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From ‘Desert Warrior’ to ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ a controversial YouTube video is both catalyst and scapegoat

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment
In early July, a YouTube user known as “Sam Bacile” posted a trailer for Innocence of Muslims, a vicious spoof of the Prophet Muhammad. The fourteen-minute video wasn’t a particularly good advertisement for anything — in fact, it failed to mention the title of the film. And for some time, it was all but ignored. Then, in September, dubbed Arabic versions began to appear in the Egyptian media. Protests broke out in several countries, denouncing both the video and the Pope’s upcoming visit to Lebanon. And in Benghazi, Libya, armed attackers set fire to the US Consulate, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
YOUTUBE SAID THE VIDEO WAS ‘CLEARLY WITHIN OUR GUIDELINES,’ BUT IT TOOK THE RARE STEP OF BLOCKING IT IN EGYPT AND LIBYA
The response was sudden. YouTube said the video was “clearly within our guidelines,” but it took the rare step of blocking it first in Egypt and Libya, then India, Indonesia, and other countries, sometimes after legal threats. YouTube itself was banned in some countries, most recently Pakistan. Although still available elsewhere, the English-language version was reposted several times with information about the protests or a simple “thumbs up for free speech.” The White House asked YouTube if it would review the video and remove it if necessary. Outlets from The Wall Street Journal toGawker tried to dig up information about Bacile, a mysterious figure who turned out to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian on parole for bank fraud. While the video is certainly drawing ire, it’s not clear that protests provided more than cover for the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. Unnamed US officials have told CNNthe Consulate faced a “clearly planned military-type attack,” and that “the video or 9/11 made a handy excuse.” It’s also been suggested that the attackers used these protests as a diversion. Whatever happened, we’re left with the question of how a poorly produced YouTube video can spark global controversy and be credited with causing the death of a US official. The trailer for Innocence of Muslims is on par with a lesser Ed Wood film, its cast solemnly debating sexual ethics in face paint and pasted-on beards. Outdoor scenes were clearly shot in front of a green screen, making actors appear to float above stock footage of a desert. If anything, though, the poor quality makes it more effective propaganda. It may not be revealing, thought-provoking, or competent, but Innocence of Muslims is indubitably insulting, depicting Muhammad as a hypocritical and bloodthirsty philanderer in a truly terrible costume.
IF ANYTHING, THE TRAILER’S POOR QUALITY MAKES IT MORE EFFECTIVE PROPAGANDA
Since the trailer gained infamy, it’s become evident that almost no one involved knew it was meant to be about Islam. Casting calls show that it was described during filming as a period piece called Desert Warrior, with Muhammad given the name of “Master George.” In the trailer, he’s usually referred to as “Master,” and any direct references to Islam are clumsily dubbed in after the fact. It’s easy to believe the actors when they say they were misled. At the same time, the undubbed parts of Innocence of Muslims wouldn’t be nearly as effective if they didn’t play off existing fears and beliefs about Islam, including the frequently repeated claim that the Prophet molested children. The film fits into a long narrative about protests over the depiction of Muhammad. But unlike The Satanic Verses, which has also drawn criticism from Muslims, there’s no larger message or artistic flourish behind the trailer. And unlike the famous Danish political cartoons from 2005, Innocence of Muslims wasn’t professionally published or circulated much outside YouTube. Instead, it’s a disposable piece of internet trolling, created for the sole purpose of generating outrage. It’s just gained an extraordinarily wide audience.
ANY REFERENCE TO ISLAM IS DUBBED IN, BUT THE WHOLE TRAILER PLAYS ON COMMON FEARS AND STEREOTYPES
Given how unsympathetic Bacile / Nakoula is, it’s become easy to blame Innocence of Muslims for tension that may have already been building. When White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed for the video to be taken down, he told The Washington Post that “this is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at US policy.” Recent events, he said, were “in response to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.” One YouTube user who re-posted the film described it as the movie “that caused Muslims to kill United States ambassador, J Christopher Stevens,” succinctly summing up popular perception. As others have pointed out, it’s also simplistic. Coptic Christians like Nakoula have a tense relationship with Muslims in Egypt, and they’ve faced violence before. Both Egypt and Libya are still in the midst of major political transitions. And rising food prices could be contributing to unrest worldwide.
THIS IS NOT A CASE OF PROTEST DIRECTED AT THE UNITED STATES WRIT LARGE OR AT US POLICY.
In some ways, Innocence of Muslims is the culmination of the internet’s role as a great leveler. YouTube can place tiny, self-published projects on equal footing with those made by traditional media outlets, and an anonymous or pseudonymous troll can claim to havestolen data from the FBI or hold Mitt Romney’s tax returns hostage. But the novelty and reach of online culture can also make it easy to exaggerate its importance, something that’s seen both in protesters’ insistence that the trailer is somehow condoned by the US and in the belief that Innocence of Muslims caused an attack that was likely planned for months. Even if YouTube bans Sam Bacile and his trailer, the numerous repostings, dubbed versions, and translations highlight the near impossibility of silencing offensive material once it has been released into the remix culture of the web. And the violence that followed is a reminder of how powerful online video can be at promoting an idea… or inciting populist outrage.
Source: http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/17/3346428/innocence-of-muslims-protests
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War on Terror or War of terror?

