That’s too bad, because if the video hadn’t gone viral in the course of triggering demonstrations, riots, and maybe the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, it deserves to go viral for being hilarious.
Muhammad Movie Trailer supposedly shows highlights from a feature film called Innocence of Muslims, which presents a silly and sensationalized account of Muhammad’s rise to power.
Germany’s Foreign Minister calls the trailer “unspeakable”. Hillary Clinton says it’s “disgusting and reprehensible”. Bloggers and journalists are examining it with the same solemn rigour they’d apply to documentary footage smuggled out of a war zone. I guess that’s their job; the trailer is news now, and it’s associated with some very grim events. But all this fake seriousness is counterproductive, because it reinforces the idea widespread in the Muslim world that the movie is something not to be giggled over.
But how can you not giggle? The makeup, the costumes, the special effects, the acting, and especially the script attain such heights of unbelievable badness, I’m half-expecting a sheepish announcement that the whole thing was actually the work of some alternative comedy troupe. In a more sensible world, we’d all be celebrating the emergence of a classic of found comedy – the Birdemic of religious satire.
I like to think Muslims would acknowledge its ridiculousness, too, if they simply allowed themselves to watch the stupid thing. Maybe once everyone over there is done breaking stuff – or rather, once they resume their customary posture of readiness-to-break-stuff-on-a-moment’s-notice – they’ll put aside their piety for a few minutes and we can all join together in mocking some of the most incompetent filmmaking ever seen.
But I’m not holding my breath.
It’s possible the trailer’s incompetence will actually make it more effective as anti-Islamic propaganda. I clicked to it out of curiosity, planning to watch just enough to get the gist, not expecting to actually sit through the entire 14-minute clip. But it was funny enough to hold my attention to the end.
Afterwards, curious to see how much this silliness really owed to the historical tradition, I flipped open my copy of H.G. Wells’ Outline Of History to the chapter on the life of Muhammad, and read the following:
Near Medina was a castle of Jews, against whom Muhammad was already incensed because of their disrespect for his theology. … Muhammad now fell upon them, slew all the men, nine hundred of them, and enslaved the women and children.
Nor was his domestic life … one of exceptional edification. Until the death of [his first wife] Kadija, when he was fifty, he seems to have been the honest husband of one wife, but then, as many men do in their declining years, he developed a disagreeably strong interest in women.
This led to much trouble and confusion, and in spite of many special and very helpful revelations on the part of Allah, these complications still require much explanation and argument from the faithful.
One of his wives was a Jewess, Safiyya, whom he had married on the evening of the battle in which her husband had been captured and executed. He viewed the captured women at the end of the day, and she found favour in his eyes and was taken to his tent.
These are salient facts in these last eleven years of Muhammad’s career. Because he, too, founded a great religion, there are those who write of this evidently lustful and rather shifty leader as though he were a man to put beside Jesus of Nazareth or Gautama, or Mani. But it is surely manifest that he was a being of commoner clay …
This critique, which sticks to the acknowledged facts of the prophet’s life, is a lot more damaging than Muhammad Movie Trailer, with its bedroom antics and goat innuendos. Wells goes on to say that in spite of all the above, Islam is in his view a pretty good religion, one which
created a society more free from widespread cruelty and social oppression than any society had ever been in the world before.
One of the precepts of Islam in its currently ascendant fundamentalist form is that, in order to prevent idolatry, the human form must never be depicted. This taboo is particularly acute in the case of Muhammad, who was not a god or supernatural being, Muslims emphasize, but only a man. The antique term “Mahomedans” they reject because it implies they worship Muhammad.
But the violent obsession with defending Muhammad’s honour, on display yet again these last few days, is more idolatrous than merely setting up a shrine could ever be. It’s possible, in fact it’s essential, to separate Muhammad, the sometimes horny, sometimes vengeful human being, from Islam, the faith that he created. That faith ought to be strong enough for its adherents to shrug off petty insults to their prophet. Sometimes I suspect these dauntless defenders of Islam of being mere Mahomedans after all.
In March 2005 I wrote a lengthier post on Wells’ Outline of History.