By Abdul Ghani Mahfouz
Theories of conspiracy usually thrive in difficult times when the situations and interests of different parties clash with each other. In response to the movie produced by some Coptic Christians which insults the prophet Mohammed, a plethora of theories kept flying in the troubled Middle East air.
Some believe the move is designed by Western intelligence services to test the Arab reactions in the Arab world particularly in the Arab spring countries which had been in the past close allies to the Washington. Others see it as an attempt to stir troubles between Muslims and Christians in Egypt and stop the fledgling democracy movement gaining momentum. Some parties look at the issue as a US-Israeli response to Egypt’s declared intentions to develop the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel.
However, it seems the issue is simpler than that. The movie was produced by people who know in advance that it would be an instant success. In an atmosphere tolerant of insulting other people’s beliefs under the pretext of freedom of expression, the standards of success would be duly different from that of a normal movie. It has to be measured not by the millions of dollars the movie earns but by the size of killing and destruction it creates.
The instant results were quite promising: the killing of four US diplomatic personnel in Libya, two killed in Egypt and hundreds of injuries plus three injuries among international peacekeepers in Sinai, three killed in Tunisia, four killed in Yemen, two killed in Sudan. The torching of the German embassy in Sudan, a US embassy school in Tunisia, Kentucky restaurant in Lebanon and other forms of destruction elsewhere make the movie an icon of the season. Demonstrations erupted everywhere in the Middle East.
That must make the producers of the movie hilarious at its initial success. They are sure now they have occupied a certain position in the human history.
The movie is just a repeated pattern or behavior with reaction known in advance which makes its results well predicted and expected. Morris Sadek, an Egyptian Coptic backer of the notorious movie simply said he is sorry for the deaths. That is the whole thing the victims and their families can get from the man. The issue has to be viewed otherwise. If the law prescribes a less punishment for manslaughter, the production of such a movie – if we looked at the issue positively - is tantamount to premeditated murder. You can not simply say sorry when the issue involves the loss of innocent lives. You mock the sanctity of human life and dismiss it as worthless.
In Islam, as a principle, the appearance of the prophets in any movie is considered blasphemous. The Message or “Al-Risala” (1976) a movie directed by US Syrian Moustapha Akkad, which was shot in two versions one Arabic and one English with different actors, was received with anger for showing one of the disciples of the prophet for a very short time. Though the script was written in collaboration with prominent Egyptian Islamic writers, Al-Azhar, the ultimate authority on religious issues in Egypt, expressed reservations on the appearance of those close to the prophet. It is to be mentioned that unfounded rumors had it that Mohammed would not only be depicted in the film, but that he was to be played by Charlton Heston or Peter O’Toole in the English version originally screened as “Mohammed the Messenger of God” which led to protests by Muslims in various countries. The Arabic version of the movie received the approval of Al-Azhar only in 2003 and was aired in the Egyptian official television in January 2007, thirty one years after its production.
The Last Temptation of Christ was received by protests not only in the Middle East but also in some European countries and theatres in France were torched by French Catholics who considered the movie insulting.
The United States has always proclaimed itself a champion of freedom of expression in the world. It is to be mentioned that it has defended Denmark resolutely in the Danish cartoons crisis. Now it had to bear the brunt of the insulting movie. An ambassador and three diplomatic personnel had been killed in Libya. The claim of Libyans that those who attacked the US consulate in Benghazi are remnants of the Gaddafi regime is quite doubtful. When it comes to religion in the Middle East you don’t give a damn to political considerations.
However, when the Americans feel their interests threatened, they tend to act obtrusively without much consideration to the mottos they raise. After 11 September attacks on the US cities, they even allowed spying on telephone communications like any third world authoritarian country.
The hypocrisy of the West is that many countries have laws that incriminate persons who show contempt of religion but they do not apply these laws when Islam is the target. Such hypocrisy brings back to the collective consciousness of Muslims in the Middle East aggressive chapters of their encounters with the West from the Crusades of the middle ages up to the present day.
The fuss around the movie coincides with the 11 September attacks which is meant by the producers to highlight the crimes of the followers of Mohammed. But ironically, it is a very bad timing also for the United States. People who have condemned the actions of Bin Laden may feel that he was after all justified. It may further help the recruitment efforts of Al Qaeda, believed to be staggering after the demise of its iconic founder. This may be the reason why White House spokesman Jay Carney has been at pains to explain that the attacks on the US embassies have nothing to do with the anniversary of 11 September attacks.
The sight of the US warships in the Mediterranean heading towards the Libyan coast is quite pathetic. It inspires neither fear nor awe nor even respect in the hearts of the new people born after the Arab Spring. Though the religious display of the issue, No one can deny it is the result of decades of the US policy in the Middle East.
To some extent, the movie is the inevitable result of the faulty portrayal of Muslims in the Western popular media. The Catholic Church in the middle ages, which led the worst campaigns on Islam, may have not been able to come out with a worse description for the prophet Mohammed.
Those who produced the movie knew in advance the troubles it would raise and were sure it would garner a huge publicity at once. They could have also predicted there would be victims but who cares!. Had the movie been about the denial of the Nazi holocaust, the situation of the West would have been totally different.
From the Last Temptation, Danish Cartoons, Fitna by Geert Wilders, to the current movie, there has been a pattern of action and reaction. The action is quite insane and the reaction is more insane.
The movie is bad enough but the insistence on attacking embassies and diplomatic personnel and facilities is far worse, and those who perpetuate such actions are no better than those who produced the movie. Attacking innocent people does not serve the cause of Islam or Muslims. On the contrary such attacks show Muslims as they were intended by the movie producers, violent, non-tolerant and murderous.
On the political level, the movie would have political repercussions that may or may not appear on the official level, but would rather be reflected in the popular reactions to major movements in the troubled Middle East Region. It comes after repeated actions of Koran desecration on the hands of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Guantanamo.
The situation of the United States is particularly sensitive in the Middle East where it invaded two countries in almost a decade, and threatens to attack the third in collaboration with Israel. The US media claims that their country freed the Middle Eastern people of their dictators, in reference to the Arab Spring. But they fail to mention US leaders supported these dictators to the last hour, and gave them up only when it became clear they are doomed and their failure is inevitable. We should not take Obama’s statement that Egypt is no longer an ally to the United States, very lightly.