Widespread protests at denigration of prophet


PROTESTS ARE expected today after noon prayers across the Muslim world against a US-made film denigrating the prophet Muhammad as Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Beirut to preach reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. Reconciliation is, however, not likely at present.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton yesterday called the film “disgusting and reprehensible”, disavowed its message and again condemned the violence in Benghazi during which US ambassador Chris Stevens and three staff members were killed.

But her words are unlikely to placate Muslims demanding an apology, prosecution of the film’s makers and suppression of the film which portrays the prophet as a dim-witted fraudster and womaniser who engaged in brutal and offensive behaviour.

Yemenis broke into the US embassy compound in the capital, Sanaa, smashed windows, torched vehicles, and set fire to the US flag after an influential preacher, Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, called for protests. Security forces fired on demonstrators, diplomats were evacuated, and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi apologised and blamed “demagogic groups.”

Saudi Arabia condemned the film, extended condolences over the deaths of the diplomats and denounced the film-makers as “irresponsible”. US flags were burned in Tunis, Baghdad and Gaza, where the Hamas government blasted the film.

Several hundred Iranians rallied in Tehran near the Swiss embassy, which handles US interests. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani called the film “abhorrent” and called US profession of respect for different cultures “a blatant lie”. Prevented by security forces from marching on the US embassy in Dhaka, about 1,000 Bangladeshi fundamentalists burned the US flag.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai postponed a trip to Norway and officials blocked the YouTube internet site which has posted a trailer of the film dubbed in Arabic. YouTube halted service to Libya and Egypt.

The visa section of the US consulate in Berlin was evacuated when a strange smell was emitted by an envelope containing a visa application.

In Benghazi, people took to the streets to denounce both the film and Tuesday’s assault on the US consulate, while the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood “vehemently” denounced the violence but said freedom of speech should not be a cover for attacks on religion and called western governments to adopt a tough line against Islamophobes.

The expatriate opposition Syrian National Council expressed distress over the “insults by a group of American bigots” directed at Muhammad but professed shock over the violent reaction.

As US president Barack Obama said he did not consider Egypt an ally or an enemy, police fired tear gas at Egyptians hurling stones and firebombs at the US embassy and calling for the ambassador’s expulsion.

President Mohamed Morsi belatedly condemned the film and vowed to protect foreign embassies and visitors. He quoted a Koranic verse on the the killing of innocents, saying: “Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he had slain mankind entirely.” His failure to specifically mention the death of Mr Stevens prompted analysts to suggest Mr Morsi had sought to appease radical Salafis at the forefront of the film protest.

Egypt’s attorney general has called for an investigation of nine individuals allegedly involved with the film, including Coptic Christian promoter Morris Sadek and the man believed to have made film, a Copt named as Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.

Potential repercussions of the furore over the film are wide-ranging. If it is confirmed that Copts are behind it, militant Muslims could step up attacks on Copts in Egypt. Christians of other denominations across the region, particularly in diminishing communities in Iraq and Syria, could face increasing violence and expulsion.

Salafi minorities everywhere in the Muslim world could exploit popular anger over yet another insult to the faith with the aim of undermining governments reluctant to impose Muslim Sharia law and cut ties to the US.

“Moderate” Muslim parties also risk being dragged toward more conservative, hardline positions by radicals professing to be right guided.

The “moderate” Brotherhood regime in Egypt is particularly susceptible to pressure, outbidding and blackmail by radical Salafis – who emerged after the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 – because their constituency has been growing exponentially. The status quo leadership of the 84-year-old Brotherhood has, by contrast, alienated liberal members and focused on conservatives courted by Salafis.

Western powers could be compelled to reassess their support for the largely fundamentalist rebels in Syria, particularly because the Salafi component in their ranks is growing.

The West could also put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to halt arms and funds for Salafi movements.

If nothing is done to prosecute the film-makers or to shut down the YouTube posting of the film’s trailer, Muslims can be expected to accuse the US of fostering incitement against Muslims. Arab commentators have already made an invidious comparison between the lack of action against those who promote hatred of Muslims and Holocaust deniers.

The man behind ‘Innocence of Muslims’: Convicted fraudster with multiple aliases

THE KEY figure behind the film that has sparked violence across much of the Muslim world, including the murder of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues, has been identified by US law enforcement officers.

He is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (55), who lives in southern California. He is a convicted fraudster who has used multiple identities to conceal his involvement is various nefarious activities.

In 2010, he pleaded no contest (effectively admitting guilt) to bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to 21 months in jail and ordered not to use computers or the internet for five years without the approval of his probation officer.

Initially, the film was ascribed to one Sam Bacile, described in some reports as a 52-year-old Israeli- American real estate developer from California. Israel’s foreign ministry said there was no record of a Sam Bacile with Israeli citizenship, however.

It appears “Bacile” is a persona used by Nakoula. The Associated Press traced a mobile phone number used by Bacile to a southern California house where Nakoula was found.

In court papers from 2010, Nakoula was linked to numerous aliases, including Nicola Bacily, Robert Bacily and Erwin Salameh, all similar to the Sam Bacile persona, and others including Ahmad Hamdy, Kritbag Difrat and PJ Tobacco.

In a further twist to the controversy, it appears actors and technicians who helped make the film were duped by Nakoula, who is linked to a conservative Christian Coptic sect. They signed up for a film entitled Desert Warrior, a story they were told was about life 2,000 years ago and which contained no references to Islam.

Yesterday, they denounced what emerged, the provocative Innocence of Muslims, in which the prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a dim-witted womanising pervert.

In Innocence of Muslims, the character “Master George” from Desert Warrior becomes Muhammad and his original lines are overdubbed. Obscene references overlay original comments and appear now as references to “false verses” of the Koran, and other actors appear calling Muhammad a “murderous thug” and a “child molester”.

A statement released on the behalf of 80 cast and crew members denounced the film and the chicanery behind its making.

“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer, said the statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “We are 100 per cent not behind this [Innocence of Muslims] film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

One actor, Cindy Le Garcia, expressed her annoyance thus: “I’m going to sue their butt off.” PETER MURTAGH