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 "Arab Spring" was designed to counter. The Obama administration's effort to split the Islamist upsurge and lend its support to "moderates" 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 — primarily by anti-Muslim agitator Steve Klein — the idea was to promote the video to Muslims. In one account, Klein says he hoped the video would "smoke out" Muslim radicals in the US, who he is convinced have organized secret "cells" that will strike on command. On the other hand, we are told the film's authors and promoters hoped to "convert" 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 "smoking out" secret Islamist cells — 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 film'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 "Sam Bacile," a 56-year-old "Israeli-American" real estate developer, he is a Coptic Christian, a member of a persecuted minority in Egypt — 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 "logistics" for the film. Nakoula's role seems to have been that of a facilitator — gofer — rather than "creative director," and in any case he hardly seems the type to have originated the idea for the movie. Having been released from jail — where he was serving a sentence for bank fraud — 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 Innocence— but who is that someone?
Public records show a filming permit was taken out by "Media for Christ," an outfit run by one Joseph Nasrallah Abdelmasih. His group sponsors Christian programming in Arabic, including "The Way," 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 "Ground Zero" 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 Geller's blog in February, in a post entitled "A Movie About Muhammad: An Idea Whose Time Has Come." Ali Sina, an ex-Muslim and board member of Geller and Spencer's "Stop the Islamization of Nations," exhorted Geller's readers to support his movie project:
"The movie shows Muhammad's raids, plunders, massacres, rapes, assassinations and other crimes. A small subtitle in the lower right corner of each scene will give reference to the source of the story. This movie is entirely factual. Wherever possible, I copied the Quran, the Sira and the Hadith verbatim. It is a riveting story. Truth about Muhammad is more shocking than fiction.
"The world does not know Islam. What is known is a watered down and euphemized version of it that has no bases [sic] in reality. The truth is that Muhammad was a cult leader, much like Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara and Charles Manson. Unlike them he succeeded because there was no central power in the seventh century Arabia to stop him.
"The 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.
"The seed is now sown. Now it's time to nurture it. What I need is an experienced executiveproducer, someone who shares my values, to make it happen with professionalism and missionary zeal.
"I 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?)"
This may or may not be the same movie as Innocence, but what's important here is that the idea of such a provocation — "recall Danish cartoons?" — 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 — along with the actors — by Nakoula who "did not make the movie we thought he was making." 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?
Nasrallah's recent involvement with the Geller-Spencer crowd coincided with a very profitable time for his organization: Media in Christ'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 — was it Mr. Sina's "substantial angel"? Nakoula claims he funded his movie project with money from "over 100 Jewish donors."
When Nakoula spoke to the Associated Press, he described himself as an "Israeli-American" 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 he's a convicted felon — not only for a check-kiting scheme, but also for drug-dealing (methamphetamine). He's an unlikely hero for the right-wing Christians who have made a martyr out of him, although to ostensible "libertarians" 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 "movie" that would inflame the Muslim world, are "free speech" heroes is worse than nonsense: it is valorizing villains. We don'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 "patriots"!
Free speech has nothing to do with this issue: the President requested of YouTube that they reconsider the video's place on YouTube in light of their terms of service. YouTube refused, and that's the end of it. Unfortunately, however, that's not the end of this imbroglio, the consequences of which we'll be living with for a long time to come.