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A statement and a "film"

Set aside for a moment all of the controversy. Do me the favor of reading the actual words of the statement released by our Egyptian Embassy six hours before it was attacked by radicals, and before a similar attack in Libya that took four innocent lives. Here it is:

"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

What exactly, is wrong with those words? Which ones do you disagree with? Let me set the stage for the statement. A "trailer" of dubious origin, for a film that has not been seen, was released some time ago on YouTube and widely overlooked. Then the "trailer" was translated into Arabic, and predictably stirred up outrage. As outrage spread in the Middle East, a press official for the Embassy wrote and released the statement without higher approval.

I agree with every word of this statement. Which parts would you disagree with? Why?

Sentence One: One-quarter of the earth's population is Muslim, including many Americans. Yes, their feelings can be hurt by a crude attack on the Prophet. I would go so far as to suggest those who made the trailer hoped to hurt their feelings. Why else, when their original effort failed to attract attention, did they pay to have it translated into Arabic, so it could be understood in nations where the box office appeal of the so-called film would be non-existent? The only purpose must have been to hurt feelings.

Sentence Two: True. Sincere. Heartfelt.

Sentence Three: I'll repeat it. "Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy." This expresses one of the fundamental founding principles of our nation.

Sentence Four: The statement rejects the actions of the mysterious people responsible for posting the trailer and the having it translated into Arabic.

Point me to the sentence that represents the "apology" that Gov. Romney referred to in his ill-advised statement. There is none. This statement amounts to a defense and explanation of our guarantees of freedom of speech. It might well have quoted: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I agree that the press officer acted in haste and without authorization--certainly not from the White House, although Romney characterized his press release as coming from President Obama. The president himself, acting with greater maturity and wisdom, pointed out that the statement came from Embassy people who had reason to fear for their lives. In such a situation, he said, his tendency is to "cut people some slack."

This is possibly explained by the Embassy staffer's fear for his life. A lamentable number of Islamic extremists have short fuses and are programmed to take offense at America after the slightest provocation. The famous Rage Boy is the poster child of this tendency. Google him for yourself. The film has the effect of crying out "fire" in a crowded theater.

The Romney attack was made in such unseemly haste that we had still not learned of the deaths in Benghazi. But you know all about that. My heart goes out to those victims of remote-controlled ignorance. The murdered Ambassador was by all accounts considered by Libyans to be a friend of theirs, and there has been a quiet demonstration in his memory.

I want to focus on the "efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The film was reputedly produced by a man named Sam Bacile, who told a reporter on the telephone that he was an Israeli Jew, and that his film was financed by "100 Jews." One person who says he has met him, a consultant named Sam Klein, has stated that this man is not named Bacile and is not an Israeli Jew. (I saw a tweet pointing out that Mister or Monsieur Bacile comes out neatly as "M Bacile.")

Why was he so specific about being an "Israeli Jew?" What did he hope to achieve by that? Why was he so precise about the number "100 Jews?" Not 95, or 105? No backers of any other religion?

I learn from an article by Lucas Kavner on Huffington Post that "only a couple of the film's apparent backers -- fringe figures like pastor Terry Jones, Morris Sadek of the Coptic Church and Steve Klein, a "consultant" on the film who self-released an anti-Islamic book in 2010 -- have come forward to reveal themselves." Kavner's article quotes surprising statements by Klein, who has been much involved in fringe groups.

Is there even a movie? The name of the "movie" is either "The Innocence of Muslims" or "Muslim Innocence." On YouTube, under the first title, there's a link saying "full movie," which is less than seven minutes long. Under the second title, I find three trailers and a "full movie" clocking at at 5:22. I've read that some people have seen an 11-minute version. I can't find anything else. Maybe you can. Let us know. What I saw was mostly bad acting, lame dialogue, B-reel footage, inflammatory scrolling words, and canned horror music. I'm not going to link it; see for yourself.

Isn't it obvious this is an inflammatory hoax? Doesn't a phrase like "100 Jews" have the kind of specificity we often find in racist fantasies? How did the odious publicity-seeker Terry Jones get involved at such an early stage? Why is his photograph associated with so many stories, while "Bacile" modestly remains invisible? Isn't it transparently clear that that this whole affair was intended to offend Muslims and stir up trouble? Isn't Jones the infamous Quran-burner? How did he get out in front of this story so quickly?

My hunch is that when the origins of "The Innocence of Muslims" and its backers have been tracked down--and make no mistake, they will be--the full story will be vile and explosive.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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