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Polarization of the anti-Islam film debate: Undoing the Arab Spring? Part One

Date:19 September 2012
Author:Religion Factor
Protestors in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Photograph: Thomas van Gool
Protestors in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Photograph: Thomas van Gool

Over the last few days, international news coverage has been largely dominated by reports on protests across the world against a film that protestors claim is a direct insult to the prophet Muhammed.  The protests started with the storming of the American embassy in Cairo as well as a violent attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, after which revolts spread across the world like wildfire. Meanwhile, the US administration is fortifying its position, sending special counter-terrorism marine units to Libya and Yemen, withdrawing its diplomats from the region whilst also positioning two destroyers just off the North African coast.  Hence, anyone watching these events unfold could be forgiven for thinking that we still live the 9/11 nightmare according to which global politics can be easily divided into the Muslim fundamentalist East and the securitized Christian West.  Or rather, that the Arab Spring – in which ordinary citizens emerged on global television screens demanding social, economic and political rights (thereby challenging this binary opposition) never happened.

This polarization, and the obliteration of the Arab Spring demands for socio-economic and political rights, in fact appears to be the intention of the producers of this– low quality – film.  For it slowly but surely emerged that the film was produced by an individual called ‘Sam Bacile’, who was unmasked as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – a militant Coptic separatist resident in the USA.  Nakoula has been convicted of fraud in the past, and now appears to have misled the cast of the film, who believed they were participating in a film called ‘Desert Warrior’ under the directorship of Alan Roberts (a former porn director).[i]  Not only that, but it appears that the film’s consultant, Steve Klein – an insurance salesmen from Hemet, California – is closely linked to the right-winged ‘counter-jihadist’ and ‘anti-Muslim crusaders’ movement associated with the Norwegian Anders Breivik as well as other Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (who claimed that Islam was nothing but a doctrine of warfare).[ii] Klein is also closely associated with another radical Coptic separatist who promoted the film, Morris Sadek.  Sadek holds the same staunchly anti-Islamic views, and was for example seen on the streets of Washington on 11 September 2010 shouting ‘Islam is evil!’ whilst holding a bible, American flag and crucifix[iii].  Additionally, the film was supported and promoted by the notorious American pastor Terry Jones, who organised a Quran-burning-event earlier this year.

What is interesting – as well as scary – about this concoction of individuals involved in the production and promotion of this low quality film is precisely that they come from Christian right-winged groups, with their respective influential Islamophobic industry of knowledge production.  This knowledge production is closely tied to the emergence of a “persecution industry” amongst right-winged evangelicals in the USA, which strategically employs the plight of the Egyptian Copts to leverage for its own ideological right winged position with regards to Middle Eastern politics (i.e. the promotion of Israeli security interests and a staunch anti-Islamic rhetoric)[iv].

Dr Vivienne Matthies-Boon is a Fellow of the Centre for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain.  She is also an Assistant Professor in International Relations at the University of Groningen.  She specialises in Critical Theory, Middle Eastern Political Theory and Egyptian Politics. 



[iii] see:

[iv] see:‘persecution-industry


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