Gwynne Dyer: Outrage over Innocence of Muslims will prove to be a tempest in a teapot

One of the first scenes in the ridiculous but thoroughly nasty film Innocence of Muslims shows angry Muslims running through the streets smashing things and killing people. So what happens when a clip from the film dubbed into Arabic goes up on the Internet? Angry Muslims run through the streets smashing things and killing people.

It’s as simple as that: press the right button, and they’ll do what you want. Some Christian extremists set out to provoke Muslim extremists into violence that would discredit Islam in the eyes of the West—and it worked, of course. As the U.S. consulate in Benghazi burned and the American dead were carried out, many people in the West thought to themselves: “The Libyans are biting the hand that freed them.”

Wrong conclusion. It wasn’t “the Libyans” who broke into the Benghazi consulate and murdered the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens; it was a heavily armed band of Islamic extremists. “The Libyans” recently voted in their first real election ever, and they elected a secular government. The film just gave the fanatics an opportunity to undermine that choice.

Maybe the Christian extremists don’t understand that their film serves the purposes of those who want to overthrow the moderate, democratically elected governments, both Islamic and secular, that have come to power in the “Arab Spring”. Or maybe they do realize that, and hope that the violence that they are stirring up will bring Muslim extremists to power in those countries. After all, it’s easier to mobilize western opinion against outright fanatics.

The grownups try to keep the situation under control. Grand Mufti Sheik Abdel-Aziz al-Sheik, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, said that Muslims should denounce the film, but without anger: “Muslims should not be dragged by wrath and anger to shift from legitimate to forbidden action, [as] by this they will, unknowingly, fulfill some aims of the film.”

Exactly so, but the leaders of the Arab world’s post-revolutionary governments have to walk a fine line, denouncing both the film and the violent protests against it. Moderate Islamic governments like that of Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi have a particularly tricky task, since they are competing with the Muslim extremists who are organizing the protests for the support of the same pious and socially conservative bloc of voters.

“We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet,” Morsi said on September 13, “but at the same time we firmly say that this cannot be taken as a justification to assault consulates or embassies and cannot be taken also as a justification for killing innocent people.”

It was not a sufficiently robust condemnation of the violence for U.S. president Barack Obama, who said on the same day: “I don’t think that we would consider [Egypt] an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.”

Obama has his own right flank to protect, and cannot afford to acknowledge in public that elected Arab leaders are in competition with Islamic fanatics for popular support, and so must choose their words with care. Most American voters are not sophisticated enough to understand the intricacies of Arab politics, or patient enough to care.

Similarly, most Arab voters do not want to hear about the American constitution, which guarantees free speech and means that the U.S. government cannot just ban crude attacks on Islam by American citizens. The elected Arab leaders will certainly have had this fact explained to them in private by their political advisers, but in public they must demand that the U.S. government suppress the film and punish its makers.

It’s not the United States that has attacked Islam, or even “Hollywood”; just a handful of Americans with a political and religious agenda. It’s not “Egypt” or “Libya” that has attacked American and other western diplomatic missions in the Arab world, but small groups of Islamic extremists with a political agenda of their own, supported by a larger number of pious dupes.

Indeed, the film in question passed without notice when it had its single public screening in the Vine Theater in Los Angeles in June; only a dozen or so people showed up, probably mostly friends of the producer. It attracted little more attention when a shortened version was posted on YouTube at the beginning of July.

It only took off when the religious Egyptian television channel Al-Nas broadcast scenes from it on September 8, and then posted a clip online with an Arabic translation. That got hundreds of thousands of views in a matter of days, and the violent protests began almost at once. The Christian fanatics and the Muslim extremists are, in the old Marxist phrase, “objective allies”.

This is not a “turning point” in western relations with the Arab countries or the broader Muslim world (as some excitable commentators have suggested). The whole thing will blow over after a little while, just like the violent protests against Danish newspaper cartoons about Muhammad did six years ago. It is a tempest in a teapot.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Comments (20) Add New Comment
Jerry Eberts
Religion is such a comfort.
Rating: +10
Mike G
Make up your mind - if Egypt is now a democracy, its police should control the mob, any mob, esp. a small extreme group who wants to blow up things because of movies.

if the extreme group is so heavily armed and loved by the people that the Egyption president needs to talk softly to pease them, this ain't no democracy.