July 23, 2011 6 comments

Former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf says;

Pakistan’s decision to join the US and the Coalition in Afghanistan in their attack on the Taliban remains a subject of intense debate. This is the decision we took after a thorough, deliberate and realistic appraisal of the obtaining geo-strategic realities, but it has drawn criticism and praise alike. With the latest upsurge in terrorist activity in Pakistan, the debate on the post-9/11 response of Pakistan has intensified. I therefore thought it my duty to lay bare facts in front of people of Pakistan, so that, with all the necessary information , they could judge the situation more accurately. The decision of my government was indeed based on , and in conformity with, my slogan of ‘Pakistan First’.

Some people suggested that we should oppose the United States  and favour the Taliban. Was this, in any way, beneficial for Pakistan? Certainly not! Even if the Taliban and al-Qaeda emerged victorious, it would not be in Pakistan’s interest to embrace obscurantist Talibanisation. That would have meant a society where women had no rights, minorities lived in fear and semi-illiterate clerics set themselves up as custodians of justice. I could have never accepted this kind of society for Pakistan. In any case, judging by military realities one was sure that the Taliban would be defeated. It would have  been even more detrimental for Pakistan to be standing on the defeated side. The United States, the sole super power, was wounded and humiliated by the 9/11 Al-Qaeda terrorist attack. A strong retaliatory response against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was imminent.

I was angrily told, by the US, that Pakistan had to be ‘either with us or against us’. The message was also conveyed to me that ‘if Pakistan was against the United States then it should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age’. This was the environment within which we had to take a critical decision for Pakistan. My sole focus was to make a decision that would benefit Pakistan in the long run, and also guard it against negative effects.

What options did the US have to attack Afghanistan? Not possible from the north, through Russia and the Central Asian Republics. Not from the west, through Iran. The only viable direction was from the east, through Pakistan. If we did not agree, India was ever ready to afford all support. A US-India collusion would obviously have to trample Pakistan to reach Afghanistan. Our airspace and land would have been violated. Should we then have pitched our forces, especially Pakistan Air Force, against the combined might of the US and Indian forces? India would have been delighted with such a response from us. This would surely have been a foolhardy, rash and most unwise decision. Our strategic interests – our nuclear capability and the Kashmir cause – would both have been irreparably compromised. We might even have put our very territorial integrity at stake.

The economic dimension of confronting the United States and the West also needed serious analysis. Pakistan’s major export and investment is to and from the United States and European Union. Our textiles, which form 60 per cent of our export and earnings, go to the West. Any sanctions on these would have crippled our industry and choked our economy. Workers would lose their jobs. The poor masses of Pakistan would have been the greatest sufferers.

