“Don’t you blame the movies,” protests Skeet Ulrich’s horror-fanboy serial killer in Scream (Wes Craven, 1996). “Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”
The Obama administration falls into the former camp, blaming the past week of anti-American rioting and the murder of US officials on a dreadful YouTube film assailing the Prophet Mohammed. To be sure, some of the rioters are citing Innocence of Muslims as a pretext for their destructive behaviour but, refreshingly, others are more honest about their motives: Movie or no movie, you can’t beat a good rampage against the Great Satan.
The White House thinks the rioters were provoked to violence by a crappy low-budget movie no one’s seen, as if the Muslim Brotherhood were a more militant version of the New York Film Critics Circle. Liberals used to mock conservatives for worrying that violent and sexually explicit movies could have an impact on audiences. Now, they don’t stop to question the notion that an obscure online video has somehow seized the minds of otherwise rational people and sent them out into the streets baying for blood.
(Allow me to digress for a moment with a thought: The American flag, torn and trampled and devoured by flames, must be one of the most common images to emanate from the Arab world. It should be mundane, pedestrian by now. And yet it still tears at the heart of patriotic Americans and their supporters around the world. This is not a bad thing. It means America still stands for something.)
The director Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic fundamentalist, initially tried to pass himself off as “Sam Bacile”, a California-based “Israeli Jew” real estate agent with a sideline in Muslim-baiting movie production, the latest of which was made on a $5,000,000 budget financed by one hundred wealthy Jews. The media ran with the rich-Hollywood-Jews-demonising-Muslims line, initially without question, and some prominent outlets have been forced to issue retractions after The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, amongst others, did a little digging and revealed Nakoula’s true identity. (Needless to say, in much of the Islamist press he’s still a Jew.)
In the olden days, when directors wanted to disavow bad movies, they took the pseudonym Alan Smithee. Now, you just claim you’re part of the international Zionist conspiracy and trust reporters won’t do their homework.
I watched a ten-minute clip of the movie because a) I wanted to know what all the fuss was about and b) I write film criticism professionally and have an interest in movies that cause a stir. It is the worst film I have ever seen that didn’t star Adrian Grenier. The acting is terrible, the plotting non-existent, the cinematography amateur, and the tone vicious and bigoted. It’s like The Birth of a Nation as directed by Ed Wood.
The film offers a Mohammed who is a homosexual and a pederast. While Mohammed did take the nine-year-old Aisha as his bride, a common, if repugnant, practice in Bedouin societies of the time, the charge of homosexuality is a new one on me. Mr Nakoula may be the first person to attempt a queer reading of the Qur’an.
The Prophet’s polygamy is turned into a soap opera in a scene in which his many brides chase him, Benny Hill-style, for seemingly favouring one over the others. The Ummahāt ul-Muʾminīn become a seventh-century Alexis Colby and Krystle Carrington, clawing at each other in the lily pond.
Mr Nakoula has no obligation to “respect” the Prophet of a religion to which he doesn’t subscribe. But his movie is trash, and not because it is anti-Islamic but because it is foul lumpen horse manure. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) is easily as anti-Christian but it is a product of great writing, fine acting, and laser-sharp satire. Mr Nakoula has no talent, no aesthetic, no ideas. In place of an argument he offers a caricature. Innocence of Muslims is an almost proudly stupid film.
None of this, however, should obscure the thuggery of fanatics who maim and murder in the name of religion or ideology or pure, blind hatred of America. The freedoms to speak and to worship as one pleases are the roots of liberal democracy. We should never surrender them and we should never apologise for them for they are Milton’s supreme liberty: to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience.
Free peoples can be silenced by arms or by laws. There is no other way, or at least none as effective. Those who seek to censor, to create a right to have their religion “respected” or their beliefs shielded from “offence”, are our enemies as assuredly as those who would put us to the sword. Americans should guard their First Amendment and citizens of the other democracies their more modest speech rights. We should make common cause with liberal, secular, and reform-minded Muslims, our strongest allies in the fight against Islamism.
And we have to recognise that there is a fight. That a battle unacknowledged is a battle all the same. That appeasement and isolationism do not prevent wars but rather ensure those wars will be one-sided events.
Patrick Henry: “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
That is what America is about. That’s what America has always been about.