A cheap, crude, anti-Islamic film entitled The Innocence of Muslims, produced and promoted by reactionary Christian fundamentalists in the United States and posted on the internet in July, has led to demonstrations in many countries around the world, including attacks on US embassies and in the case of Libya to the killing of four US diplomats at the US Consulate in Benghazi. We look into why all this is happening.
According to reports, the film originally had the title Desert Warriors and was not about Muhammad at all. Actors who had taken part in the film have claimed they were unaware of the fact that the film was about Muhammad, and that the storyline which transformed the film into the format in which it eventually appeared on the internet was the result of dubbing. The scripting was deliberately designed to be insulting to Muslims.
Initially it was not even clear who was behind the film. The story being spread around the internet was that a certain “Sam Bacile” had made the film with finance provided “by over 100 Jewish donors”. The intention was clear: to give the impression that the film was an American/Jewish production and to provoke a backlash among Muslims around the world.
Later the truth was revealed that Sam Bacile did not exist and that the real maker of the film was a convicted fraudster, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, a Coptic Egyptian who has links to extreme right-wing evangelical associates in the USA, who also helped in the shooting of the film. Among these there was a certain Steve Klein, an ex-Marine who has been involved in training militiamen in California churches. Among his activities are also protests against abortion clinics, mosques in the United States and even against Mormon temples.
The “film” was only screened once in Los Angeles, with a very small attendance. The notorious Florida-based “pastor” Terry Jones – who last year hit the headlines when he publicly burnt the Koran – tried to boost the film’s fortunes but with no success. In July the makers of the film posted it on You Tube, but hardly anyone noticed it. At this point that could well have been the end of the story and the film would have joined the many others like it and been forgotten.
Clearly not happy at the lack of interest in their film, the makers then had it dubbed into Arabic and placed this version also on YouTube. Even then, in spite of the valiant efforts of these reactionary, right-wing bigots, the film was failing to make any impact.
Then enters the scene a certain Sheikh Khaled Abdallah. Who is Abdallah? He is an Egyptian TV personality who runs a programme on the Islamist satellite-TV station al-Nas. He has been compared to America’s Glenn Beck who has run TV and radio shows that supposedly have defended “traditional American” and Christian fundamentalist values. Abdallah is no friend of the “Arab Spring” and according to some reports he is quoted as having described the courageous Egyptian youth that were the main protagonists of the Egyptian revolution that overthrew Mubarak, as “worthless kids”. And just like Glenn Beckin the USA, he is intent on fomenting conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Having discovered the film, The Innocence of Muslims, on September 8, he broadcast an offensive clip from it in which the actor playing Muhammad calls a donkey "the first Muslim animal." It was after this that the whole thing snowballed. Abdallah clearly understands the old Roman method of “Divide and Rule”. He pays particular attention to fomenting hatred for the Egyptian Coptic Christians, who make up about ten per cent of the population.
Let us recall that during the most intense and massive mobilisations against the Mubarak regime, ordinary working Copts and Muslims in Egypt joined hands in a united struggle. In this we saw the potential for working class unity, which was expressed on more than one occasion. After Mubarak fell, the old regime in the clothes of the military organised provocations aimed at breaking the unity that had been forged in the revolution, by organising tit-for-tat attacks between Christians and Muslims. Abdallah’s TV show is part of this ongoing attempt to divide the workers and youth of Egypt along religious lines. He concentrates much of his attention on Egypt's Coptic Christians.
The broadcasting of the infamous clip on Abdallah’s show is what attracted a wide viewing, especially among the Salafists, the Islamic fundamentalist movement that is the second largest grouping in the Egyptian parliament. Up until then small groups of organised Salafists had been trying to build up a protest movement with regular rallies outside the US embassy in Cairo, but with little success. Then Abdallah came to their rescue, whipping up anti-American feelings with the aid of the now infamous film.
The protest in Cairo was followed by the events in Benghazi where four US diplomats were killed, and from there the protest spread to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Indonesia and other countries. The media in the West then picked up on this to paint a picture of an “Islamic world” dominated by reactionary, extremist fundamentalists.
The truth is that the numbers actually taking part in the protests were quite small. In Tehran for example, no more than 500 took part in protests chanting “Death to America”; in Lebanon no more than 200 people took to the streets; in Jerusalem around 300 protested; in Morocco the reports indicate that “hundreds of Salafists burned US flags”. The biggest reported demonstration was in Jordan, where it was claimed 2000 turned out. According to Al Jazeera the total number of people across the whole of the Middle East and beyond that came out to protest last Friday after prayers was around 5,000. This is in no way a “mass movement” of reaction. It is in fact very small and is actually being hyped up by the world media to look far bigger than it really is.
If we compare these numbers to those participating in what has become known as the “Arab Spring”, i.e. the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and in other countries, then we get a much truer picture of the real balance of forces on the ground. And while much media coverage is given to the protests organised by the fundamentalists, very little is said for example of the protests in Libya of ordinary people coming out against the fundamentalists!
