Anti-Islam film sparks worldwide riots

Anna Hickman looks at the escalation of the riots in the wake of Innocence of Muslims film.

Protests against an anti-Islam film have spread across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, as well as taking place at Birmingham Bullring and in Cardiff. Pakistan’s Railways Minister, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, has offered $100,000 for the maker of the film to be killed aggravating the demonstrations, during which an estimated 20 people have died.

The protests, which are linked with the Arab Spring, are illustrating profound anti-West and anti-American sentiments along with a religious fervour that has been triggered by the film, titled Innocence of Muslims.

In Cardiff, over 100 people gathered in Queen Street to demonstrate peacefully against what the organiser of the rally called “crimes against Islam and Muslims.”

The video, a trailer for a longer film entitled Innocence of Muslims, appears to depict Islam as a violent religion and its Prophet Muhammad as idiotic and power-hungry. It was first posted on YouTube on July 1st, but it did not attract much attention until a clip was dubbed into Arabic and broadcast on Egyptian TV channel al-Nas on September 8th.

Protests then started in Egypt and spread to other countries, capitalising on a long-standing mistrust and anger at the West. As many as 20 people have been killed in Pakistan, and the death toll is still rising, according to several reports. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, protesters have attempted to seize the American embassy, chanting “Death to USA”.

YouTube has been asked to consider whether the film breaches its own guidelines by the White House, and should thus be taken down. These guidelines dictate, “we encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we do not permit hate speech…”

However, Google, which owns YouTube, responded with a statement that the video was “clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube”, but added that it would restrict access to the video in Libya and Egypt. Access has also been blocked in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and India.

A US actress who appeared in the amateur video is suing the film’s suspected director as she has received death threats, been fired from her job and barred from seeing her grandchildren. Cindy Lee Garcia claims to have been hoodwinked into starring in the film and was under the impression that it would be an adventure film about ancient Egyptians.

Garcia has requested that a Los Angeles County judge rule to remove the film from YouTube. However, the judge ruled in favour of Google and YouTube, arguing that movies are fictional, thus not entitling personal privacy to role-playing actors.

The film depicts scenes including the Prophet Muhammad having sex with his wife and other women, and says that Muslims want to kill all Christians. It depicts Muhammad and his followers as killers and looters, hinting at child abuse and homosexuality.

Depicting the Prophet Muhammad in any way defies Islamic belief, let alone satirising him in such an offensive way.

The gathering of around 100 people outside the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham on September 21st has sparked fears that the unrest might spread to the UK. Police have stated that no crimes have been reported, and the protest was peaceful and spread only by word of mouth. People involved in the protestnamed the film as the cause of their demonstration.

US authorities have said they have identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian living in California, as the film maker. An American right-wing extremist, Steve Klein, has also been linked with the film; he has admitted only to promoting the film, and claims that he does not know the identity of the director. He has also been linked with anti-Islamic groups in California.

Middle East analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says that the film will have caused genuine offence among many Muslims, but the protests are being exacerbated by groups such as al-Qaeda, whose black flag has been displayed at some of the protests.

Polls have indicated that in June 2012, just 15% of those in Muslim countries held a favourable opinion of the US, compared to 25% in 2009. This grievance stems from a variety of causes, including American wars in the Middle East, and its policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Railways Minister, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, who offered the bounty of $100,000 for the killing of the filmmaker, has been condemned by a spokesperson for the Prime Minister, who said that the government “absolutely disassociated” itself from the comments.

Ghulam Ahmad Bilour is reported to have said: “I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous.”

At one point, he even called for the help of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in killing the filmmaker.