China, our great friend, also has serious apprehensions about Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The upsurge of religious extremism emboldening the East Turkistan Islamic Movement in China is to events in Afghanistan and the tribal agencies of PakistanChina would certainly not be too happy with Pakistan on the side of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Even the Islamic Ummah had no sympathy for the Taliban regime; countries like Turkey and Iran were certainly against the Taliban. The UAE and Saudi Arabia – the only two countries other than Pakistan that had recognised the Taliban regime – had become so disenchanted with the Taliban that they had closed their missions in Kabul.

Here, I would also like to clear the notion that we accepted all the demands put forward by USA. On September 13th 2001, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, brought me a set of seven demands.These demands had also been communicated to our Foreign Office by the US State Department.

1. Stop Al-Qaeda operatives at your borders, intercept arms shipments through Pakistan, and end all logistic support for Bin Laden.

  2. Provide the United States with blanket overflight and landing rights to conduct all necessary military and intelligence operations.

   3. Provide territorial access to the United States and allied military intelligence as needed, and other personnel to conduct all necessary operations against the perpetrators of terrorism and those that harbour them, including the use of Pakistan’s naval ports, air bases and strategic locations on borders.

    4. Provide the United States immediately with intelligence and databases, and internal security information, to help prevent and respond to terrorist acts perpetrated against the United States, its friends and its allies.

    5. Continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts of  September 11 and any other terrorist acts against the United States or its friends and allies, and curb all domestic expressions of support [for terrorism] against the United States, its friends, or its allies.

6. Cut off shipments of fuel to the Taliban and any other items and recruits, including volunteers, en route to Afghanistan, who can be used in a military offensive capacity or to abet a terrorist threat.

     7. Should the evidence strongly implicate Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to harbour him and his network, Pakistan will break diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, end support for the Taliban, ans assist the United States in the afore-mentioned ways to destroy Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.


Some of these demands were ludicrous, such as “curb all domestic expressions of support [for terrorism] against the United States, its friends, and its allies.” How could my government suppress public debate,when I had been trying to encourage freedom of expression? I also thought  that asking us to break off diplomatic relations with Afghanistan if it continued to harbour Osama bib Laden ans Al-Qaeda was not realistic, because not only would the United States need us to have access to Afghanistan, at least until the Taliban fell, but such decisions are the internal affair of a country and cannot be dictated by anyone. But we had no problem with curbing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We had been itching to do so before the United States became the victim. We just could not accept demands two and three. How could we allow the United States “blanket overflight and landing rights” without jeopardizing our strategic assets? I offered only a narrow flight corridor that was far from any sensitive areas. Neither could we give the United States “use of Pakistan’s naval ports, air bases, and strategic locations on borders.” We refused to give any naval ports or fighter aircraft bases. We allowed the United States only two bases – Shamsi in Balochistan and Jacobabad in Sind – and only for logistics and aircraft recovery. No attack could be launched from there. We gave no “blanket permission” for anything. The rest of the demands we could live with. I am happy that US government accepted our counter proposal without any fuss. I am shocked at the aspersion being cast on me: that I readily accepted all preconditions of the United States during the telephone call from Colin Powell. He did not give any conditions to me. These were brought by the US Ambassador on the third day. Having made my decision, I took it to the cabinet. Then I began meeting with a cross section of society. Between September 18 and October 3, I met with intellectuals, top editors, leading columnists, academics, tribal chiefs, students, and the leaders of  labour unions. On October 18, I also met a delegation from China and discussed the decision with them. Then I went to army garrisons all over the country and talked to the soldiers. I thus developed a broad consensus on my decision.

This was an analysis of all the losses/harms we would have suffered, if we had taken an anti-US stand. At the same time, I obviously analyzed the socio-economic and military gains that would occur from an alliance with the West. I have laid down the rationale for my decision in all its details. Even with hindsight now, I do not repent it. It was correct in the larger interest of Pakistan. I am confident that the majority of Pakistanis agree with it.

    ****  It must be an eye opener for all those who say that the present government is only fulfilling the commitments made by the Musharraf government. Musharraf himself has described all his commitments in detail. Now the ball his in the court of those people who take the decisions of the present government as legacy of Musharraf government. (Ameer Mirza)

 

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Ameer Mirza
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