Film triggers protests, killing in Libya

Associated Press A man looks at documents Wednesday at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Associated Press
A man looks at documents Wednesday at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

By Jessica Chia

The American filmmaker whose film, “Innocence of Muslims,” has triggered violence in Libya, says the movie was funded by Israeli donors and aimed to reveal what they saw as the flaws of Islam.

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three members of his staff, who were also Americans, died Tuesday after Libyan protestors armed with machine guns and hand grenades set fire to the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.

“Islam is a cancer, period,” Bacile told the Associated Press Wednesday.

Protestors in Egypt responded to the film nonviolently, by removing the U.S. flag from the embassy in Cairo.

Dr. Lynn Tatum, senior lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and member of the Texas Association of Middle East Scholars and the Texas Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, said he feared the film could precipitate a significant crisis.

“The movie is so denigrating of Islam that I think it’s fair to call it hate-speech toward Islam, calling Muhammad a pedophile and a homosexual psychopath,” Tatum said. “I fear you’re going to get Muslim radicals in other nations reacting.”

The leaders of all countries involved have taken steps to cool the situation, Tatum said.

“I am gratified that the Libyan government has condemned the attack and the Egyptian government is calling for nonviolence,” Tatum said. “President Obama has ordered heightened security in all of the Muslim nations,”

Dr. Mark Long, associate professor in the Honors College and director of Middle East studies, said the film did not achieve Bacile’s goal of revealing flaws in Islam.

“I would say, first, having watched the film, it is a gross distortion of Islam,” Long said. “My area of research is Islamic fundamentalism. It’s not even an accurate representation of the jihadists. At every turn, the film is false to the facts.”

Steve Klein, who identified himself as a consultant for the film from Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that he did not know the filmmaker’s real identity, but that Sam Bacile was an assumed name.

The man using the name Sam Bacile spoke via telephone to the Associated Press Wednesday, claiming to be an Israeli Jew living in California, although neither Israeli officials nor the State of California had records of Bacile.

“He claims to be an Israeli Jew and that it was funded by the Jews. The irony is that a movie like this would not be allowed, actually, in Israel. Israel does not allow the production of movies that denigrate any religion,” Tatum said.

Though the movie received little attention here or abroad when it premiered in a Los Angeles theater earlier this year, it has caused shockwaves in the Middle East since an unknown individual dubbed it into Egyptian Arabic and posted the video on YouTube.

“The filmmaker knew it would lead to violence,” Tatum said. “You’ve got the extremists on one side goading the extremists the other side and the people of goodwill wind up dead in the middle.”

Long said the Egyptian response was clearly a protest targeted at the film, but the Libyan violence was likely tied to jihadist activity in Libya.

“What happened there was not a demonstration. If they were bringing rocket-propelled grenades, they came to destroy and take life,” Long said. “Whoever is responsible for the killing of the ambassador wasn’t there to protest. They may have used it as a cover, but it was an assault, not a protest.”