Over a film? Really? A film that was never distributed? A film that almost no one has seen? A film that had 14 minutes uploaded to YouTube? This tragedy is all over … that?
So goes the American reaction to the violence last week that spread throughout the Arab world and took its venom to the steps of U.S. embassies, resulting in mass protests, injuries and deaths, including the killing of an American ambassador.
A film? On YouTube? That’s where all this started? It is true, this “movie” – never shown to real audiences and deceptively labeled “Innocence of Muslims” – is insulting and hateful toward the prophet Mohammed. It is also reportedly the work of a radical kook and former criminal who, at publication of this column, is in hiding.
So why attack Americans? It’s not as if Congress made the film. It’s not as if every U.S. citizen was on the set. Heck, it’s not as if any of us have even seen it!
To use this shoddy propaganda as justification for violence against Americans abroad is as indefensible as using a single hateful lesson taught at a Middle Eastern madrassa to justify attacking Arab embassies here. We know such lessons exist – just as crazy YouTube videos exist.
We don’t go killing people over it.
But this is another fundamental clash between Western and Islamist extremists’ attitudes. The playbooks don’t match up.
“Look, this is not the first time an offensive film or movie clip has been posted,” said Dr. Walid Phares, a scholar, commentator and adviser to Congress on the Middle East. “This (film) didn’t trigger a reaction. It triggered an opportunity for fundamentalists to strike.”
Phares, like many, believes an attack on Sept. 11 was already being coordinated. And he correctly notes the distinction between radical elements and mainstream Muslims. If this clip were taken seriously by the latter, “you’d have seen tens of thousands in the streets, maybe millions, protesting from Jakarta to Senegal. It did not happen. People know this is an extreme movie, and these (people attacking the embassies) are extremists.”
Or, put another way, you have one group looking for any excuse to attack Americans, and one very bad amateur movie producer who gave them what they wanted.
There’s no justification
It didn’t help that initial reports – in publications as reputable as the Wall Street Journal – had the film being produced by an Israeli man and financed by 100 wealthy Jewish Americans (which turned out to be a lie). Now the consensus is an ex-con Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is responsible. Nakoula seems to have countless aliases and a bank fraud conviction, so believing anything about him should be done cautiously.
But in America, we have learned to dismiss people like Nakoula as loose cannons, misguided extremists or sad nut jobs. We know that if you’re looking for web hate, you can find plenty from people like him. The Internet is a garden of vitriol. It is the price you pay for egalitarian access to a worldwide microphone.
We Americans celebrate the freedom behind that. Other parts of the world fear it. But everyone must get used to it. You can’t lock the Internet from every misguided creep who wants to use it. That doesn’t mean you kill innocent people over it.
“There is no justification for such violence,” said Victor Begg, senior adviser to the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “Our message is no to violence and no to extremism.”
It’s a message that needs to be delivered from the rational end of the Islamic community to the irrational one. After all, mainstream films have depicted Jesus as confused, sexual, comical. You don’t see fervent Christians killing people over it.
Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism – all have been mocked or insulted in video form, and these groups sometimes react strongly. But there is an understood line between protesting and committing acts that are fundamentally against the very religion you are defending.
Over a film, we ask? No. Not really. The real crime here isn’t a poorly produced video, the real crime is extremists draping that video over their hatred to justify murder and mayhem.
It’s a thin cover. And the world – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – should see right through it.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org