14 minutes of nonsense

published 26 Sept 2012, page A5, MST

The trouble with banning something is that it glorifies the object being banned—whether or not it deserves to be glorifed in the first place.

Take for instance this recent controversy surrounding “The Innocence of Muslims”—a 14-minute clip made by an amateur American filmmaker. The film is being blamed for the violence spreading across Muslim nations. Angry mobs have attacked American (and other Western) embassies from Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia to Pakistan this month. The violence has caused the death of dozens, including the US ambassador to Libya.

Why has this film angered so many Muslims? It is offensive to the prophet Muhammad, who is shown as a womanizer, a murderer, a child molester, a fraud—an altogether despicable human being.

No, it was not uploaded on YouTube in time for the commemoration of the 9/11 anniversary. On the contrary, the film has been on the Internet since July and was actually shown at a nondescript theater in the US. At that time, it attracted little—if not zero—attention. It took the leader of an anti-Islam group to tell the world about the film clip, which link he sent to journalists prior to the 9/11 anniversary.

It was later learned that the creator is a 50-something California resident who did not even use his real name when he uploaded the video to the Internet. He also misled his actors into believing they were filming “Desert Warrior” with a male lead character called George.

In the film, it is clear that some of the dialogue has been dubbed over. Now the actors want to distance themselves from the movie. In fact, one of the female actors has sued the filmmaker—and YouTube and Google besides. She claims she was duped into playing her part. Her life has been put at risk.

A Pakistani minister has also offered a bounty of $100,000 for the head of the American filmmaker who goes by the name of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. “Whomsoever can kill the blasphemer will be covered in dollar bills by me,” the railways official was quoted by the UK paper The Telegraph.


Last Monday, Islamist group Bangsamoro Nation filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to compel the government to ban the showing of the film in the country through Web sites such as YouTube and Google.

Petitioners said they cannot allow this kind of insult to their prophet and that the film was inimical to national security. They added that “Innocence of Muslims” is an invasion of the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion.

The high court granted the petition Tuesday.

But at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines, the film was shown Friday night to law students in a Bill of Rights class. This despite an order of the UP Chancellor and the UP College of Law Dean that prohibits public screening of the film “until the full possible value of such activity is duly established.” 

That class’ professor, Harry Roque— who also happens to be a columnist for this newspaper—emphasized that he and his students had no intention to provoke anyone. The clamor for banning the amateurish, poorly made and badly written movie does not make sense to me.

As I write this column, I click another tab and go to You Tube, key in “Innocence of Muslims,” and presto—I can watch the film again and again.

If I were a Muslim, I would not be offended by it. Being offended would be conceding that such a clip is influential, significant, or even well made in the first place.

If I love Allah and revere my Prophet Muhammad, I would not be easily shaken by a 14-minute film clip that accomplishes nothing but highlight its creator’s stupidity and bias.

Certainly I would know better than generalize—that since this bad movie was made by an American, then all Americans deserve to die.

But I am not a Muslim. I am simply somebody who places respect for diversity above all. Because of this, I am insulted that “Innocence of Muslims” has had millions of hits while the more substantial, sensible and sensitive short films on the Internet—those which celebrate different points of view—have languished in obscurity.

To ban “Innocence of Muslims” is to accord it with a stature that for all its ugly prejudice, deliberate dishonesty and bad taste, it clearly does not deserve. So let’s all see it and laugh at how we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in…nothing.