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The Anti-Islamic B-Movie Behind The Benghazi Bloodshed

  • RFE/RL

A screen grab from a YouTube video promoting "Innocence of Muslims," which ignited Muslim protests over its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (actor not pictured).

A screen grab from a YouTube video promoting "Innocence of Muslims," which ignited Muslim protests over its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (actor not pictured).

It cost just $5 million to make, a tiny fraction of the budgets usually associated with feature-length films.

But "Innocence of Muslims," an amateurish spoof of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, has sparked furious anti-American protests in Libya and Egypt on September 11, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The Libyan protests, in the eastern city of Benghazi, turned violent, claiming the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other people when demonstrators launched an attack on the city's U.S. Consulate. The building was severely damaged.

The grim turn of events has once again shed a spotlight on how even simplistic forms of Western pop culture can dangerously inflame Arab resentment, where anti-American sentiment remains strong.

The case is reminiscent of 2005, when cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking massive protests and riots in many Muslim countries.

Muslims forswear any physical depiction of their prophet. "Innocence of Muslims" not only portrays Muhammad in human form, but also as a half-witted and conniving womanizer with a taste for bloodshed.

In one scene, Muhammad is shown selectively invoking the Koran to support his desire to have intimate relations with another man's wife.

Anger over the film has reportedly prompted the film's creator, said by some sources to be an Israeli-American real-estate mogul living in California, to go into hiding.

The filmmaker -- identified initially as 56-year-old Sam Bacile but with subsequent reports suggesting he used aliases* -- was quoted as saying he used contributions from more than 100 Jewish donors to fund his film. He has also condemned Islam as a "cancer" that had led to the United States losing money and soldiers in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A 12-minute trailer for the film, a Monty Python-esque satire featuring stiff acting, stereotypical costuming, and strikingly low-budget scenery, has been posted on YouTube.

One scene, depicting the modern day, portrays Muslim looters destroying the homes of Christian believers as local security forces stand by, unfazed.

A full, two-hour version of the film has been shown only once, the producers claim, in a Hollywood theater earlier this year. The man identified as Bacile and another source said to be involved in the film's creation said the theater was nearly empty.

The film found an advocate in the Florida-based preacher Terry Jones, who became notorious in 2010 with his threat to stage a public Koran-burning.

Jones on September 11 said the violence in Libya and Egypt illustrated that Muslims "have no tolerance for anything outside of Muhammad."

But residents in Benghazi saw it differently.

"The Libyans don't like [someone] to say something bad about their prophet," a resident told Reuters. "Prophet Muhammad -- he is not Osama bin Laden, he is not anybody else, he is our prophet."

* CLARIFICATION: Reports filed since this story was filed suggest the filmmaker's identity remains a question, with aliases like "Sam Basil" and "Sam Basile" cited by people involved in its production.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and "The New York Times"

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