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International experts called Innocence of Muslims movie crude attempt to inflame religious hostility

14:14 | 24.09.2012 | Analytic

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24 September 2012. PenzaNews. The international community continues to discuss the situation around the US anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims which spurred waves of protests and attacks on US consulates in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, resulting in the murder of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats.

Protests against Innocence of Muslims movie in Bahrain. Photo: Wikipedia.org

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According to some observers, death of the “American hero of the Libyan Revolution,” who was one of the main coordinators behind the US aid to the Libyan opposition wrestling with Muammar Gaddafi regime last year, resembles the murder of the deposed Libyan leader. Some media reported that Christopher Stevens was killed by the “revolutionaries whom he helped to seize power.”

Analyzing the situation, Richard Roberts, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling called Innocence of Muslims video a crude and amateurish attempt to smear the Prophet Mohammed which is undoubtedly objectionable to anyone concerned with matters of historical truth in religion.

“Notwithstanding the objectionable character of this film I do not consider that the violent and irrational response of some Muslims to such critical observations on their religion and its originator is in any way justified. I regard the murder of Chris Stevens and others as a disgraceful and despicable act,” the expert said.

“The fact that this or that film or text may be offensive to some persons’ religious beliefs is not sufficient grounds for its violent and murderous suppression. Thus I would regard the British film, “The Life of Brian” as amateurish, repellent, singularly unfunny and a blasphemous depiction of the life of Jesus Christ, yet I would not under any circumstances consider my revulsion an excuse to direct violence against its makers,” Richard Roberts added.

Meanwhile, the question of censorship or some restrictions seems to him controversial. On the one hand, the professor would not want young children to see this or some other cruel videos, however, attempts of some religious groups to ban “blasphemy” also come with some risk.

“More threatening indeed would be the efforts of any religious group to secure the universal enactment of a total prohibition of “blasphemy,” a development that might well lead to the suppression of all critical discourse concerning religious beliefs and practices,” he said.

At the same time, the important question for Richard Roberts is why such a lamentable, lacking in all artistic worth video excited such a response. According to him, an answer to this and other relevant questions demands a relentless and informed investigation and exposure of the roots of the psychopathology of religious extremism. And without this the global situation regarding inflamed fundamentalisms is likely to worsen.

In turn, Hugh Lovatt, Middle East Peace Process Project Officer at the European Council on Foreign Relations stressed that the video remained in obscurity until it was brought to the attention of Egypt TV host Khaled Aballah of Al-Nas channel who re-transmitted the clip on air.

“It is undoubtedly the Egyptian Al-Nas (Saudi backed and Salafi orientated) which played the biggest part in not only stoking tensions in the Muslim world but also as a purveyor of the film’s anti-Islam sentiment. Unfortunately, we may never know if its decision to re-screen it was motivated by a duty of public information, genuine outrage or anti-Westernism,” he said.

Moreover, the most unsettling aspect for the expert is actually the shady relationship that existed between the film’s producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and his financial backers “Media for Christ”.

“This again seems to tie into the broader picture of Christian extremists in the US seeking to provoke a Muslim reaction, all in the name of free speech,” Hugh Lovatt noted.

In the meantime, the White House, according to him, has sought to walk a tight rope between placating Muslim anger by apologizing for the film while at the same defending freedom of expression and condemning violence. Yet it has been unable to calm feelings in the Middle East or shield it from Republican attacks, which have sought to make this into an election issue by painting Obama as an apologist for Islamic radicalism.

“In Libya, meanwhile, circumstances surrounding the attacks on US diplomatic personnel in Benghazi remain unclear, its seems highly likely though that spontaneous demonstrations there were hijacked by extremists – perhaps linked in some way to al-Qaeda – who used events as cover for a pre-planned attack with the dual aim of avenging the death of the al-Qaeda commander and marking the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks,” the analyst stated.

In addition, he noted that most demonstrators have indeed not seen the film in question and have only acted through hearsay.

“Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that there can be that many in urban centers who have not heard about the film and its contents. And even if they were to see it at some point I doubt they could have a worse opinion of the West than they currently have,” emphasized Hugh Lovatt and added that Islamist groups in the Middle East have in many cases fanned the flames of legitimate protest in order to reassert themselves in a post-Arab Spring political context.

“Extremists feed off of each other. In doing so, they create a vicious circle in which Western fanatics seek to offend in order to defend their vision of free speech while Eastern fanatics view violence as the only way to defend their faith and show their indignation,” Middle East Peace Process Project Officer at the ECFR said.

Peter Krausz, Chairman of the Australian Film Critics Association (AFCA), psychologist, called the over-reaction “incredibly ridiculous.” This, according to him, demonstrates the danger of extremists and fundamentalists found in any religion.

