Mobs are rioting and taking the lives of innocent people. Jolly good, then. In response, let's all talk about a really fucking terrible movie.

For those of you alive in September of 2012 who haven't been following the news, an American ambassador was killed in Libya and related violence has continued in other countries. The rioters blame an obscure film for their actions.

The first part of Innocence of Muslims was shot on a rented Hollywood backlot, and therefore looks better than anything that follows. We're apparently in modern Egypt, where a mob of maybe seven weapon-wielding Muslims are looking to kill Christians. A Christian doctor narrowly escapes, and his wife and daughter want to know how things got this way. In response, he retells the origins of Islam. Someone's idea of the origin of Islam, anyway.

At this point, the film switches to scenes mainly shot against green screen, with Middle Eastern desert backgrounds poorly superimposed behind the actors. Seriously, at times the characters appear to be floating above the ground. Most of the actors involved have come forward and said they had no idea they were doing a film about Mohammed or Islam. They had been shown a script for an action/comedy sort of thing called The Desert Warrior. The footage that has been leaked everywhere supports their claim. References to Mohammed and the Quran have obviously been dubbed, and badly dubbed at that.

And so we get an incoherent, sex-obsessed retelling of the life of Mohammed and the development of Islam in fragmented scenes, spun in such a way as to be as offensive to Muslims as possible. Whether a longer, complete film actually exists remains an open question, as of this writing. The people behind the film ran it once, in a rented theater. Reportedly, almost no one showed up. Reporters have been unable to confirm that what was shown was much longer or more polished than the online bits.

Then there's the matter of the reaction. Seriously? People exist who feel so threatened by this craptastic movie that they're rioting and killing people? And some people in the West feel the need to apologize for the fact that this film exists? It's not like any of the criticisms this film makes against Islam are new. You can look up other Youtube videos, Jack T. Chick tracts, and anti-Islamic sites and find roughly the same things being said. Furthermore, the excerpts of Innocence of Muslims have been online since July 2, 2012. Suddenly, on the eve of 9-11 an Arabic-language version turns up and people are rioting. Anyone else calling shenanigans?

It's also clear that someone made this film in order to outrage. Unlike Salmon Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, which had thoughtful criticisms of a broad range of religious and cultural traditions and some actual talent behind it, Innocence of Muslims utterly lacks subtlety or artistry. Then there's the manner in which it was promoted. The showing in the rented theatre identified the film as Innocence of Bin Laden, and posters purported the film would expose the real menace to today's world. Posters were in Arabic. Clearly, someone wanted to draw an Arab-speaking audience, perhaps under the mistaken belief that they would see the U.S. or Israel condemned or Al Qaeda exonerated. Instead, they would see an offensive attack on Islam. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, no one was interested.

When the proverbial poop finally hit the metaphoric fan, the film's supposed maker, "Sam Bacile" gave a phone interview in which he claimed to be Israeli-born, and insisted the film cost five million dollars, provided by a group of Jewish doctors. His Youtube account, meanwhile, stresses that the film was made in America. Talk about playing to the prejudices of a certain crowd. If this thing cost five thousand dollars, I shall eat my hat. The minimal funding did not come from imaginary Jewish doctors. And "Sam Bacile" appears to be an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian with a rap sheet.

"Sam Bacile" has been named variously as the producer, writer, and director of the movie. Mr. Bacile has been identified as one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He has been convicted in the past of bank fraud and drug-related offenses. Nakoula claims he is a financier of the film, but not the director or the writer. The cell phone used by "Sam Bacile," however, has been traced to Nakoula, and it's clear Bacile does not actually exist. Furthermore, Nakoula has in the past used pseudonyms similar to "Sam Bacile." More recently, the Net has been aflame with claims that a maker of softcore porn films and cheap horror movies, Alan Roberts (a pseudonym for Robert Alan Brownell) was involved in directing. Cast members have claimed that both Nakoula and Brownell were involved with the production. Doubtless, more will be learned over time, conspiracy theorists will muddy that which is known, and sane people will move onto bigger, though in some cases, related, issues.

As for the rioters, they can't hide behind their outrage over an idiotic, Grade Z movie, especially given reports (and practical likelihood) that protests had been planned for some time. All they've accomplished by their actions is to kill some people who had nothing to do with the film and harm many more, reinforce negative views of Islam in the West— and ensure that everyone in the world knows this dumbass film exists.

Another element to the controversy over "Innocence of Muslims" is that apparently the director/producer Sam Bacile wildly misrepresented the plot of the film to the actors and had their lines over-dubbed without their permission with entirely different dialog.

