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Innocence of Muslims is an anti-Islam film allegedly produced and directed by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Alan Roberts, excerpts of which were uploaded onto YouTube in July 2012. The video rose to controversy months later in early September after an Arabic-translated version was aired on the Egyptian TV station Al-Nas.
On July 2nd, 2012, YouTuber SamBacile uploaded two 13-minute video clips titled “The Real Life of Muhammad” and “Muhammad Movie Trailer,” which showed excerpts from a full-length feature film titled Innocence of Muslims, produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian living in Cerritos, California, and directed by American filmmaker Alan Roberts. Recorded in 2011 under the title Desert Warrior, the film features lewd scenes that could be interpreted as denigrating to Prophet Muhammad, whose depiction in any shape or form is strictly forbidden by the Islamic law.
The film remained largely obscure until early September 2012, when duplicate videos dubbed in the Arabic language were uploaded onto YouTube and picked up by Egyptian bloggers and news publications, triggering a series of anti-American protests in the wake of the videos that have been characterized as “anti-Islamic.” As of September 18th, the original YouTube clip uploaded by SamBacile has gained more than 9.5 million views.
On September 8th, the video was picked up and broadcast by the Egyptian TV station Al-Nas, which upstarted its viral momentum on the web. On September 11th, 2012, anti-American protests began erupting outside the U.S. diplomatic mission compounds in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans including the ambassador J. Christopher Stevens were killed after rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were fired. Though some U.S. officials claimed that the attack in Benghazi was planned in advance unrelated to the film, it was widely linked to the controversial reception of the YouTube video trailer in the news media. Further attacks have been claimed by the Taliban on the British military base Camp Bastion on September 14th and the Islamist militant group Hizb-i-Islami against a mini-bus carrying foreign aviation workers on September 18th. Throughout the week, protests spread across the rest of the Muslim world in Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.
On September 18, a female suicide bomber drove a car filled with explosives into a mini-bus with foreign aviation workers in Afghanistan, killing at least nine people, reportedly including eight South Africans and a British woman and possibly also a number of Afghans. The Islamist militant group Hizb-i-Islami claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the first reported suicide bombing by a woman in the country, and said it was in response to the film. The Taliban said they attacked the British military base Camp Bastion on September 14, killing two American soldiers, in a response to the film, and later claimed the base was chosen because Prince Harry was there.
News Media Coverage
The day after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, Associated Press identified a 55-year-old California resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as the producer of the film. Nakoula initially denied any affiliation to the YouTube handle Sam Bacile in the interview, but follow-up inquiries launched by the Associated Press and other news sites like Gawker, Los Angeles Daily News and LA Weekly linked Nakoula to the account that was used to upload the video and confirm its origin via comment on the day of the Benghazi attack in a duplicate version uploaded by Egypt’s Al-Nahar TV. Written in Arabic, Sam Bacile’s comment read: “It is a 100 percent American movie, you cows.” In addition, New York Times and The Guardian provided real-time coverage of the anti-American protests in the Muslim countries.
Cast and Crew’s Response
That same on September 12th, CNN published an official statement release from the film’s 80 cast and crew members who denounced the film and asserted that the depiction of Muhammad was added post production through overdubbing without their knowledge or consent.
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. […] We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”
In the wake of attacks on the U.S. embassies, YouTube announced that it had temporarily restricted access to the video in Egypt and Libya, while Afghanistan and Iran decided to block access to the video-sharing site altogether.
The Director’s Identity
On September 14th, Gawker published an article titled “The Director of ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Is a Schlocky Softcore Porn Director Named Alan Roberts,” linking the little-known director of the film to a number of adult films released in the 1970s and 1980s. That same day, Vice Magazine released a copy of the film’s post-production invoice records that listed a payee named Robert Brownell, which according to his associates is Alan Robert’s real name. interviews with Bacile
Newsweek Hashtag #MuslimRage
On September 17th, Newsweek featured a column essay titled “Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its cover story of the week. To go along with the article, the magazine launched the Twitter hashtag #MuslimRage to encourage its readers to share their thoughts on the topic.
Want to discuss our latest cover? Let’s hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage.— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 17, 2012
Within half an hour of Newsweek’s tweet, the hashtag was overtaken by tweets illustrating trivial and innocuous moments of rage in mocking the magazine’s word choice on “Muslim” rage. The satire trend on Twitter was picked up by NPR, Washington Post, Al Jazeera and AFP on the same day.
Meanwhile on Facebook and elsewhere, petitions and other forms of protests were launched to convince YouTube to remove the film trailer from the site, as well as editorials and image macro commentaries (shown below) on the issue of censorship and real life consequences of online media.
On November 7th, 2012, the LA Times reported that Mark Basseley Youssef, formerly known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has been sentenced by a federal judge to one year of imprisonment for violating the terms of release from his 2010 conviction on bank and credit card fraud, including the use of fake names and lying to his probation officer. Youssef was denied his request for home confinement by United States district court judge Christina Synder on the grounds of “continuing deception.”
Youssef’s attorney Steven Seiden told reporters that he believed his client was being punished by the government for making the Innocence of Muslims film and the probation case was being used as an excuse to violate his constitutional rights. While Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugale claimed Youssef was “not here because of the content of the movie,” he did mention that several cast members had received death threats and feared for their lives. The same day, The Huffington Post published an article reporting that after court was adjourned, Seiden approached the front steps of the courtroom to deliver a message from his client saying, “The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology.”
On December 18th, 2012, a report authored by the Accountability Review Board was released based on an independent investigation which determined that there were no YouTube-inspired protests outside of the Benghazi embassy prior to the attack and blamed “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” for the lack of proper security.
“Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks. The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.”
On the following day, the report was discovered by writer Alex Fitzpatrick from tech news blog Mashable, which published the findings in an article titled “Report: No YouTube-Inspired Protests Before Benghazi Attack.” On December 21st, CNN published an article reporting that State Department officials had promised to make security improvements at United States embassies around the world.
New York Times – Protests Spread as Anger Over Anti-Islam Film Mounts
Hollywood Reporter – California Man Claims Connection to Anti-Islam Film
Washington Post – Tweeters mock Newsweek’s #MuslimRage cover with humor
Los Angeles Times – Can ‘Innocence of Muslims’ trailer really be that potent?
Christian Post – Will Benghazi Report Damage Hilary Clinton in 2016 Elections?