“Some radical Muslims see the West as evil personified, and will find any way to justify violence, death and destruction, rather than seeking peaceful solutions,” said Peter Krausz and added that the criminal perpetrators need to be punished.

However, the filmmaker of the anti-Islamic movie, in his opinion, had the right to create this satire.

“Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese or Life of Brian by Monty Pyton could be seen as similarly vilifying race and religion, yet we do not commit violence over them,” said Chairman of the Australian Film Critics Association.

Moreover, Peter Krausz suggested that “in democracy all opinions have the right to be heard.”

“Preventing the open expression of different views, censorship only creates more problems. It is better for people to reasonably discuss issues without any threats of violence or rancor,” he said.

At the same time, the analyst noted that there would always be issues and concerns but people need to deal with them in a reasonable and measured way.

“Violence never solves anything, yet for some people that is the only way they know how to react,” said Peter Krausz and added that raising the level of education could be a powerful force in the struggle for a peaceful solution of conflicts.

In turn, Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, reader in the comparative and international politics of western Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, believes that Innocence of Muslims is utterly racist film, which is meant to cause as much insult as possible.

“There is not even an effort to satirise anything; it is plain bigotry of the worse kind,” said the expert and added that in a perfect world it would be simply ignored.

“Yet as I have argued in my recent study on the topic of a “clash of civilisations”, there are powerful movements in the United States and Israel, as well as in the Muslim world which have an interest in perpetuating the myth of a clash between the “west” and “Islam”. The tragic death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and several other US personnel is the latest outcome of this persistent battle between these minority groups who share a common goal: to destroy reasoned dialogue and to provoke violence. I have described this as a “civil war” between two movements with a similar, destructive mindset,” the analyst stated.

According to him, there is a political context to any kind of violence.

“Racist films like this one are a spark that enflame existing grievances against US foreign policies. While there is no such thing as a coherent Islamic movement, there are grievances shared by the people who have been the target of the recurrent wars in West Asia and North Africa. The demonstrations in the different places may seem like an orchestrated coherently “Islamic” response, but really they are geared to local dynamics and exploited for local, mostly national politics,” Arshin Adib-Moghaddam noted.

The expert stressed that he was against censorship; however, he believes that there needs to be a dialogue within each society about the degree of insult that can be legitimately digested by minorities.

“While there is no link between the movie and the US government, there clearly are Islamophobic tendencies in the country that are being exploited by right-wing movements which threaten the democratic nature of the state from within,” the analyst stated.

Nathan Lean, editor-in-chief at Aslan Media and Middle East expert, noted that the hysteria over this film would subside until the next film like it appears.

“The individuals that peddle hate of Muslims are not going anywhere. They will find other ways to aggravate extremists for one simple reason: they depend on their violence to legitimize their anti-Muslim narratives. It is a symbiotic relationship, and that is the real danger,” the expert said.

At the same time, from his point of view, the anti-Muslim film is only a part of the reason we are seeing protests in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

“There are, of course, a lot of other factors that are fueling a climate of tension and instability, not the least of which is the recent period of revolutions that have crumbled the political foundations in many of these places. In Libya, the attack on the consulate was well planned and organized. It was not in response to the film. People just do not show up in mobs to protest derogatory films with rocket launchers under their arms. Something else was at work here, and so the majority of peaceful Libyans should not get swept up under the rug with the fringe extremists,” emphasized Nathan Lean.

According to him, the film had a response because the Islamophobia industry exploited their free speech rights and intentionally incited a minority population. In his opinion, the movie “was a flashpoint and it does certainly offend many Muslims, but there is no real reason to believe that this movie will be the reason for an uptick in raucous protests.”

“What we need is a forceful counter-discourse that drowns out this nasty and vile hate speech and refuses to allow these individuals to endanger diplomats, prejudice minority groups, and rip apart the fabric of pluralism that should bind us as global citizens,” the expert concluded.

Innocence of Muslims is an anti-Islamic film produced in the United States.

According to some reports, the director of the low-budget film is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who, however, denies this saying that he only provided logistical and organizational support.

The film’s cast and crew members say they were grossly misled about the intent and purpose of the video because all of the religious references were overdubbed after filming.

According to some media reports, the full-length version of the film was shown under the title Innocence of Bin Laden in one of the cinemas of Hollywood in July.

The trailer for the film in the English language was released on 2 July 2012.

In September, the video became available in Arabic. Then it was shown on Al-Nas channel in Egypt.

The wave of protests, which started in Cairo, began to spread to other countries in the region, including Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Tunisia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran.

On 11 September 2012, an armed attack on the US diplomatic mission took place in Benghazi, Libya and resulted in the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats.

The protests also took place in Belgium, France, the UK, Denmark and Australia.

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