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Anti-Islam Film Crafted To Provoke, Experts Say


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

For many Muslims, the film that sparked at least some of the anti-American violence in Egypt and Libya was breathtakingly offensive. In a moment, we'll look into the mystery behind who made the film.

First, NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty looks at how it was crafted to provoke Muslim believers and what Islamic teachings say about how believers should respond. And a warning: Some material in this story may offend some listeners.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: The Quran and other Islamic teachings are crystal clear: Muhammad is never to be portrayed in a sketch or a painting, much less played by an actor in a crudely filmed video.

FAWAZ GERGES: The film is designed to denigrate Islam, to do as much psychological damage as possible.

HAGERTY: Fawaz Gerges is a Muslim scholar and professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. He says the film, called "The Innocence of Muslims," is much more blasphemous than the Danish cartoons that portrayed Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. He says it gathers up all the, quote, "historical falsities spread about Mohammad for centuries and includes them in one film" - or, actually, a 14 minute trailer.

GERGES: It is basically anchored in stereotypes to portray Muhammad as a fraud, as a sexual predator, as an insane person, as a mutilated soul.

HAGERTY: It shows Muhammad seducing women, and one actor also states that he was gay. This monologue pretty much sums it up.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have not seen such a murderous thug as Muhammad. He kills men, captures women and children, robs the caravans, breaches agreements and treaties. He sells the children as slaves after he and his men have used them.

HAGERTY: As offensive as this is, says Johari Abdul Malik, an Imam in Virginia, there is nothing in Islam that justifies violent retribution for an insult.

JOHARI ABDUL MALIK: There is no ruling. There is no comment from the Quran that if one speaks against Allah or denigrates Allah or the prophet, that individuals are called upon to react violently or otherwise. There is no religious foundation for this.

HAGERTY: Professor Gerges says Islam lays out mechanisms to seek recompense for an insult to Islam, such as finding the perpetrator and demanding repentance. He says a religious response does not include harming innocent people. Sometimes, he says, political and religious motives can appear intertwined. He says many believe that was the case when Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie. But Gerges does not believe that's true of the protesters at the U.S. diplomatic compounds on Tuesday.

GERGES: This had nothing to do with either Islam or religious - the religious beliefs of Muslims.

HAGERTY: Which is, of course, small comfort to the victims of the violence.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.