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Before You Blame an Islamophobe’s Film | Pierre Tristam

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Before You Blame an Islamophobe’s Film | Pierre Tristam

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Before You Blame an Islamophobe’s Film
Monday, September 17, 2012 — Pierre Tristam

It was quite a week for fanatics.

A juvenile and insulting movie about the Prophet Muhammad that barely drew a dozen people to its Hollywood premier this summer hit the big time through YouTube.

In the Islamic world, rioters went on rampages, killing four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya. Broad brushes went to work, falsely painting the Muslim world with the colors of murderous minorities. And Mitt Romney, always the faithful opportunist, contributed his own bit of fanaticism by falsely blaming the president for apologizing for the attacks.

Romney’s silly response is not the issue. Nor is President Obama’s response: there’s only so much you can do in the face of a mob short of becoming one against it.

The man who made the film is a convicted felon with a taste for crystal meth, which can trigger delusions as powerful as those of religious fanatics, and sometimes as violent.

His name is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-American and a Coptic Christian, an Orthodox sect that makes up roughly 9 percent of Egypt’s population, though he has closer kinship with Islamophobes like Gainesville’s Terry Jones of “Burn a Koran Day” fame.

It’s difficult to say what’s more offensive about Nakoula’s movie: the acting and dialogue fit for a 1970s porn flick or the caricaturing of persecuted Christians against bloodthirsty Muslims led by a prophet with a taste for pedophilia.

But let’s be clear: Nakoula had every right to make the movie. He has every right to ridicule the Prophet, just as he has every right to ridicule Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt if he so chose. He is an offensive moviemaker. But he is not a lawbreaker. The wrong is the response of fundamentalists in the Muslim world, which is no less justifiable than the response to the “Muhammad cartoons” in a Danish newspaper in 2005, or to Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1988.

The Satanic Verses, one of the great novels of the 20th century, made light of the Prophet, and ridiculed Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a death sentence on Rushdie.

Khomeini’s response was more offensive than the vilest parodies written or play-acted about Muhammad. It incited bloodletting and riots. Two of the book’s translators were killed and Rushdie had to live in hiding for a decade.

In the twisted way of fundamentalist thinking, the killing of a human being is more justifiable than a verbal or written insult to a cherished religious figure—an insult that does no more harm to that figure, or to its believers, than a change in weather over Lake Okeechobee. 

Rushdie wrote a great book. Nakoula made an obscene movie. But quality and artistic merit are not the gatekeepers of free expression.

Both had the right to do what they did. That right must be defended for both. That doesn’t mean the content need be defended, or reactions exploited for political gain.

But before ridiculing Muslim fundamentalists, let’s recognize we have our own extremists -- Americans who apply the same perverted sense of justice by murdering gays or abortionists in the name of God, or forbid flag-burning in the name of freedom.

The United States would look like a union of degenerates, too, if painted with the colors of its reactionary gangs, sometimes on display in the American electoral theater. They give us plenty to apologize for.

Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.

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