By now have you heard about the wave of asshole behavior sparked by The Innocence of Muslims, a fourteen-minute quote-unquote trailer for a movie that probably does not exist but nonetheless insults the one true religion. In Egypt, Libya and now Yemen—so all the best countries, really—the film sparked violent protests and attacks on US consulates. In the back seat of his solid gold train, it revealed a glitch in Mitt Romney’s programming that causes him to ignore the arrow of time. Then everyone went nuts, including a suspiciously large number of anonymous Republicans. Amid all this meshugas, though, the American press has forgotten to ask the one question that’s really important about The Innocence of Muslims: is it any good?
I don’t mean to disappoint you, but:
The good news, I guess, is that it’s not an entire film. It appears to be a bunch of scenes cut together to either A) convince some wealthy bigot to make a film, B) insult Mohammed as much as possible or C) both.
Conceded that the special effects are rad. It was also a good idea to avoid the trouble and social awkwardness of casting non-white actors by smearing poop on everybody’s face. In more esoteric aspects of filmmaking, however, like characters or narrative continuity or scenes that involve physical movement, The Innocence of Muslims barely qualifies as a movie. It’s more like a series of Jack Chick panels brought almost to life.
Also, it came out in July. Only this week, though, did it cause spontaneous riots among hundreds of irate Muslims, some of whom brought rocket-propelled grenades. We’ve seen this pattern before. Danish cartoons of Mohammed run in Jyllands-Posten also caused spontaneous riots months after their publication, suggesting that local militants in the Middle East deploy such offenses to gin up anger as they need to.
No one in the United States would do such things, of course. It happens that The Innocence of Muslims was promoted by Terry Jones, last seen organizing a national burning of the Koran even after the president asked him not to. Terry Jones is a dick. He deliberately constructs events to offend Muslims in the hope that they will react violently—behavior that differs from what dudes in Libya do to incite spontaneous, paradoxically armed riots only circumstantially.
From this information I submit two conclusions:
1) Whatever culture leads people to run screaming into the streets, drag a man out of a building and murder him because they saw a YouTube video is a bad culture. That culture is probably not Islam. Whatever it is, though, it sucks. I’m all for tolerance and even occasional relativism, but modern human society cannot include subsets of people who kill strangers and light things on fire because they saw an image or heard some words. Modern human society is full of words and images and will probably only get more so. Perhaps you considered this before, but Libya sounds like a really awful place.
2) What do you do with people who make a movie like The Innocence of Muslims?
I recognize that item (2) is technically not a conclusion, but man—can you please stop trying to incite a religious war with the world’s biggest collection of jerks? It’s understandable that Libyan hillbillies would see a movie in English and assume it was made with the approval of the entire United States. That’s how their culture and government works, after all. Over here in our pluralistic, non lighting-women-on-fire culture, however, we let people say what they want. That turns out to be a huge problem when some of those people say “we Americans mock your religion.”
Terry Jones and whatever visionaries made The Innocence of Muslims are like the guy who stands behind you and yells chicken when you’re trying to avoid a fight. They personally were not going to get dragged out of a US consulate and killed. They problem with their behavior is that it implicates all of us, but our society is too good and fair to restrain it.
I want to be clear: I think Americans should be allowed to make movies like The Innocence of Muslims, even though I would prefer they did not. I think that when they find the guy who made it, Christopher Stevens’s kid should refrain from punching him in the nuts, even though I would kind of prefer he did. But come on, son. Consider for just one second that you are maybe not smart enough to try to initiate armed conflict between major world religions. Maybe start with a pancake breakfast that makes everybody think about how nice your religion is, and then go from there.