If someone had planned to upend US foreign policy â€” to utterly destroy the very basis of all our diplomats (and military personnel) have been working to achieve in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world â€” they couldnâ€™t have done a better job of it than whoever put together Innocence of Muslims.
As violent protests spread, the consequences continue to roll in: the suspension of joint US-Afghan military operations, the suspension of US aid talks with Egypt, the rapid decline of US prestige in the region, and the growing influence of the radical Islamist movement US support for the â€œArab Springâ€ was designed to counter. The Obama administrationâ€™s effort to split the Islamist upsurge and lend its support to â€œmoderatesâ€ has been stopped cold.
Was the release of the video a random event, one of those unpredictables that can arise at any moment to foil the best-laid plans? Perhaps. Yet one is hard-pressed to explain what the makers of Innocence sought to accomplish, if not precisely what has occurred. According to various explanations floated in the media â€” primarily by anti-Muslim agitator Steve Klein â€” the idea was to promote the video to Muslims. In one account, Klein says he hoped the video would â€œsmoke outâ€ Muslim radicals in the US, who he is convinced have organized secret â€œcellsâ€ that will strike on command. On the other hand, we are told the filmâ€™s authors and promoters hoped to â€œconvertâ€ Muslims.
Neither explanation is very convincing. The video itself is so crude, so inept, and so deliberately insulting it is hard to believe anyone thought it could convert anyone to anything. And as for the prospect of â€œsmoking outâ€ secret Islamist cells â€” if there were such cells, one would hardly expect them to reveal themselves because of a YouTube video.
In order to understand the real motives and goals of the makers of Innocence, it is necessary to take a good look at the people who have, so far, been identified as the filmâ€™s authors and promoters.
The central figure in all this is reported to be one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 56-year-old Egyptian immigrant: although Nakoula presented himself in an interview with the Associated Press as â€œSam Bacile,â€ a 56-year-old â€œIsraeli-Americanâ€ real estate developer, he is a Coptic Christian, a member of a persecuted minority in Egypt â€” and a convicted felon. Media reports portray him as the central figure in the making of Innocence: he denies this, and describes his job as arranging â€œlogisticsâ€ for the film. Nakoulaâ€™s role seems to have been that of a facilitator â€” gofer â€” rather than â€œcreative director,â€ and in any case he hardly seems the type to have originated the idea for the movie. Having been released from jail â€” where he was serving a sentence for bank fraud â€” barely a month before filming started, Nakoula was hardly in a position to undertake such a project. Chances are he was recruited by someone else, the real originator and driving force behind Innocenceâ€” but who is that someone?
Public records show a filming permit was taken out by â€œMedia for Christ,â€ an outfit run by one Joseph Nasrallah Abdelmasih. His group sponsors Christian programming in Arabic, including â€œThe Way,â€ a production that has featured such prominent Islamophobes as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. The Geller-Spencer collaboration goes back to the protests against the New York City â€œGround Zeroâ€ mosque in which the duo achieved national notoriety: Nasrallah was one of the speakers at their rally. The idea for just such a movie as Innocence showed up on Gellerâ€™s blog in February, in a post entitled â€œA Movie About Muhammad: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.â€ (s) Ali Sina, an ex-Muslim and board member of Geller and Spencerâ€™s â€œStop the Islamization of Nations,â€ exhorted Gellerâ€™s readers to support his movie project:
â€œThe other good news is that I have been promised a substantial angel financing. I have been daydreaming about this movie for ten years. It was this promise that prompted me into action. I put everything aside for five months, read everything I could about my protagonist, selected the most salient episodes and wrote the script.
â€œThe seed is now sown. Now itâ€™s time to nurture it. What I need is an experienced executive producer, someone who shares my values, to make it happen with professionalism and missionary zeal. â€œI am not thinking of a high budget movie, but given the subject matter, it can become one of the most seen motion pictures ever. (Recall Danish cartoons?)â€
This may or may not be the same movie as Innocence, but whatâ€™s important here is that the idea of such a provocation â€” â€œrecall Danish cartoons?â€ â€” was percolating in these circles when the movie was in production.
