egypt, causing an outbreak of protests against the film targeted at the American embassy (Hom).
During the demonstration, the American flag hoisted at the embassy walls was taken down by an angered group of protestors and replaced with a black Islamic flag. The demonstrations in Egypt saw at least one death and a total of 250 people injured. This information was according to a post made on Ahram Online on September 13, 2012.
The demonstrations soon spread to other nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan and Lebanon. The Islamic Muslim society was angered by the content of the trailer and was demanding that it should be taken down from YouTube and burned from airing. In total, the airing of the trailer led to the deaths of 75 people and injuring of up to 687, all of whom had nothing to do with the creation, funding, promotion and distribution of the film.
Impact on International Media
The trailer was predominantly distributed to the international audience via the public media platform, YouTube. It first appeared on YouTube on the 1st of July, 2012. It later attracted the attention of Arab speaking nations after Morris Sadek, a blogger, and Sheikh Khaled Abdalla called the attention to the trailer. Following the commotion it caused in Egypt and Libya, the media platform, YouTube, voluntarily blocked the video and banned its viewing in these two nations (Hom).
YouTube was also forced to block the video in Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Singapore due to the local laws pertaining the airing and distribution of such films. Brazil and Russia blocked the film from viewers as an act of goodwill. In Pakistan, the parent company to YouTube, Google Inc., took the initiative to block the video due to the unrest that plagued the nation.
The Pakistani and Sudanese governments went ahead to ban YouTube as a whole, until the video was taken down from the site. Iran followed the lead of its counterparts and moved to ban Google and its email service, Gmail. Chechnya ordered all Internet service providers to block YouTube, a move that later was adopted by Dagestan. The video and its content were also banned in Jordan (Innocence of Muslims).
YouTube, however, claimed that it could not completely ban the hosting of the video globally as it fell within its rights as a film (Bradshaw). According to the video guidelines on YouTube, the video could not be placed under the hate speech category as its content was against the Islamic religion and not the Muslim people.
Impact on the Director
The director of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, alias Sam Bacile, was jailed for his involvement in the film. He had initially denied any connection to the persona of Sam Bacile. After further investigations were carried out, the two personas were found to be the same person. He was arrested by federal authorities in Los Angeles on the 27thSeptember, 2012. He was charged with violation of probation terms (Bradshaw). He pleaded guilty to four of the charges made against him on the 7th of November, where he was sentenced to one year in prison with a four year term of a supervised release. The producer could not be prosecuted for blasphemy and hate speech as the First Amendment protected the right to speak freely. Prosecuting the producer on these grounds would be unconstitutional and an infringement of the producer’s rights.
The creation, funding, promotion, distribution and airing of the short trailer on the international level has led to deaths and injuring of scores of innocent people. The power of the media society to influence and shape the perceptions of people is also well brought out by this trailer and the consequent events following its release. It is evident that Innocence of Muslims affected Islam and Muslims negatively due to the reactions it elicited.