(I began this piece months ago. Events have had a way of running beyond my ability to keep up and write about them.)
As the controversy over Benghazi snowballs, more and more have heard of “Innocence of Muslims,” a a film that few – if any have seen – but the trailer for which the Administration posited as the proximate cause of the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
(The snowballing controversy I mention has melted into slush, after endless obfuscation b the President and many members of his administration, and such distractions as the Petraeus resignation.)
Secretary Clinton called it “disgusting and reprehensible.” The President of the United States saw it as “crude and disgusting.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joined the chorus of condemnation calling the YouTube sensation “… a reprehensible video insulting Islam.”
For years, it has been apparent to me that most of the politicians, reporters and pundits who routinely comment on matters pertaining to Islam actually have little direct knowledge of the religion, and simply accept that it much like any other, but one with some problematic followers.
It is unlikely that any of the major players in the Benghazi controversy have watched the full trailer, and the odds are astronomical that in the unlikely event they have, or had a member of staff do so, none have looked into the origins of the points the film makes, and whether they have any basis in Islamic doctrine and tradition.
Foreign Policy Magazine did have a look, but provides a joking precis rather than any real analysis. It is sad to see this venerable publication trying to snark like a junior writer on Slate. They did this, they say, so their readers would not have to watch the film. This video clip was elevated to worldwide importance by the administration, including the President, who mentioned it no less than six times in his address to the United Nations.
Let me then do the work that Foreign Policy did not.
An introduction featuring a Muslim mob in fake beards slaughtering Christians in modern-day Egypt as police look on. The rest of the film seems to be a flashback in which a father explains the roots of Islamic extremism to his daughter.
The insinuation that Mohammed is a “bastard of an unknown father”
Khadija comforting Mohammed by placing his head between her legs
Mohammed calling a donkey “the first Muslim animal”
Mohammed telling his followers they should feel free to molest children
Mohammed having sex with the wives of his followers
Mohammed also being gay. (When a follower asks if he is “dominant or submissive,” he replies, “both.”)
An old lady — with a mysterious New York accent — being drawn and quartered by camels
Lots of terrible overdubbing, cheesy green screen backgrounds, and The Room-level dialogue and acting.
As Foreign Policy says, the film begins with Muslim mobs slaughtering Coptic christinas while polce look on. This is hardly entierely fctive. The opening scene could, sadly be generic, in today’s Egypt. Simply search “Christians,” “Copts,“Muslims, and “clash” -the favored term for a Muslim attack on minorities – and you will get plenty of results.
The aspersion on Muhammad’s parentage is weakly founded on the tradition that his father Abddallah, died away from home some months before he was born. There appears to be no scholarship pointing to Islam’s founder as illegitimate. The mention of bastardy is clearly put forth as an insult; a particularly pointed one for a religion that prescribes lashing or even death for extramarital sex.
We of course have no word on the martial relations between Muhammad and his first wife Khadidjah, a considerably older, and wealthy woman. Muslims see the marriage as their founder taking a lonely and defenseless woman under his protection, and claim he increased her fortune; detractors say that the founder leeched off a helpless woman because he had no talent of his own. This scene may then be a metaphorical statement of the latter view, but that is a a bit of stretch considering the writing overall.
Showing a donkey as Muhammad’s first convert is over the top, but while not canonical ,there is a story of a there is talking donkey in Islamic tradition. This amazing ass was part of the spoils from the subjugation of the Jews of Khaybar.
The bit about the Messenger allowing his followers to molest children is excessive, but has its origin in an undisputed – and to modern eyes – thoroughly distasteful aspect of Muhammad’s life. One merely needs point to the settled fact – among Muslims – that Muhammad married a six year old, and while he did not consummate the marriage until she was nine, in the intervening years he did find gratification with her. This may have been customary in that place and time, but this tradition is remarkable for its uniqueness among religious figures, and continues to provide a rationale for child marriage in the Muslim world to this day.
“Use of the children whom you wish. The rest are to be sold as slaves,” Says the messenger Again, this is an accusation of pederasty. While there is little to rest this on other than Muhammd’s relationship with Aisha, it is partly true: In the aftermath of the Battle of the Trench, men and boys were killed. Women, girls, and those boys without pubic hair were were spared,but sold as slaves.
As for Muhammad having sex with the wives of his followers, that is something of a broad brush, but not entirely unfounded. The story of his marriage to Zaynab is illustrative. This woman was married to the prophet’s adopted son Zayd. When His eye fell on favor on his daughter in law, Muhammad was place in a dilemma as the relationship while not consanguineous, was considered too close. The adoption was nullified via one of a typically many convenient Koranic revelation, as the film shows:
“I’m canceling the adoption that business with my adopted my son’s wife”
“Islamic nation forbids adoption. That is next verse of the Koran” Muhammad does have rather convenient revelations. Thereafter adoption was forbidden in Islam. This is something to consider when one is asked to contribute to a Muslim orphanage. The children may be kept of the street, but they will never find homes.
