I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa. Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.
That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.
The video, brainchild of self-identified real estate developer Sam Bacile, portrays the Prophet Mohammed as, among other things:
- A child molester
- A sexually liberal polygamist, adulterer and homosexual
- An extortionist
- A murderer
- An overall doofus who talks to donkeys for advice.
In fairness to the cast and crew of the film, they collectively feel that the aim of the project was grossly misrepresented to them, and that much of the strange sound editing was done post-production to manipulate the message. They released the following statement to CNN:
"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."
Though notorious anti-Muslim pastor Terry Jones (remember the Koran-burning kerfuffle?) does not appear to be directly involved in the creation of the film, he is a vocal supporter and promoter of it, and has been called a “consultant” to the film by some news outlets.
This, combined with the fact that Bacile himself identifies as a “Israeli Jew,” (though he lives in the U.S.) gives me more than a moment of pause to wonder what in the world these two yahoos hoped to achieve in putting such tripe out into the public sphere.
Did they expect the U.S. embassies in Lybia, Egypt, and Yemen to be stormed, and for Americans to be killed? Probably not, though if they considered the implications of their actions beyond the end of their own noses, they would have realized that a violent response was possible, given previous reactions to denigrating treatments of Mohammed in the media (such as the cartoon fiasco). There may have been some hope that the reaction would be violent, assuming that such blowback might reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslims and monolithically angry and aggressive people.
But I have a sense that there is a bigger agenda beneath the project.
There are those in the Judeo-Christian tradition who not only expect the end of days to come soon; they hope to be agents in making it happen in our lifetime. Part of what some think has kept Armageddon at bay thus far is the relative stability of Israel, the site of so much conflict and religious infighting over the centuries. There are those who believe that the dissolution of such a tentative peace as the area now “enjoys” is the lynchpin that can start the apocalyptic ball rolling.
It’s staggering how eager some are to get their hands on that pin.
One thing that is fairly critical to preventing all-out war in Jerusalem and surrounding territories is the treaty between Egypt and Israel, brokered heavily by the Unites States. In short, the U.S. government provides extravagant amounts of aid to the Egyptian government in exchange for them not striking out against the Jewish state. But despite the relative silence of the Egyptian government on a daily basis, there is a deep current of resentment toward the Jewish people in Egypt for their very presence in the region. It’s not unlike a powder keg on which the Egyptian government sits, trying to keep anyone with matches far enough away to avoid catastrophe.
So what to do if you happen to be one of these who seeks to undermine such a fragile peace? You find ways to light the fuse. It seems to me that this is the ultimate goal of the Innocence of Muslims film.
These lunatics actually want to see a holy war tear the region apart.
In doing so, they believe God will rain fire down on the unrighteous, send His four horsemen down from the heavens and establish a new order on earth, in which the Judeo-Christian people (or for some, only Christians, depending on who you ask) will lord over all others.
God’s kingdom come? God’s will be done?
So what do we do about such insidious forces in our midst? Some howl for the limitation of free speech, but this won’t change anything in a digitally networked global climate. All it will do is serve to suppress those voices who seek to use legal means for communication. Do we clamp down, striking out against such evil to prevent it from spreading? As Walter Wink said, we become that which we hate by acting in kind to stop it. Wink also said that, in doing nothing, we are complicit in the violence that follows.
So what now?
First of all, if you are a person of faith, pray. Pray for the makers of the film, for the Muslims in Libya and Egypt who have reacted in anger, and for the people of Israel who wake up every day, resented or reviled by so many of their neighbors. Pray for the words to speak to those who ask “why?” and for the courage to stand against such forces of aggression, malice, and violence in everything we do and say as followers of Christ.
Be honest about your own biases, be they toward evangelical Christians, Muslims, Jews, or whomever. Talk openly of your fears, your hopes, and your ignorance. Seek the antidotes to such deficits through direct, personal relationship, through often awkward, sometimes vulnerable acts of humility and compassion for those who least expect it. Respond to anger with love, aggression with compassion, and avarice with patient hopefulness.
We are co-creators of God’s kingdom, here on earth, but this isn’t what it is to look like. God’s kingdom doesn’t come in on a swath of fire, wielding fearsome swords, but rather as a still, small voice, moving persistently throughout creation, seeking purchase to germinate small seeds of reconciliation, healing, and peace.
We may not even witness the full fruits of such seeds, but we’re called to plant them, nonetheless, despite the efforts of some to pull the yield from the earth by the roots. Keep planting, keep praying, and keep believing something better is possible.