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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 That was a lie, relying on that outdated anti-Semitic standard of Christian theology: whenever anything goes wrong, blame the Jews.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. Eileen G. Miller says:

    People are going to say anything about any religion. I don’t see the Christians, Catholics, Jews or any other religion up in arms if they say something about their religions. The Islamic people need to take some chill pills cause God forbid if we do. All hell breaks out. But Obama shouldn’t have said anything about Egypt not being our ally but they not our enemy. I think killing Americans and burning the American flags means something..!!


  2. Jim R says:

    All of that anger and hate for the US in over 20 countries is not just because of this movie.
    Our CIA , military presence and missile attacks from our drones, may be the driving force behind such hatred. Maybe they are just tired of our meddling in their corner of the world, we call it ” Protecting our interests”
    Our interests may not be the same as theirs.


    • DoubleGator says:

      Which is the reason why our foreign policy needs to be shaped by people/leaders with the depth and breath of understanding of the complexities involved. We pay a price today for the blunders of the neocans and their simplistic pejarotive view of the muslim world and perceived right to nationbuild.


  3. Magicone says:

    This is truly sad. We lost our Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, our information management officer Sean Smith, and 2 former Navy Seals. There is no doubt that this was timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11/2001. Our city did not even lower their flags to 1/2 mast. Did anyone notice?? Even yesterday when Neil Armstrong was buried at sea; the 2 tallest flags in our county (Indian Trails Sports Complex and the Elks clubs flag, highly visible from I-95) were flying at the top of their flag posts. What does that tell you about the people running our city government???


  4. Geezer says:

    I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ quote: “Religion poisons everything.”
    Especially ISLAM.

    Islam is (to me) the most virulent, and blind of major religions.
    One-billion strong. All belonging to a global ideological pandemic that threatens all of us.

    “The religion of peace” -my ass.


    • Ben D`s Fren says:

      Yes it gets a little old trying to protect them , we say its not the Islamic religion , its Islamic extremist , We`ll there`s a lot of them , and they are training children to hate America too, they have training camps in all them Muslim countries teaching children to use guns and bombs and asking them to strap on suicide bombs to kill our troops, and part of it is, they are tired of us policing their countries, , hell I`m tired of it too , that cost us trillions of dollars to fight wars over there, we got people in this country that need that bad, we have millions of homeless , hungry , sick, bring our troops home ,station them on our boarders, protect us from the lunatics here , there are sleeper cells over the united states , I don t know why they are so violent over there, but they have been since I was old enough to read , and if this country used all the money on our country, since the 60`s that we`ve spent over there policing and fighting wars in the middle east , we would have no deficit , many less homeless and hungry people , and a lot less hating us , but then, they hate each other too , its a lot of hate over there , maybe its because they got sand chaffing them in the shorts, who knows, just get our people out , and keep them out , take care of our own people for a change , we need it ……….bad


  5. old surfer says:

    interesting that michael moore appears to be the most america hating human being on the planet,is loved and revered by the press,media, and public,yet when somebody (nut case as it were) makes a movie about muslims and terrorists (see 911) he’s hated and has his constitutional rights threatened by our own administration,press and media. unbelievable.


  6. Samuel Smith says:

    Freedom is speech is an important backbone of American society and you are completely correct in stating that Basseley was totally within his rights to make the movie. You need to be careful, however, of mixing up “freedom of speech” with “freedom from consequences.” As an egyptian coptic christian, Basseley knew that his movie would absolutely antagonize devout muslims. To boot, he also pretended to be a Jewish filmmaker. The consequences of his free speech are rioting in several countries in the middle east, a number of attacked embassies and consulates, and dead americans.


  7. Pierre Tristam says:

    Eileen, of course killing Americans and burning the American flag means something, but not the same thing: killing a human being is murder. You can burn the American flag all day long, it’ll never hurt a fly, let alone a human being, or make a difference about what we’re about (except to prove that we can do that sort of thing here without, one hopes, consequences). Only fools equate burning a piece of cloth, however symbolic, with actual harm–just as only fools think that making fun of Mohammed somehow diminishes him or harms the religion of his followers.