Either way, a world where some group limit everyone's free speech by switching to violance whenever they feel "enraged" is not a world I want to live in. Do you?
Rating: +15
I've read that the 'Christian fanatics' who made the film are Egyptian immigrants to the USA. Do you know if this is true?
Rating: -3
It was better than Twilight
Rating: +13
'Christian extremists' made the film?

Sorry Gwen but you could have done a quick google and checked some of the facts before deadline.

No evidence of a evidence it was shown at the Vine Theatre, only a poster in a closed movie house...the identified filmmaker, as reported, was identified as a Federal informant in US court cooperating with the Feds to reduce his own check scam in 2010.

Gwen you personally know tons and tons of educated people from the ME and also have access to the internet and resources most average people don't have, why would you write such insane garbage.

Stevens was killed at the Embassy with one other...but the other two were killed when they were evacuated to a Benghazi safe house...the American safe house was comprised... killed the two others and 12 -17 were injured in a two hour gun battle????

It certainly WAS NOT 'religious idiots' stoked by a movie poster and a YouTube video; it was professional hit and even after a week the Libyan government is standing by it's original statements from last Wednesday and only YESTERDAY the US State department admitted as much...

So without the 'US killings'...that leaves idiots like Gwen and scum like him with...protests outside US Embassies (no shit, happens everyday, esp on Sept 11!!) caused by Islam!

In other news Gwen...explain QE3 and why the US political system quietly announced that little bombshell during an election while tired old hacks like you wheeze on about the 70 virgins myth and why super duper Mormon HedgeFund wonks and Teabaggin' Randians like super sidekick Ryan wanna talk about...oh they hate us for our freedoms.

So Camp Bastion got smucked with lots of casualities...were the Taliban responding to a movie poster or the DRONE ATTACK four days earlier that killed a bunch of innocent people.

Fuck this Shit and Fuck You.
Stop the War Machine
Let's Get Out of Afghanistan, Save Money and Improve OUR Country!!!
Rating: -15
Hey Mike G, make up YOUR mind... is the USA a democracy or not?

if the evangelical right is so heavily armed with voting power that the America president needs to talk softly to pease them, show up to church once in a while, and be careful not to say a politically sensitive issue that might be deemed as "not supporting our boys (troops)", bending over backwards to compete with a rival candidate on who is a bigger and better friend of Israel, this ain't no democracy.

Rating: -10
Blueheron: That's what I heard; the guy who most now think is "Sam Bacile" is a Coptic Christian from Egypt.

And note that he claimed to be Jewish in the promotion of the film; presumably he hopes that one group of people he hates (the Muslims) will attack another group of people he hates (the Jews).
Rating: -2
your rambling (I can't even call it an opinion) must be a poe. or are you for real?
Rating: -12
Issac Chandler

"guarantees free speech and means that the U.S. government can't just ban "

I have read about Americans going to jail for producing/uploading 5 minute YouTube videos.Video taping police abuse or factory farms is illegal in some states...The State of Emergency that America has been living under for over a decade, gives the president the power to indefinitely detain Americans in military custody or even assassinate them:
Rating: -10
Hans Rosloot
Gwynne Dyer missed the mark by light years, Egypt is no Democracy - the brotherhood run it. nuts with guns, and when will Islam take responsibility for there own actions. Christians never forced them to act like wild dogs without a brain. Hopefully Gwynne Dyer will do a bit of research before printing garbage next time. Oh and just for the body count, Islam has slaughtered 270 million people in 1400 years, so the USA has a bit of catching up to do.
Rating: +11
Pat Crowe
Tempest in a teapot?
Oh good. I'm glad this nonsense goes away when the Islamic radicals calm down and we never have to worry about murderous uprisings against the west ever again!
In other news, genius buys Golden Gate Bridge from sketchy looking guy in San Francisco public pay parking lot.
Rating: -13
I've always considered it a strength of Christianity that Jesus has been allowed to evolve. This means people can pretty much do anything they want to him without fear of someone putting out a contract on them. Drown him in urine, turn him gay; married, unmarried. It's the reason he's the most modern god, ever changing and malleable and really impervious - as you would expect a god to be. This sort of exemplifies his own precept to "Turn The Other Cheek". With every blow he gets stronger. The more insults he gets the more significant he becomes and the more interesting. Because humanity is an evolving species. JC will be the last God standing. Long after religion has become just mythology, and no one can remember what Muhammed looks like because we're not supposed to show pictures of him, everyone will know Jesus.
Rating: -8
Issac Chandler
"Angry Muslims run through the streets smashing things and killing people."

