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When Riots In Defense of Islam Are More Vile Than Any Parody of the Prophet

| September 15, 2012

Degenerates at work: a scene from ‘Innocence of Muslims.’

It was quite a week for fanatics. A juvenile and insulting movie about the Prophet Muhammad that had drawn barely a dozen people when it premiered in Hollywood this summer hit the big time through YouTube. Muslim rioters went on rampages across the Islamic world, killing four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya. Broad brushes went to work, falsely painting that world by the colors of murderous minorities. Our own outraged candidate for president, always the faithful opportunist, contributed his own bit of fanaticism by falsely blaming the president for apologizing for the attacks.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive Mitt Romney said something stupid. That’s nothing new. He’ll get over it and move on to his next blunder. He’s not the issue. Nor is President Obama’s response: there’s only so much you can do in the face of a mob short of becoming one against it, particularly when rabble masquerading as piety is fueling the madness—in the Islamic world and in the United States.

The man who made the film is a convicted felon with a taste for crystal meth, which is known to trigger delusions almost as powerful as those of religious fanatics, and sometimes almost as violent. His name is Nakoula Basseley, an Egyptian-American. At first he duped the Wall Street Journal enough to pass himself off as an Israeli-American who’d made the film with the backing of Jewish donors. That was a lie, relying on that outdated anti-Semitic standard of Christian theology: whenever anything goes wrong, blame the Jews. The man is in fact a Coptic Christian, from that Orthodox sect of Christians who make up roughly 9 percent of Egypt’s population, though he has closer kinships with mad Islamophobes like Gainesville’s Terry Jones of “Burn a Koran Day” fame.

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This much is true: Copts don’t have it easy in Egypt. They’re treated the way blacks were treated in American’s pre-civil rights South. They’re frequently persecuted. The police give them little protection. They’re subject to arbitrary arrest and are often law enforcement’s default scapegoat. The former Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak was no more respectful of Copts than its Muslim Brotherhood successor regime. Copts’ exile community, including close to half a million adherents in the United States, can occasionally muster political pressure to ease their communities’ plight back home. Being hostage to religion’s natural effluents, they’re not without fanatics of their own.

It’s difficult to say what’s more offensive about Basseley’s movie: the acting and dialogue fit for a 1970s porn flick, the caricaturing of religion—poor persecuted Christians against bloodthirsty Muslims led by a prophet with a taste for pedophilia—or the insult to Islam.

But let’s be clear: Basseley had every right to make the movie. He has every right to ridicule the Prophet, just as he would have had every right to ridicule Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt if he so chose. He is an offensive moviemaker. He is not, in this regard, a lawbreaker. The wrong in this equation is the response of fundamentalists in the Muslim world, which is no less justifiable than the way it responded to the famous “Muhammad cartoons” in a Danish newspaper in 2005, or to The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s novel, in 1988.

The Satanic Verses, one of the great novels of the 20th century, made light of the prophet and some of his teachings, and ridiculed Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who responded with a death sentence on Rushdie. Khomeini’s response was more offensive than the vilest parodies that could be written or play-acted about Muhammad, whose sacredness does not extend to those who don’t wish to believe in it any more than Christ’s or the Mormon angel Moroni’s do. It was a vile response for the bloodletting it incited: Riots broke out against The Satanic Verses, dozens of people were killed in several countries, including translators of the book, and Rushdie had to live in hiding for a decade. In the twisted way of fundamentalist thinking, repeated in the murder of the four Americans in Libya and a few rioters and bystanders since, the killing of a human being was more justifiable than a mere verbal or written insult to a cherished religious figure—an insult that does no more harm to that figure, or to its believers, than a change in weather over Lake Okeechobee or the mood of wildebeests in the Serengeti.

Rushdie wrote a great book. Basseley made an obscene movie. But quality and artistic merit are not the gatekeepers of free expression. Both had the right to do what they did. That right must be defended for both. That doesn’t mean the content need be defended, or reactions exploited for political gain. So before ridiculing only those Muslim fundamentalists, let’s not pretend not to have our own, who apply the same perverted sense of justice by murdering gays or abortionists in the name of God or forbidding flag-burning in the name of freedom. The United States would look like a union of degenerates, too, if it were painted by the colors of its reactionary gangs, or its occasional replicas on the American electoral theater. They give us plenty to apologize for.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here, or follow him on Twitter.

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46 Responses for “When Riots In Defense of Islam Are More Vile Than Any Parody of the Prophet”

  1. Clint says:

    An Arab Muslim enters a taxi cab in Dallas, Texas, and once he’s seated he asks the cab driver to

    “turn off the radio because he must not hear music as decreed by his religion, and in the time of the

    prophet, there was no music, especially Western music, which is music of the infidel’s and certainly

    no radio.” So the cab driver politely switches off the radio, pulls over to the side, stops the cab and opens

    the back door. The Arab asks him: “What are you doing, man?” The Texan answers: “In the time of the prophet there were no taxis. So get out, stand on the curb and wait for a camel.”


  2. rthomp11 says:

    Close all the embassies that were attacked. Stop all foreign aid to those countries. Bring home all AMERICANS that are in those countries. They accept our aid but then kill our people. We built a friggin’ hospital in Irag with our tax dollars instead of rebuilding the one that was destroyed in New Orleans by Katrina. If my tax money is going to go somewhere I want it to go right back here on AMERICAN soil, for AMERICAN people, to better the lives of AMERICANS.


  3. Reinhold Schlieper says:

    One of the most serious problems with violence on behalf of a deity is that the violence is distrustful of the deity itself. In other words, religious violence indicates a deep-seated lack of faith. Note that when a god really is upset with someone, s/he smites that someone. Thus, when Onan spilled his seed on the ground instead of fathering a child, the deity of the Old Testament smote him.

    Now, deities that smite do not need some measly rabble-rousers to smite on the deity’s behalf. The deity is capable enough to do its own smiting. If I do the smiting for the deity, I don’t really trust that deity to be capable of smiting. And that clearly shows a lack of faith.

    As Tacitus said so long ago: Deorum iniuriae, Diis curae. [Let the gods handle the injuries done to the gods.] And that’s the way I see people who shoot abortion physicians or people who tear up houses in response to some silly person’s wanting to burn books or wanting to make bad films or writing books that criticize religion. If someone really upsets the deity, it’ll smite. So far, no smiting–no real anger yet. Stay tuned, World.

    But I also believe that what really irks these folks in the Middle East is the US unwillingness to play the game as other nations do. We really should critically examine the notion of US-American exceptionalism. For example, with so many nations having called for Bush and Rumsfeld standing trial at The Hague as war criminals, why is this country still not aboard for that way of settling strife between nations?


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