By Siobhan Holohan
You only need to watch a few seconds of the controversial film Innocence
of Muslims to see how bad it is; bad as in unwatchable nonsense that is.
But being bad does not stop it from being dangerous. The film depicts Muhammad as
a womaniser, a homosexual, and suggests he engaged in acts of paedophilia. Of
course this will be highly offensive to many Muslims; perhaps in the same way
that many Christians were outraged by the 1988 film The Last Temptation of
Christ (dir. Martin Scorsese) which depicted Jesus as a fallible human
being. That film was also subject to violent protests by Christian groups who
succeeded in delaying its release and persuading cinemas to pull the film from
their screens. In fact the film remains banned in some countries.
Unlike The Last Temptation of Christ, however, Innocence of
Muslims is not an attempt to interpret and understand a theological text,
and I doubt it will ever be nominated for an Academy Award. Instead it was
funded by an anti-Islamic group and its release on YouTube was dubbed into
Arabic in a clear attempt to offend and incite violence in that part of the
world. However, what is interesting about this clumsy attack on Islam is the
response to the film. Not so much the protests, which were perhaps inevitable,
but the reaction by Western news agencies and politicians. News agencies have
for the most part squandered the opportunity to present a balanced account of
the unfurling events in Egypt and Libya in the context of recent internal and
external political events, and have instead fallen back on stereotypical
imagery of bearded men burning flags and hyperbolic debate about repressive
states versus the freedom of expression. This has been supported by public
figures such as Tony Blair who have argued that while the film was "wrong
and offensive [and] also laughable as a piece of film-making", goes on to
state that "what is very dangerous and very wrong is the [Islamist] reaction to it" (BBC News Online).
This is a typical narrative turn that locates the blame for violence firmly
back in the Muslim camp, while playing down the role that Western agencies may
have had in the escalating events. The news coverage replicates what we have
seen countless times before by showing Muslims to be irrational, violent
'religious fundamentalists' against some kind of idealised form of Western rationality.
And until we can recognise this discursive trap we will be in danger of repeating it