Nasrallah has now issued a non-denial denial, in which he claims he was duped â€” along with the actors â€” by Nakoula who â€œdid not make the movie we thought he was making.â€ However, he admits Nakoula called him and that Media for Christ lent him their facilities: and, one has to ask, what movie did Nasrallah think his buddy Nakoula was making?
Nasrallahâ€™s recent involvement with the Geller-Spencer crowd coincided with a very profitable time for his organization: Media in Christâ€™s income has recently skyrocketed, according to public records, with receipts totaling under $200,000 in 2009 and prior, rising to $633,516 in 2010 and $1,016,366 in 2011. Where did all that money come from â€” was it Mr. Sinaâ€™s â€œsubstantial angelâ€? Nakoula claims he funded his movie project with money from â€œover 100 Jewish donors.â€
When Nakoula spoke to the Associated Press, he described himself as an â€œIsraeli-Americanâ€ real estate developer operating out of California: this was soon debunked, however, when inquiring reporters outed him as an Egyptian of the Coptic faith. They also discovered heâ€™s a convicted felon â€” not only for a check-kiting scheme, but also for drug-dealing (methamphetamine). Heâ€™s an unlikely hero for the right-wing Christians who have made a martyr out of him, although to ostensible â€œlibertariansâ€ like Matt Welch, who thinks Nakoula & Co. are on the same level as Salman Rushdie, the meth conviction is doubtless a plus.
The idea that these vermin, who deliberately set out to make a â€œmovieâ€ that would inflame the Muslim world, are â€œfree speechâ€ heroes is worse than nonsense: it is valorizing villains. We donâ€™t yet know where the money, or the impetus to make the film, came from, but what we do know is this: the driving force behind Innocence was a desire to create an international incident that would bring discredit on the United States, and empower radical Islamists who hate America and everything it stands for. And the promoters of this garbage pose as â€œpatriotsâ€!
Free speech has nothing to do with this issue: the President requested of YouTube that they reconsider the videoâ€™s place on YouTube in light of their terms of service. YouTube refused, and thatâ€™s the end of it. Unfortunately, however, thatâ€™s not the end of this imbroglio, the consequences of which weâ€™ll be living with for a long time to come.
There is an ugly sore festering under the skin of the West, and its first manifestation â€” or should I say symptom? â€” surfaced when Andre Breivik committed his ghastly crime, slaughtering the attendees at a Norwegian Labor Party youth camp. He, too, wanted to â€œstop the Islamization of nations,â€ and his online manifesto cited Geller, Spencer, and the writings of the movement their hateful rantings have energized. The English Defense League â€” a sorry collection of skinheads, neo-Nazis, and soccer hooligans â€” which Geller endorses, has mounted a campaign of violent intimidation aimed at British Muslims, inspiring imitators in several European countries. These groups feed off the more radical elements of the Zionist movement: Geller and her supporters claim to be â€œdefending Israel,â€ and the EDL regularly flies the Israeli flag at their hate rallies.
Defense of the Jewish state is a major theme of the Islamophobe network: they use it as a shield to deflect criticism. A key leader of this network is former New Leftist and Black Panther groupie David Horowitz: his â€œDavid Horowitz Freedom Centerâ€ (formerly the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), sponsors Spencerâ€™s â€œJihad Watch.â€ Horowitzâ€™s â€œFrontpageâ€ site â€” ablaze with stories decrying the â€œbetrayalâ€ of Israel by the American government and the perfidy of all things Islamic â€” recently speculated Innocence was created by the very Salafists now leading the protests. Since the video sprang from the same bigoted milieu of which Frontpage is the online Jerusalem, this â€œtheoryâ€ isnâ€™t merely ironic â€” itâ€™s a moral obscenity.
It isnâ€™t hard to imagine where the money to create this deadly provocation came from. Of the many millions in neocon money sloshing around this country, itâ€™s hardly inconceivable a hundred thousand or so would find its way into the hands of a twice-convicted felon and all around dubious character like Nakoula, who is, I suspect, just a con man rather than an ultra-Zionist ideologue like the promoters of his â€œwork.â€
Although, to be sure, the difference is altogether negligible.
Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].