But angry Americans ran through the streets smashing things and killing people after Birth of a Nation was released. It was the first film to be shown at the White House.

"American constitution, guarantees free speech"

States of Emergency often suspend constitutional rights...
Rating: +12
KiDDAA Magazine
Dyer is right Libya like Iraq is now an anarchy, and before the embassy incident, plenty of armed roving gangs. Like Hussein in Iraq, Gaddaffi kept the nation together, people from all over the world lived there including Christians and Jews.
Now the US and Israel tells us Iran is a threat, but does not have a nuclear weapon and according to the UN and US intelligence is not building one, and cannot because they have the worlds most stringent inspection.
Israel has a ongoing siege and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and we are to think that only cartoons and movies inflame Muslims.
Its about war, unemployment, religion not just a movie, that may trigger anger, like a hockey riot, LA riots, Katrina but that is not the main cause.
The white racists are not saying all Muslims are bad, and savage. Only one winning are the racists on both sides.
Rating: +6
KiDDAA Magazine
Free Speech does not mean yelling fire in a packed theatre and it doesnt mean making art knowing that it may kill or injure people or spark riots.
Its interesting remember how big a deal it was when Mel Gibson said among other things, "that Jews start all the wars."
So its ok to incite hatred against say Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists but not against Christians and Jews.
All hate speech is bad and thats not freedom of speech.
KiDDAA Magazine went to court because a BC Supreme Court by KPMG againt an unmoderate blog. But we never condoned any comments, speech that condoned hate or violence. This isnt freedom of speech its racism. The movie was made by an Egyptian Christian American for the sole purpose of making Muslims react to violence. He knew what he was doing.
Rating: +7
KiDDAA Magazine
One thing is for sure, the film has nothing to do with free speech; it is an issue of hate speech. It was promoted in time for the 9/11 anniversary and, however, poorly made, has a political and ideological motive: it is designed to provoke a reaction.
As religion editor Andrew Brown in his Guardian blog suggested: "It's a really nasty piece of lying propaganda: something which deserves to be called hate speech, since hatred is its wellspring and the propagation of hatred is its goal. It is - obviously - blasphemous to Muslims".
Rating: +14
M. Bizon
So thanks to the untold wisdom of kiddy, we can now be informed as to what is “hate speech” and what is not. I suppose the next step is to enact “Anti- Blasphemy” laws to prevent any of his precious minorities from getting their feelings hurt.

At any rate this is definitely another good reason to immediately STOP importing any more Muslims into this country. Once they reach critical mass (10% or so) as they are doing in Britain and France, it will be THEM telling US what is acceptable speech and what is not. A rosy multi-CULT future indeed.

Rating: -9
I have to agree with those that said Gwynne doesn't have a handle on the facts here. I agree with many of his conclusions, but it's true that:
a) There was likely no screening of the film in the US.
b) There may not even be a completed film.
c) The murders did not take place as "reported" in this article.
d) Evidence seems to suggest it was indeed terrorists acting under the guise of the legitimate protests.
So while Gwynne has a handle on the politics, he gets 80% of the facts wrong, which is just bad journalism. I'm not sure why the Straight lets this pass.
Rating: -8
Tempest in a teapot? Maybe. Or Pandora's Box. You don't think a lot of Americans saw how easy it was to rile up those 'turban heads' - on a shoestring budget? Read some of the comments on the youtube posting of the film. I suspect Innocence of Muslims is just the beginning of this new form of psychological warfare, one which Joe America can now get in on the action.
Rating: +11
@KiDDAA Magazine Hey you want to talk about Libya under Qadaffi and Iraq under Saddam as if they were multi-ethinic paradises where everyone lived in peace and harmony I have news for you, both countries were "jew-free" since the 1970's. In Libya's case, they were all expelled outright, while in Iraq they were "encouraged" to leave. I'll bet you also consider yourself "anti-Zionist" as well.
Rating: -11
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