As morbidly fascinating as it’s been to follow the Islamic ructions that have resulted from the release of the infamous trailer for the possibly non-existent film Innocence of Muslims, the range of non-Muslim reactions to the trailer has been hardly less interesting even though it consists of varying shades of disapproval. I had to go pretty far into the American crankosphere to find commentary that was only mildly damning: “… the “Innocence of Muslims” film if anything like the trailer may not be with all the truth and at best a “B” rate film…”
Meanwhile, some American religious studies professor thinks the film-maker, whoever he is, should be arrested. R. Joseph Hoffman recycles a similar suggestion with respect to Terry Jones, the Koran-burning pastor who is mixed up with Innocence of Muslims. PZ Myers repudiates the idea of arresting Jones, but is hardly impressed with the film trailer:
It’s got terrible acting, inconsistent and bad fake accents, white actors in blackface (poorly applied blackface, even), beards straight out of Monty Python, sloppy greenscreen work, and it goes out of its way to portray major figures in Islam as gloating gay parodies and pedophiles. It doesn’t just criticize Islam (and when it does, it does so with painful ignorance); it criticizes ethnicities, sexual orientations, and nations wholesale. It is simply a calculated, ugly insult with no redeeming qualities at all.
Chris Selley, on the other hand, can’t seem to take the trailer seriously enough to get too worked up about it:
The film isn’t just ham-fisted. It’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous. If a comedian had put together a spoof of an anti-Islam film, he couldn’t have done any better — right down to the hilariously inept overdubs.
Selley makes another good point, that people really ought to show the trailer if they’re going to discuss it. So, without further ado:
My own perspective is very close to Selley’s. The trailer even made me laugh a few times, especially at the bit with the camel and the old woman. Comparing the thing to “a spoof of an anti-Islam film” is spot-on – intentionally or not (and I think one should reserve judgement about this, for now), the trailer is well into “so stupid it’s funny” territory. Even the title seems to be flirting with that status. Innocence of Muslims? What kind of a name for a movie is that? It should probably have been called Plan 9 From the Vicinity of Medina, considering the production quality.
All of which is really too bad. As Taslima Nasreen says, there’s lots of room for movies that take an irreverent or even hostile attitude towards Islam and are also of better-than-embarrassing quality:
Good films but very critical of Islam could have been made by creative, visionary, talented film-makers who have rational logical mind and scientific outlook. Unfortunately not a single good film based on authentic Islamic history has ever been made. I have been waiting for decades to watch an Islamic version of ‘Life of Brian.’ Where are our Pythons?
I’d certainly watch an Islamic Life of Brian, but I’d be more intrigued by an Islamic Richard III – a more serious, if speculative, historical film exploring the hardly unthinkable possibility that Mohammed (if he ever existed) was basically a murderous tyrant. He would be portrayed as a complex anti-hero perhaps somewhat in the mould of the infamous Russian monarchist commander Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, vicious and autocratic in the extreme but also prone to an elusive sense of higher spiritual purpose. Fragmentary sentences that would ultimately evolve into verses of the Koran would come to him in flashes of mysterious inspiration, or perhaps in dreams or even following debilitating seizures.
The film would follow Mohammed’s career as a half-crazy desert warlord, from the beginning of his conflict with the pagan Arabs of Mecca to his death a couple of years after finally taking the city. Many of the incidents described in traditional Muslim accounts would be included in recognizable form, but Mohammed and his associates would be consistently depicted as bloodthirsty, rapacious aggressors. Towards the end, the viewer would also see Muslim historians reworking those same events to make them more palatable – at first within the framework of oral tradition during Mohammed’s own lifetime, then in written form as the Koran and the various compilations of hadiths came together after his death, then through interpretations and commentaries at a distance of many centuries. Perhaps the film would conclude with a respectable Muslim lady in modern London or Toronto reading hazy, idealized stories of the Prophet to her grandchildren, followed by a brief and sudden flashback to one of the grim scenes behind the hallowed legend – the cold steel shearing through flesh and bone, the smoke rising from burning piles of corpses while Mohammed beat the ground in ecstasy and raved about the all-conquering glory of Allah.
One could play this same game with other legendary or semi-legendary figures, such as Moses and King Arthur. Apparently some people are already playing it with L. Ron Hubbard. With Mohammed, however, I think the game would work particularly well. This is because he lies deep within the shadowy continuum that stretches between myth and history, because even mainstream accounts of his life acknowledge that he presided over considerable violence, and because he is held in such uncritical reverence by so many people. It would be well worth asking, in the language of art, whether the living, breathing war leader in seventh century Arabia might have been very different from the character in the hagiographic legends that exist today.