13 September 2012

Fundamentals of Muslim Film Criticism; Or, How To Write a Review with an AK-47 and a Torch

As I write this, there is rioting and mayhem in the Middle East around American embassies. The attackers are Muslims purportedly peeved by a new film which “insults” the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

The film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by ... [Since the first publication of this post, the "founders" of this film have become obscured.  It may have been made by Americans with zealot investors.  It may be a weird practical joke by some Middle Easterners or North Africans.  It may be the product of an agent provocateur.  Nobody seems to be sure.  The reaction to the film, however, is real.]

Mohammed is presented as a vicious, crazy child molester, and those are just his good points.

Now here’s the funny part, funny in the serious sense – a serious film about the historical Mohammed could be fascinating. Salmon Rushdie played with the topic in his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses.  He was rather mild about the Prophet.  Of course, several imams stuck a fatwa on his ass anyway. (The fatwa is the Muslim equivalent of an open Mafia hit contract.)

Think of the possibilities: Here we have a historical figure who during his lifetime had really profound divine revelations. (Okay, he did, he didn’t, I don’t know, I wasn’t there taking notes.) He founded a dynasty, and one of the world’s great religions which, among other things, was the basis of substantial military power over several centuries.

This juxtaposition of a single, simple human having intense, unique (and maybe supernatural) experiences and the tale of how he deals with them is a common theme of great history and great fiction.

Think Lincoln.




Charles Foster Kane.

Even Elmer Gantry.

Imagine a film which skillfully addresses some of the possibilities of personal conflicts and stress, the interaction of the mundane with the divine. The possibilities are delicious.

Well, keep imagining. You’re not going to get that in “Innocence of Muslims.” I base this on the assumption that filmmakers do not pick out particularly bad parts of a movie to put in the trailer.

The trailer, available on YouTube, mercifully runs less than 15 minutes.

The production values are bad. Not bad as in I’m being picky, bad as in They spent 5 million bucks for THIS?  [If the $5 million story is false, my reaction still would be, They paid $50 bucks for THIS?]

As one might expect, the film is set in a desert location. It was not filmed in the desert. It was filmed in front of a blue screen. The “desert” background was inserted with all of the skill put into the production of the local weather broadcast.

The dialogue is delivered with the deer-in-the-headlights proficiency of most high school productions of Arsenic and Old Lace. Unfortunately, there is no “Uncle Teddy” character to storm through a scene for comic relief.

So if they were acting rationally, the Muslim film critics would be more amused or chagrined than angry.

I am very comfortable as a Christian. You want to hear about it, ask.  If you don’t, no worries, God will track you down in His own good time.  I saw a news item the other day complete with little bit of video.  It showed some sort of rally of atheists, humanists and the like on an anti-religion theme. One fellow was carrying this really neat sign: “If Jesus returns, kill him again.” I think most Christians would find that objectionable.  I don’t know of any follower of Our Lord who would go all fatwa on him.

By the way, the Truth be Told, I have to admit I kind of thought it was funny.

Why are Muslims protesting this sorry example of film?  And why are they protesting violently?

One immediate answer is because there is a very heavy influence of intolerance, violence, viciousness and mob amorality or sociopathy woven into Islam. Sure, every group has its crazies but in lots of places Muslim crazies gather by the thousands.

I don’t know very many Muslims. Those I do know are peaceful and faithful people. In a culture where work and cooperation is prized, how one acts is the measure of a person.  People’s private religious beliefs do not excite a lot of comment.

From these two broad observations, I have to conclude that there are a bunch of the followers of Mohammed, peace be upon him but apparently not on them, who are batshit violently crazy. I further conclude that there are lots of Muslims who are normal, peaceful citizens.

I cannot guess numbers. I’m doubting that anybody else can with much accuracy.  The media isn't much help.  CNN seldom runs video of people acting normally.

One thing that’s puzzling is the lack of much expression of opinion by the non-crazy Muslims about the actions of their crazy and violent coreligionists. Maybe there is an intimidation thing going on there, I don’t know. That being said, a lot of other religious and non-religious folks don’t seem to be shy about criticizing them, some in rhetoric every bit as nutzoid as the wildest berserker waving around an AK.

Is this silence a cultural thing?  Certainly, it’s not an American thing. We have some outstanding examples of batshit crazy, evil, American, Christian, halfwit toads in such folks as our buds from Westboro Baptist Church. Somehow if those guys put together a mob of 1000 to assault anything in America, I think they’d have a real bad day and a lot of life insurance payoffs.

I just have to wonder why the crazies are the only ones speaking up for Islam.

In the meantime, we continue to be a very tolerant nation.   (Some nitwit is going to get all pissy at this point about how dreadful Americans treat others.  OK, whether you are a Christian or not, grab a Bible or, bettter, a Torah and take a stroll down Main Street in Riyadh and let us know how that works out for you.)   This tolerance traditionally has led to a sudden switch from “peaceful and not all that united” to “we're all together and it's time to open a six-pack of whoop ass.”  I have to wonder how near we are to that boundary.

The next few years may prove the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

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