However, having said that, one also has to register the fact that there is a genuine anti-imperialist mood among the masses in the Middle East and beyond. Let us not forget that US imperialism for decades backed, financially and militarily all those rotten regimes that for years oppressed ordinary working people. To this day they are still backing regimes such as the one in Saudi Arabia. They conveniently turned a blind eye when Saudi military forces went into Bahrain to suppress the revolution there. They have been manoeuvring behind the scenes to sow confusion among the masses and to promote reactionary forces, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in other countries. The US ruling class is no friend of the working masses of the Middle East.
All this also explains why anti-American sentiments are so easily promoted by reactionary individuals such as Sheikh Khaled Abdallah. Unfortunately, a healthy anti-imperialism is then diverted along reactionary lines. This is possible because there is no mass workers’ party in Egypt that is capable of uniting the working masses on class issues. In such a vacuum the reactionary elements find room to manoeuvre.
Hiding behind their false anti-imperialist demagogy, the fundamentalists promote their own reactionary agenda. Let us not forget that Islamic fundamentalism has been promoted, financed and exploited by US imperialism many times in the past when it suited its interests. When the US were trying to overthrow the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan – a product of the 1978 Saur Revolution – they had no qualms about supporting some of the most reactionary, backward elements within the country, that were to become known as the Taliban.
The fact is that the Islamic fundamentalists exploit what is a genuine anti-imperialist feeling among the masses, but they do so to divert it along completely reactionary lines. Long ago, Lenin could see this danger. In the Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions for The Second Congress of The Communist International, he wrote the following:
“With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:
“first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;
“second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;
“third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.”
Today, unfortunately, there are people on the left who have forgotten – or have never understood – the basic position of Marxism in relation to the reactionary Islamic clergy. It is clear that the most reactionary elements within the Islamic clergy have played an important role in attempting to whip up a hysterical reaction, using this latest provocation on the part of extreme right-wing reactionary Christian fundamentalists in the United States. This clergy is not genuinely anti-imperialist, but uses the real anger of the masses to push forward its own agenda, one which is designed to undermine the revolutions that have erupted in the Middle East and North Africa!
According to reports from Egypt, the organizers of these protests have been mainly reactionary Salafist groups. However, the Muslim Brotherhood, for fear of being outflanked by the Salafists, have also called for demonstrations. Both the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood are working to undermine the Egyptian revolution, and what better way to achieve that than by dividing the workers of Egypt along religious lines. The lack of any significant change in the lives of ordinary workers and youth in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak has also led to some tiredness and disillusionment among the masses who took part in the revolution. In such circumstances protests of a few hundred, or at most a few thousand, of the kind we are witnessing in these past few days can appear far more important than they really are. What they are trying to do is to to cut across class struggle in the country, defeat the workers and push the country to the right. The task of Marxists is to expose all this and emphasise the need for workers’ unity.
What has to be highlighted is that the Christian fundamentalists, and the reactionary right wing in general, in the United States and the Islamic fundamentalists in those countries where Islam is the dominant religion actually lean on each other and use each other. The provocations, such as this recent one, organised by reactionaries in the USA provide fundamentalists in countries like Egypt with ammunition with which to whip up the anti-US sentiment. This reaction in turn is used by the right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the USA to portray a picture of an American-hating “Muslim world”. Both aim to divide workers; both are working against the Arab revolution; both are enemies of workers in all countries.
In moments like these it is easy to be taken in by all this media hype. Its purpose is to distract attention from what is really going on. The crisis of world capitalism expressed itself in the Arab world with the Tunisian and then the Egyptian revolutions. These inspired the workers and youth of the world. In the United States during mass protests such as that in Wisconsin in early 2011 we saw how the American workers identified with the mass protests of the Egyptian workers. There was even the slogan “Fight like an Egyptian”. Later the mass #Occupy movement in the United States inspired workers and youth around the globe, including in the Arab world.
In spite of all their crude attempts, the reactionary right-wing in the USA and their counterparts in the Arab world will not succeed in their manoeuvres. The crisis of capitalism is relentless. Life for working people in all countries is becoming ever more unbearable. And everywhere the class struggle keeps surfacing. We saw it in Cairo, we saw it in Wisconsin, then New York, then in Athens. At present we are seeing it in a big way in Spain and Portugal. It is spreading everywhere.
That is why we can expect more crude attempts to whip up national chauvinist and religious sentiments. But whatever they come up with, they cannot hide the fact that the capitalist system globally has failed. Because it is taking away from workers everywhere all the hard fought for gains of the past, this system is doomed. Class struggle on a global scale is what is being prepared, and that is what terrifies the ruling classes of all countries. The final words of the Communist Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” have never rung truer.
- Islamic world up in arms - Sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind , by Maarten Vanheuverswyn, February 7, 2006
- Islam and America... Friends or Foes? by Lal Khan, May 11, 2004