On Tuesday, September 11, the ignorance of one man led to the deaths of innocent people. Coptic Christian Egyptian men in Los Angeles promoted a video created by man who calls himself “Sam Bacile” who is believed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He pretended to be an Israeli-American and claimed that his film was fact by Jewish donors but that was proven false. The video attacked the prophet Mohammad, depicting him as a homosexual womanizer and a pedophile. Mohammad is not allowed to be depicted, let alone in such an offensive way. It prompted violent reactions all the way on the other side of the world. In Benghazi, Libya, the United States Consulate was attack and four American’s were killed including the ambassador, Chris Stevens. Reactions also broke out in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian territories.
In Lebanon, religious leader also condemned the film. The grand mufti, a Muslim religious leader, blamed Washington for being irresponsible in allowing the release of the film and the Catholic leader called for its withdrawal. They believe it is an attack on all religions and want the United States to prosecute the creators of the film. It is important to note;however, that both leaders also condemned the violent reaction to the film.
Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Saad Hiriri also spoke in the topic, calling the film a threat “bridges of dialogue, understanding, and mutual respect between religions”. President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati also condemned the film as well as the murders that followed, calling them the wrong “way to defend the values of Islam.”
There are a few things about this incident that struck me. First of all, the movie in question is still on YouTube. I decided to watch it in order to find out what all of the fuss was about. After about a minute, I turned it off in disbelief. The video is absurd. The acting and production quality is terrible. The actors are essential in “black-face”, a form of racist theatrical make-up that allowed whites to depict blacks, only in this case the actors depicted Arabs. It was very confusing and as far as I could see, historically inaccurate. It was really pathetic and I cannot believe that anybody gave it the time of day. I cannot believe that anyone reacted to this idiotic movie, but it really is offensive. It is prejudice for more than just being anti-Muslim. It stereotypes the Arab people. I almost posted it here, but I decided against it because I do not want to perpetuate this ignorance. I really cannot believe that after the reaction it has received, it has not been pulled by YouTube or even by the government.
That brings me to my next thought. When we heard the news about the Ambassador being murdered in Libya, I wondered why people blamed the entire United States for the ignorance of a small, insignificant group of people. Why would they attack the consulate when the ambassador had nothing to do with the film? Did he even know about the film? This made me think about Geert Hofstede’s Culture Paradigms, which I have encountered in anthropology, business, and in the Global Leadership Center. He had this idea about collectivist cultures and individualistic cultures. In an individualistic culture, people are only responsible for themselves and their immediate family. When somebody does something wrong, they are the only person blamed for it. In contrast, a collective society expects members to look after each other. When a member of that society does something wrong, the whole society is shamed and held responsible. In the U.S., we are individualistic. We do not share the same thoughts and opinions. We do not feel responsible for the actions or expressions of others. We look at this video as the work and responsibility of individuals who are not connected to us. In these other countries;however, the culture is collective. Honor and shame affect the whole family and even the whole community, so they see the film as the responsibility of the whole country.
Now the film has led to violence, you would think the video would be taken down, but there is a possibility that it won’t be and that the people who created it will not be held responsible. The reason is that our First Amendment protects our right to express ourselves. The only hope is that, since it led to violence, it can be categorized in a way is not protected by the Bill of Rights, such as hate speech or more specifically “fighting words”. I believe that the only way this situation can be resolved is if the creators of this film can prosecuted for inciting violence. That way Muslims all over the world can feel that justice has been served and the U.S. will not be seen as supporting the message that the film conveys. I do not see this happening because of the culture difference and legal precedents involved.