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09/13/2012

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Derrick Abdul-Hakim

Hi

I’m an observant Muslim as well as philosophy graduate student, so my disappointment with the film comes from two perspectives. Needless to say I object (vehemently) to the violence in response to the film and condemn it both privately and publically. I welcome sincere criticism of Islam and the behavior of Muslims (I typically critique the behavior of fellow Muslims more often than not). On occasion I reference books that, I believe, raise historiographical, theological, or philosophical issues that threaten and/or undermine Islamic doctrine. For example: Ibn Warraq’s Why I am Not a Muslim is one of the best critiques of Islam in print, any publication by historian Patricia Crone is gold, and, to a lesser extent, the work of Robert Spencer is typically good (I am writing a critique of Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? however). Criticism of Islam here at this blog is generally good and something a reflective Muslim like me ought to think deeply about (one of the reasons I read this blog daily)

Then there are the vocal popularizers of “true Islam” like the mysterious “Sam Bacile” who spend little or no time offering substantive critiques of Islam but only churn out hazy rumor-laden claptrap. Take his film Innocence of Muslims (Youtube: “Muhammad Movie Trailer” if you want a quick view) literally plastered all over the web. I still can’t believe the film was put into production: the editing was poor, the acting breathtakingly cheesy, and the biographical material from Muhammad’s life was either false or without context. I’ve also read that the actors/actresses weren’t informed about the full details of the film. I’m not sure about that claim, but it doesn’t help that if you focus on the lips of the actor at 02:55 it seems what he originally said is dubbed over. In short, it wasn’t very informative, was poorly done, and evoked no laughter from yours truly. Even satire lovers have standards.

Is the film offensive? It’s pretty obvious many Muslims are deeply offended by the film. I can understand their grievance. The film is part of a long tradition of mockery of Muhammad and Muslim behavior. Historically literate Muslims should, in my view, be used to it at this point. I can also understand why Arabs in particular are offended. Like the infamous “Muhammad Cartoons” the film plays on stereotypes of Arabs as sexually perverse and harebrained. The film is of the rank and file of the anti-Semitic trash that comes out of the Middle East (What’s the morally relevant difference?) Was I offended? No. Since the film cuts no historical/philosophical ice I’m the least offended of the Muslim ilk.

So why was the film made? I’m not trying to poison the well with my question. It’s a serious one: why was the film put into production? A film full of Arab stereotypes and contextless historical anecdotes can’t really add to the “critique” of anything. It certainly wasn’t put into production to educate its non-Muslim (and Muslim) audience as there’s nothing to gain from the film as far as history is concerned (I’m willing to challenge anyone on its factual accuracy). Freedom of expression? Fine. As a classical liberal (at least I think I’m a classical liberal) I don’t object to making fun of historical or religious figures as far as liberty is concerned. In that case I value it as much as I value “Pisschrist” and like work. In my view, the film is nothing more than a reducio. Start with the assumption that Muslims are generally non-belligerent, work in a contradiction or absurdity, and squeeze out the conclusion that Muslims really are belligerent. That is, it was produced for its shock value. Again, that’s fine as far as liberty is concerned. But should we, as “Westerners” (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) and classical liberals, promote and advertise films like Mr. Bacile’s?

I'll say something about the Muslim "reponse" when I have a bit more time.

J. Reed Anderson

Derrick, why are such "films" made, and why are such "works of art" as Piss Christ produced? Why does anyone do anything? The question is why should any Westerner promote of advertise such films (and art), but why should any of the rest of care? If I'd thought long and hard about it as a Catholic, I should have been offended by and angered with the Piss Christ, and the Madonna in elephant shit. Christianity teaches to turn the other cheek. Therefore, let the ignorant produce such works and films, and the rest of us will ignore them. And if the media ceases to get reaction, they too will ignore them.
However, killing people in anger over cartoons and a shitty movie no one knew of until Muslims promoted it on Sept. 11, seems, well, is, quite an exaggerated response.
Think of Catholic, and possibly Orthodox and Anglican bishops calling on believers to kill in the name of religion. Well, that's something we got over a half-millennium ago.

Mark Spahn

Hello Derrick A-H,
I have watched (once) the 14-minute version of clips from this movie, and apart from its ludicrous production values, I have been wondering how the media description of "insulting to Islam" is justified. As far as I can see, these clips depict incidents from Muhammad's life as they are depicted in the hadiths and Sira. To say that this portrays Muhammad in an unfavorable light, is to substitute infidel morality for the morality of Islam, which says that Muhammad is the model we should follow ("uswa hasana, al insan al kamil"). If you have time to write an informative essay on what is factually wrong with these clips (assuming that the hadiths and Sira are factual), I would be an eager reader.
Write me at
markspahn@verizon.net
and I can send you the few e-mails I have
written recently about this subject.
-- Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

John Pepple

To Mr. Derrick Abdul-Hakim: First, thanks for the comment, and thanks for being reasonable. Next, as to whether we Westerners ought to promote and advertise films like this one, I don’t think we have any obligation to go that far. All we have to do is to tolerate it. I myself have no interest in watching it; I’m old and have better things to do with my time. I never would have heard of it if it hadn’t been for the fuss raised by the rioters in the Muslim world. It reminds me of an essay I read years ago by the columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mike Royko. He said he ran into someone who wanted to censor something he wrote, and he urged him to do so, with the idea that then it would get a lot of publicity. Heh.

As for why it was produced, I can only speculate. I’ve heard the producer is an Egyptian Copt, and it may be he was frustrated with the situation of the Copts these days. But that’s just speculation.

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