As news spread that Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, had been tragically killed because of an anti-Islam film that denigrates the Prophet Mohammad, Americans were left wondering how a seemingly obscure movie could have caused one of the biggest foreign policy crises the U.S. has faced in recent years, an event that could alter the Obama administration's approach to the Middle East. In the days before the internet, Innocence of Muslims would have died a quiet death on America's shores. (Watch a trailer for the movie below.) Thanks to the web, however, it became the ostensible pretext for mass rioting in Libya and Egypt that resulted in the death of Stevens and three other Americans. Here, a guide to what we know about the movie so far:
What is the Innocence of Muslims about?
The movie claims to tell the true story of the Prophet Mohammad, depicting him "as a homosexual son of undetermined patrimony, who rises to advocate child slavery and extramarital sex, for himself, in the name of religion," say Matt Bradley and Dion Nissenbaum at The Wall Street Journal. Scenes "seem to portray Muslim Egyptian characters, who for some reason all have strong New York accents, as immoral and violent, particularly toward the Christians whom they pursue with near-genocidal fervor," says Max Fisher at The Atlantic. The movie is, in other words, an intentionally offensive and bigoted takedown of Islam and its most revered prophet.
Who made it?
There is a bit of a mystery on that score. Media outlets first identified the producer as Sam Bacile, an Israeli-American from California who has described Islam as a "cancer" in at least two combative interviews following the riots. However, the man purporting to be Bacile said he was 52 years old in one interview, and 56 in another, and "there was no immediate confirmation in official records of such a person," says David D. Kirkpatrick at The New York Times. There is no definitive evidence that he is either Jewish or Israeli. It's possible that "Sam Bacile" is a pseudonym.
How did the movie become so widespread in the Middle East?
A 14-minute trailer for the movie was posted to YouTube in July, followed by an Arabic-dubbed version last week. An Egyptian-American Coptic Christian activist named Morris Sadek wrote about the trailer in a blog and an email newsletter, describing it as "the latest publicity stunt of the Florida pastor Terry Jones," who set off riots in Afghanistan in 2011 when he publicized his burning of a Koran, say Robert Mackey and Liam Stack at The New York Times. Sadek's blog post was picked up by "Egypt's sometimes-raucous, often rumor-heavy media," says Fisher, and incendiary television host Sheikh Khaled Abdalla broadcast the trailer on his show.
So is Terry Jones actually involved?
It's unclear whether he was before, but he certainly is now. Jones showed the Innocence of Muslims trailer on Tuesday, which he dubbed "International Judge Mohammad Day," and claims that the film's producer has asked him to distribute the full-length feature. It's clear that Jones, "now the proud figurehead of the dangerous and already deadly viral movement, plans to screen the movie for as long as people will pay attention to him," says Joe Coscarelli at New York.
Update: Does the so-called movie even exist? Click here for the latest.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- Twin Peaks: What the newly revealed 'missing pieces' change about the series
Subscribe to the Week