The Innocence of Muslims, its murky origins and the global protests it caused

Protest in Australia
Protests against the controversial film trailer Innocence of Muslims spread around the world. Protesters are seen here in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Erik Anderson used under Creative Commons license.)

By Brad Crofford

In recent weeks, the world’s attention has turned to a controversial film trailer that has sparked protests around the world. But the creation of Innocence of Muslims, the controversial film, is shrouded in a certain level of mystery.

When the protests first began in Egypt on September 11, it was widely reported that the film had been created by Sam Bacile, an Israeli citizen living in the United States. According to this initial narrative, this anti-Islamic filmmaker had gone into hiding after the beginning of the protests. But a telephone interview, Sam Bacile claimed that the 14-minute trailer for Innocence of Muslims was part of a longer film with a budget of over $5 million donated by over 100 Jewish donors.

However, this version of the story was later called into question.

The cast and crew of the film revealed that when it was filmed, it was a film entitled Desert Warriors. In the casting call for the film, it was billed as a “historical desert drama set in the Middle East.” After learning of the attacks on the US diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, the cast and crew issued a statement denouncing the film.

According to CNN:

“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose,” the statement says. “We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

As many sources (including the Christian Science Monitor) have noted, the poor production quality calls into question the claim that the film had a $5 million budget, and the most controversial portions of the trailer had voices dubbing over the actors’ lines; the original version reportedly had no references to Muhammad or Islam. In addition, according to The Wall Street Journal, a records search showed no record of a man named Sam Bacile living in the United States, and Israeli officials have reported finding no records of an Israeli citizen with that name.

While the origin of the film are murky, the effects have been far-reaching. In the weeks since the first protest in Egypt, the protests have spread around the globe, including Greece, Canada, Nigeria, Wales, and Australia.

The Obama administration’s response to the protest in Egypt has also created a significant amount of controversy in the United States. Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, accused President Obama of apologizing for American values. The Obama campaign accused the Romney campaign of political opportunism.

The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was originally thought to be a part of the series of protests over the controversial film. The attack resulted in the death of four US diplomats (including US Ambassador Chris Stevens) and has since been described as a “terrorist attack” by the White House.