And the prophet was not limited to a set number of wives. Zyanab, also his first cousin, was his fifth., and like all Muslims was allowed to have sex with his slave girls.
“Is the messenger of god gay?” a character asks.
Type in “Was Muhammad Gay “ in your search bar and you will get quite a number of posts. The very idea seems absurd, as Islam is quite clear on what should be the fate of homosexuals: death. The prevalence of same sex affection in Islamic countries where women are simply not available to unmarried men, but as there are references to beautiful boys in Islamic paradise, stories in the hadith that Muhammad wore kohl to highlight his eyes, and sometimes liked to wear his wife Aisha’s clothes, discussions of Muhammad’s gayness abound However, all these references are disputed and there are lengthy debates on translation involving Syriac versus Arabic vocabulary, far too abstruse to go into here.
Again,there is little on which to base this accusation, and it is clearly a calculated insult, but understandable given the low status and near invisibility of women in orthodox Islam.
he old lady’s “mysterious New York accent” is, I think, either a deliberate obfuscation, or lack of the simplest research on the part of FP. . There is no one New York accent. New York Irish, Italians, blacks, and, as in this case, Jews, have distinct ways of speaking that while commonly identifiable as New Yorkese, are also distinguishable as to ethnicity. The old woman is clearly meant to be Jewish
This scene refers to a story that is not canonical, but which does appear in some Islamic chronicles.
“….and Umm Qirfa Fatima was taken prisoner. She was a very old woman, wife of Malik. Her daughter and Abdullah Masada were also taken. Zayd ordered Qays to kill Umm Qirfa and he killed her cruelly (Tabari), by putting a rope to her two legs and to two camels and driving them until they rent her in two.)”
The problem is that this woman was Bedouin, not Jewish. Had the producer done his research, he would have found ample examples in Islamic scripture of atrocities, murder and plunder of Jews. This scene conflates those with the murder of the old woman, something FP could easily have ascertained
The Foreign Policy précis leaves out some other important points the film clumsily attempts to make.
The Koran is depicted a purpose built fiction,and indeed, it is such..
“I will make a book for him. It will be some version of the Torah and the New Testament. Which is clearly what the Koran is. The Koran does contain many elements from both the Torah and New Testament, some quite distorted, or as Muslims believe, corrected, so as to agree with the eternal Koran which has been corrupted by Jews and Christians.Biblical figures and stories float through the book, with no clear narrative structure, so that Jesus, Moses, and Abraham appear as contemporaneous forbears to Muhammad.
Muslims believe that the Koran has existed eternally and was revealed to Muhammad at the time of his prophet-hood. At the same time their historical tradition admits that the founder, an illiterate, did not write, or cause to have written down a single version of the book, but rather that its fragments, written on scraps of paper, cloth, and bone, were gathered together at the command of the Caliph Usman many years subsequent to Muhammad’s death. Unless one does believe in Divine guidance, it is clear that such a process would result in many unacknowledged sources.
In another r scene the founder tells his followers prior to a caravan raid“We will kill the men, loot the goods and take the women.”
This is an accurate summary of Islamic rules of war. The goods and persons of non-Muslims, or those Muslims deemed to be in opposition to true Islam, are forfeit. That Muhammad was a leader in the sole Bedouin industry – plunder – is acknowledged,and indeed, celebrated in both the Koran and hadith.
There is much more, but I will conclude with this: Islam is on earth, not to complete revelation,but to suppliant it, and those who resist do so at their peril.
In the film, Muhammad asks a Jew “What about Jericho?”
The Jew replies that Jericho “had a chance.” This is not the way I remember the story, but he goes on to say that Jews didn’t ask others to convert to Judaism. This is true, and the lack of a proselytizing urge in Judaism is in stark contrast the Islamic mandate to dominate the globe.
The Jew goes on to say that Jews believed in one god long before Muhammad, as did the pharaohs of Egypt. This last is a stretch, but one Egyptian ruler, Akhenaten, did briefly establish monotheism.
To this, Muhammad replies that it is not not enough to believe in one god, but rather “you must say God and Muhammad his messenger.” Muslims were once commonly called Muhammadans, and this term, while no longer acceptably, is accurate.. The cult of the Prophet,”al-Ihsan”, the perfect man,is what the “religion” is about.
Christians are taught to emulate Jesus, whom the believe was divine; Muslims emulate Muhammad, who was human, and throughtly profane.
“Innocence cf of Muslims” seems designed to show that Muslims are not innocent of the violence that is endemic in their lands and along their borders, and which has been brought to the West and elsewhere again and again since the six Day War . The film is indeed crude, but not vile or reprehensible. The points it makes could have been better supported, and are so in countless books, blogs, and better made videos.
In its negative aspersions upon Islam it is, on the whole, truthful.
Finally, I disagree with FP in its comparison of “Innocence” to “The Room:” “‘The Room” was better.