  8. Lonewolf says:

    “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.”

    He’ll become the “issue” if he is elected President. Please do not let this incompetent become president.


    • sam8131 says:

      Sorry Lonewolf, we need a leader. Obama must go!


    • FlaglerCtyresident says:

      I suppose you can’t wait to re-elect the blundering idot named Joe Biden and Obama that hasn’t done anything for the economy. He has never had a paying job and pretty soon no one else in America will either.


  9. Karma says:

    I can not believe this administration is still blaming the movie for all this violence and hated.Jay Carney (Press Secretary) must think we are all fools. Even the press had a hard time with his answers.
    I still do not understand the issue with Romney. Last time I checked the Embassy in Cairo falls under the watch of the Commander and Chief(oversees State Dept) of this country. Funny how he takes credit for Bin Laden’s death and yet distance himself from what was put of from the Embassy.


    • NortonSmitty says:

      That is the funniest thing I have read with the word Karma in it since “My Karma ran over your Dogma” but not quite so profound.


  10. Bill McGuire says:

    I wonder, if Mohammad Mossadegh were still alive and the US could redo supporting The Shah in the 50s if history would be playing out differently today.


    • NortonSmitty says:

      If we’re playing What If, What If we had taken out Ayatollah Khomeini when he was just a loudmouth preacher in Paris?


  11. Dorothea says:

    I have been following this story and even many pundits agree that Libya was the target of a terrorist plot, using the demonstrations against the movie for cover. The FBI is now investigating.

    According to foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who covers the Mideast and North Africa, and I paraphrase, when the riots were unleashed in Libya it became clear that the embassies and consulates were not well protected and they then became targets of the unrest. Engel, who is bilingual, was photographed interviewing the rioters while the rioting was ongoing, not sitting around in armchairs making comments about that which they know little. Ditto for the numbskull of a presidential candidate who made up an entirely false story out of nothing, even doubling down on his comments when they proved to be untrue.

    All of you who are now indicting an entire religion, there were Libyans who rushed to the aid of the Americans and were injured or killed in the process. I’m sure as the media continues to cover these events there will be much more to be learned on the subject.

    We live in country where a university campus goes beserk because a coach who protected a serial pedophile is fired or because some team lost a football game with barely a nod, but some of these same good citizens are quick to condemn unreasonable violence when it happens in another country.


  12. Yellowstone says:

    Freedom of speech allows you to say what you want??!!

    Try yelling “Fire” in a crowded room; like a theater audience. Or calling the airport police and saying “There’s a bomb in my luggage”.

    See how free you feel once they put you away in a cage; that is, barred room or fenced enclosure for confining prisoners

    Freedom does not mean free!


    • jespo says:

      Yellowstone, your logic is flawed and without understanding of the matter at hand. Your examples of freedom of speech refer to making false statements meant to initiate an emergency response to secure the public safety; the falseness lessens the response capability to an actual emergency and could cause forseeable injury and that is what is condemned and punishable by law,

      The matter at hand is about freedom of expression; of ideas, thoughts, and opinions and is covered under the freedom of speech we relish in this country and it should be protected and supported at all times. To do otherwise is to live in fear of ‘offending’ anyone and face dire consequences…much as a slave would. I, for one, will never live like that. And for the record, freedom means as much as you let it mean, as much as a nation allows it to mean. It can mean ‘free’ in the truest meaning of the word if a nation wants it, fights for it, holds it, lives for it, never lets it go, and is willing to die for it. Don’t be so quick to give it up.


  13. DoubleGator says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful article. This is not a war to be won with military might or false bravado. It is not a quick war. A conventional war. Nor a war for the faint of heart. It is a different war than any previously fought. It really is a war within the Muslim world to determine their destiny. Peace or war?


