Huffpost Religion
Jaweed Kaleem Headshot

Libya Protests Spurred By Anti-Muslim Film Whose Maker's Religion Is Widely Reported But Little-Known

Posted: Updated:
LIBYA PROTEST RELIGION
Muslims demonstrate during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad near the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco, on Sept. 12. | AP

UPDATE: Sept. 13, 11:34 a.m. -- The Associated Press has identified Californian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as the man behind the anti-Muslim film that's been the target of protests across the Middle East. The AP says its source for the information is an official in U.S. law enforcement who "spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation."

In earlier interviews, Nakoula said he was the manager of the company that made the film but did not say he was the actual filmmaker. He identified himself as a Coptic Christian and said that the film's director supported concerns about the treatment of the Copts by Muslims.

He also denied posing as Sam Bacile, the mysterious man whom initial reports on Tuesday quoted and identified as an Israeli Jewish filmmaker, but AP reports that telephone numbers for Bacile and Nakoula trace to the same address. Questions remain as to why Bacile, who was interviewed by the AP and the Wall Street Journal, said he was an Israeli Jew.

The day following an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, news reports have focused on a 14-minute trailer for an obscure anti-Muslim film that mocks the Prophet Muhammad and was the target of protests outside the consulate before it was raided.

U.S. officials have told news outlets that the attackers may have planned the killings in advance, using the the protest over the video as a diversion. But questions have continued over the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims," that spread via YouTube and Middle Eastern media ahead of the attacks and depicts the Islamic prophet as a womanizer, a pedophile and a homosexual, among other characterizations.

Some questions about the movie, the shabby trailer for which was deconstructed by reporters on Wednesday, have been answered. Actors from the film claim they had no idea they were participating in an anti-Muslim movie and thought it was about life in Egypt 2,000 years ago. They also said that their voices had been dubbed over. Indeed, the video's audio track indicates that there was dubbing.

But it's still unclear who made the film -- and questions have lingered around the filmmaker's religion. While news reports have said he is Jewish, evangelical or hinted at him possibly being Coptic Christian or Muslim, the truth about who made the film and that person's religious background is still a mystery.

Initial reports from the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal named the filmmaker as Sam Bacile, identified as a Israeli Jewish real estate developer based in California. "Islam is a cancer," the AP quoted him saying.

But later, news outlets reported they could not find any public records for Bacile in California and there was no history of him as a filmmaker.

The search for anyone behind the film did lead the Associated Press to interview a California man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who said he was manager of the company that produced "Innocence of Muslims." Nakoula, a Coptic Christian, was previously convicted of financial crimes and court papers showed Nakoula's aliases included Nicola Bacily and Erwin Salameh, among others.

From the AP:

Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula.

Israeli authorities also told reporters that they had no record of Bacile. The Atlantic quoted a Christian anti-Muslim activist, Steve Klein, who said he was a consultant on the film and claimed Bacile was a pseudonym. He also said Bacile was not Israeli or Jewish.

"Nobody is anything but an active American citizen. They're from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, they're some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are evangelical," Klein told The Atlantic, describing the 15 people he estimated to have been involved in producing the film.

Some in the Jewish media breathed a sigh of relief.

"So we're not to blame after all," tweeted Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, a popular New York-based Jewish newspaper. The initial Muslim-Jewish conflict narrative "served to set up the dichotomy between good and evil, between Israel, on the one hand, and the Islam on the other," Adina Holtzman, assistant director of research at the Anti-Defamation League, told the paper.

Adding another twist to the story, Gawker interviewed an actress from the film, Cindy Lee Garcia, who said Bacile was an Egyptian. According to the article, Garcia said "Bacile had white hair and spoke Arabic to a number of 'dark-skinned' men who hung around the set." The filming occurred last July, and Garcia was involved for three days.

Most Egyptians are Muslim, but the country has a significant Christian minority, the Copts, who have endured a history of persecution. One Copt, Morris Sadek, has taken credit for uploading the film online and translating it to Arabic for Middle Eastern viewers.

Sadek, who lives in the United States and leads the U.S.-based National Coptic Assembly, said in an interview with Reuters that he supported the film because it included a scene about persecution of Copts and that he did not think it was offensive to Islam.

Protests over the film have also broken out in Cairo, where demonstrators jumped over the wall of the U.S. Embassy and tore down the American flag.

But was "Innocence of Muslims" created by a Jew, an evangelical, a Muslim, a Copt or a person of another faith?

Right now, nobody knows.

Close
Attack On U.S. Compound In Benghazi
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Around the Web

Protesters attack U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt, Libya - CNN ...

State Department officer killed in attack on US Consulate in Libya ...

US ambassador Chris Stevens killed in Libya - as it happened ...

Anti-Islam filmmaker who sparked Egypt, Libya protests in hiding ...

State Dept. Confirms Death In Libya; Romney Attacks 'Disgraceful ...

US Official Killed in Protest in Libya

American killed in Libya during protests about Prophet Muhammad ...

Sam Bacile Film Sparks Egypt, Libya Protests: New Arab - PolicyMic

U.S. Envoy to Libya Killed Amid Protests Over a Film - Bloomberg

Romney Criticized for Handling of Libya Protests, Death - Bloomberg

Religion as pretext or cause in attacks in Cairo, Egypt and Libya

Deadly embassy attacks were days in the making

American killed in Libya protest over film

U.S. Envoy to Libya Killed as Protests Flare in North Africa

American Killed In Libya Protest Over Film

Calls to protest movie mocking Muhammad spread to Algeria, Iran

American killed in Libya during protests about Prophet Muhammad video