The Islamic world is ablaze, and once again the target of the Islamists’ wrath is (guess who) the United States. The protests started in Egypt and quickly spread to Libya, where popular American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died when a band of miltants torched the U.S. consulate. Now the wildfires have spread to a dozen nations within Mohammed’s realm, that harsh and stony empire of fanatical faith that stretches from Morocco in the West to Indonesia in the East.
Why the sudden outpouring of hatred and vengeance in lands that were supposed to have been transformed by last year’s Arab Spring? Did the U.S. government offend Muslim sensibilities by admitting Israel to the union, or by declaring a holy war against Iran… or by outlawing the construction of an Islamic recreation center near Ground Zer0? No, the Islamists have been on the rampage because a lone American con man and ex-convict made an amateurish, disjointed, absurdly dubbed, almost incomprehensible 14-minute video, “Innocence of Muslims,” that denigrated the holy reputation of the Prophet.
The supreme irony is that the filmmaker is an Egyptian living in the United States. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who went by the pseudonym Sam Bacile and claimed to be an Israeli, had a legitimate ax to grind with Islam: he’s a Coptic Christian, member of an ancient
church that Islamists have been targeting in Egypt for decades. The assaults escalated after Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak fell from power, and dozens of Copts have died during attacks on churches (as well as from lethal force used by police during the resulting protests).
Nakoula Nakoula’s film begins with such an attack: Muslims terrorizing Christians in contemporary Egypt. Forced into hiding, a Christian family attempts to make sense of the violence, and the filmmaker suddenly cuts back to the time of Mohammed. The young prophet is portrayed by a handsome enough actor… but of course any visual portrayal of Mohammed is considered a crime against the Muslim faith. (If Christians had implemented such a rule for depictions of Jesus, every notable Renaissance artist would have been beheaded.) The film goes on to portray Islam’s founder as an increasingly promiscuous, intolerant and violent fanatic — a portrayal that, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t go over well in the Islamosphere.
Most of us would be justifiably angered to see Jesus or Moses portrayed in such a light. But here’s the point: we wouldn’t shed the blood of innocents because of an objectionable movie. It would be nearly impossible to imagine Presbyterians, Methodists or Reform Jews setting mosques ablaze after watching a stupid 14-minute video. That’s the difference between Islam and the two older Abrahamic religions.
The more fanatical followers of Islam — and their numbers are too great to be dismissed as a fringe element — still believe in collective guilt, that savage and primitive relic of Old Testament justice in which the sons can be blamed for the sins of their fathers, and the innocent can be punished along with the evildoers. It’s a nasty ancient tradition. Think of Jehovah cleansing the world of virtually its entire human population — babies, granddaddies and all — during the Great Flood… think of the plagues visited upon the innocent firstborn sons of Egypt… think of the wanton, divinely-sanctioned slaughter of Midianites and other tribes that stood between the Israelites and their Promised Land. Think of the centuries-long persecutions of Jews by the Catholic Church, based on the senseless notion that all Jews were to be held culpable for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Christians and Jews have left those ugly relics behind, but the Muslim world seems to be stuck in a medieval time warp. Moderate Muslims, civilized and educated, tend to keep their voices down and hope that the rabid element simply goes away. It makes sense: they’d rather not live with a fatwa dangling over their heads.
The New Moderate hopes that the murder of Ambassador Stevens, who devoted his life to the Muslim world and was well-liked by his hosts in Libya, could prove to be a turning point: moderate Muslims finally took to the streets and, with admirable grit, carried placards denouncing the crime. Even if their English was broken, their sentiments were whole: there could be no forgiveness for hooligans who murdered Americans because of a film produced by a renegade individual. Unlike the fanatics, they recognized that the notion of collective guilt is a mass injustice.
Meanwhile, in the West, right-wing Obamaphobes (not to mention the ostensibly “moderate” Mitt Romney) were ganging up on the president for “apologizing” to the terrorists. Internet message boards buzzed with rabid denunciations of our purported Muslim-in-Chief. Sorry, folks… it was the American embassy in Cairo that made the conciliatory remarks, not Obama. Other internet sites displayed grisly photos that purportedly showed vengeful Muslims dragging Ambassador Stevens’ soot-covered body through the streets in a triumphal procession. No again… the photos actually depicted Muslims who rushed to Stevens’ aid and carried the dying diplomat to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from smoke inhalation.
Fanaticism represents humanity at its most hysterical and most dangerous. Whether the fanatics are radical Islamists, fringe right-wingers, communists or fascists, all that misguided intensity can blind us to the truth. Fanatics see only what they choose to see.
Fanatics seem to be especially bent on vengeance when their beliefs are challenged. Their rigid fundamentalism gives them a sense of rock-solid security in a notoriously unpredictable universe. Take away that certainty, and all they have is a botched life and certain death to show for all their efforts.
Citing chapter and verse makes fundamentalists feel more at ease in the cosmos, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the time has come for all religions to recognize that their faiths are just that: faiths. Nobody has proof. No religion has an exclusive pipeline to the will of God. No religion can claim, with any validity, to possess books dictated by the creator of the galaxies. Religions have sprung from the inventive mind of man; God is who he is regardless of what we believe he is (or isn’t).
God, if he exists, would have to be far greater and more mysterious than the often petty patriarch who emerges from our ancient scriptures. No sentient being who invented atoms and gravity could possibly subscribe to simpleminded concepts like collective guilt. And I say thank God for that!
You can view “Innocence of Muslims” — all 14 minutes of it — here. And be sure to check the comments section if you want to sample the unbelievable vitriol that this film has unleashed.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Founder-editor of The New Moderate, a blog for the passionate centrist who would go to extremes to fight extremism. Disgruntled idealist… author of The Cynic’s Dictionary… inspired by H. L. Mencken… able to leap small buildings in several bounds. Lives with his son in a century-old converted stable in Philadelphia.