  14. NortonSmitty says:

    What we are being sold on this disaster is not plausible. It does not have the ring of truth to me. Our press is feeding us trivia about actors and poor production values. And stories about ungrateful Muslim hoards protesting against the US after all we’ve done for them! But ignoring the big picture. The facts of the what are distracting us from the why.

    On 9/11 the news sources all over the middle east sent everyone to the ‘net to get inflamed, then as usual hit the streets to go nuts over the latest insult to the Prophet. But unlike the Egypt and Tunisian protests, the attack in Benghazi was a military pre-planned operation, Our embassy was attacked with sophisticated missiles that breached the embassy walls and followed by disciplined troops backed by heavy weapons fire. It was radically different from tall of the other protests before or since. The Ambassador was targeted, assassinated and the attackers escaped immediately. This was not the act of a mob protesting a movie.

    Now this convoluted tale about who made the movie, first reported to be an Israeli named Sam Becile (Imbecile?) who doesn’t exist. Then a Coptic Christian who raised the $5 Million financing the film from the American Coptic community and distributed by Pastor Jerry Jones of “Burn a Koran Day” fame. To open our eyes to the Islamo-Fascist Threat to our American Way of Life or something. But it doesn’t add up.

    First, according to The Guardian, the entire movie has never been seen and may not exist. Just the thirteen minute trailer. (A little long for a trailer, isn’t it?) It originally was titled “The Innocence of Bin Laden” ( and was meant to draw Muslims into the theater thinking they were seeing a movie defending Osama and Jihad. Then they would see a movie where their prophet performs oral sex on his mother in between other perversions. Boy, it’s a good thing those Muslims have shown a great sense of humor regarding their Prophet in the past!

    Does it make any sense at all that this was done by the Christian Egyptian Coptic’s? They have been an oppressed Egyptian minority routinely slaughtered as scapegoats by Mullahs since before Constantine put the Bible together. What would possibly make them decide now is a good time to poke the newly ruling Islamic Brotherhood in the eye? How have they lived by their wits since year 1AD and suddenly think “I know, let’s spend $5 Million on a sophomoric production of a semi-comedy depicting Mohammed as a simpering perverted pedophile! Surely that will help our cause!”. They were being attacked alreadyby the Islamacists. After this they are probably being slaughtered as we speak.

    I cannot be the only one who smells some kind of intelligence operation here. This is so far out of the bounds of sensibility that I can’t believe we aren’t supposed to see through it. This is a textbook false-flag operation. By who is the real question.


  15. Clint says:

    Ever time I read articles from this web site, I get a “GUT” feeling it has a not so American agenda. Calling an American a “FOOL” if he or she has a problem with our national symbol being burned or torn is WAY past what I would call journalism. As far as muslims and their prophet…they can stay over their and “ROT” until the ends of time. This old soldier will continue to fight for American, our Flag, and our Constitution until the twelveth of never.


    • Pierre Tristam says:

      You’re right Clint, that particular reflection about the flag is not journalism. It’s the law (the predominant agenda here–well, that and evidence-based arguments). From Justice Brennan’s decision defending the right to burn the flag: “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.” And from Justice Kennedy’s concurrence: “Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.” Incidentally, Justice Scalia, too, in one of his more constitutionally lucid moments, joined that majority. I hope that what you mean by continuing to fight for America, a sentiment we all share, is that you’ll also be fighting to uphold the law, and defending the rights of the likes of Gregory Johnson to burn the flag.


      • Anonymous says:

        Ah yes..Our beloved Supreme Court jesters. The ones that allowed the Ten Commandments removed from our schools and public places. And don’t you or the other jesters on this site tell me your fighting for America because your not. And the Law I will uphold will be the Law that stands for America and not for America’s corrupt government.


    • NortonSmitty says:

      Hopefully by the thirteenth you will come to realize maybe you were led around by your nose all these years and your patriotism exploited. Our flag and our constitution never started any war or conflict. The politicians, international banks and oil companies do. The fool is the one who lets them push their God and Country button to send our boys across the world to fight and die for their benefit, not ours. And yet they seem to convince many of us to do just that, over and over again.


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