According to actress Anna Gurji, the film she and the other actors thought they were performing in was a low-budget adventure movie called "Desert Warrior", which was supposedly about ancient tribes in Egypt fighting to possess the remains of a comet that had crashed into the desert. In the scenes Ms. Gurji acted in, the tribal leader her character was sold to was named George in the partial script she and her co-actors worked from.

Ms. Gurji writes: "There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am a hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this 'Desert Warrior'."

You can read the rest of her statement at Neil Gaiman's site: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/09/a-letter-from-scared-actress.html

On 9/19/2012, another actress in the movie sued Sam Bacile and YouTube/Google for damages. Actress Cindy Lee Garcia says that she received death threats and was fired from her job as a result of the over-dubbed movie clips that appeared on YouTube.

Up until today I had only an academic sense of what the phrase "blood chilling" means.

Today I had a conversation with an educated, well-to-do Afghan regarding the riots around the world in response to this stupid movie. He was curious to hear why the US Government had allowed the film to be released. He was under the impression that films or books needed some kind of license or permit from the government.

This thought is very common in this part of the world. Such permits and reviews are required in many, if not most, countries here, and it is simply assumed that they are everywhere else. So, this alone is illuminating for people who struggle to understand the rage against entire nations when offensive material is published. It is assumed that the country itself issues a seal of approval.

Add to this that most people here have no idea that Innocence of Muslims was not a Hollywood blockbuster with a massive budget and huge theater releases, but in fact had the production values to be expected from a couple of jackoffs with rented amateur grade equipment, and you begin to see the reasoning, however flawed, for the reactions. I mean, I'm willing to make an educated guess and say that the number of protesters who actually saw the thing they're protesting is statistically zero, and the rest are operating on rumor and manufactured rage from religious authorities and peers. This, also, is common in situations like this.

I'm asked questions about America quite often, ranging from things like "What happens to a policeman in America who breaks the law?" to "Is it true that men in America are not allowed to have more than one wife no matter how rich they are?" so I'm used to going back to basics for many explanations.

His contention, even after I explained that no such permit is required, and that the movie was made by a small number of deceptive jackoffs, was that the US should restrict the release of any book, movie, cartoon, etc. whatsoever that has a high potential to incite violence. I was interested in his viewpoint, as it seemed to stem from a genuine desire to keep innocent people from getting hurt over dumb shit said by inciteful people who never intend to bear the consequences themselves.

I asked him why he thought it should be, for example, the US government's responsibility to stop people in other countries from committing acts of violence. He didn't quite dodge the question when he answered that it shouldn't just be the US, but any government, specifically "the Western governments that always cause these problems, like the Danish cartoons for example that you may remember from some years ago."

Freedom of speech a la the First Amendment, or, say, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (saving the infamous Article 29, put there for just this reason), is not popular in this part of the world for any number of reasons. But this was a pretty educated dude, having been to a few years of university and having lived abroad for a number of years, so I kept on that line of questioning out of curiosity alone.

I reiterated my question about why any government should restrict speech instead of, say, changing the attitude that violence is an acceptable answer to mere words. That his response was so completely matter-of-fact was the blood chilling part.

"Because if the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is insulted, the insulter must be killed. And if the insulter himself cannot be killed, those who permitted or facilitated the insult must be killed."

Further questions and answers revealed that he was willing to shrug off personal insults, as did the prophet himself in the famous story, found in most Seerah but not in the hadith, about the trash-throwing Jew.

That he unquestioningly believed in political solutions to national conflicts and that war was unjustified under any circumstance except self defense.

That he considered blood feuds, a staple of the Afghan socio-political climate, to be on the same deplorable level as, say, terrorism - or what he called "false Jihad".

All that being said, he also saw it as completely obvious and beyond debate that an insult to the Islamic faith or the prophet Muhammad should be punished by murder. Asking him anything about that particular point was like stopping an astrophysicist in the middle of a graduate level lecture and asking her why she put so much stock in gravity.

This is a man who wears a suit and tie, owns a successful business here in Kabul, and uses some of his profits to fund a girls' school. He wants reform, detests the Taliban as being "false Muslims", and fervently hopes for democracy to blossom. He has a profound respect for the Jewish and Christian faiths as fellow worshipers of the God of Abraham.

He accepts that it is not unreasonable for Jews or Christians to remain unconverted to Islam, partly because word never reached many of them during the prophet Muhammad's lifetime, and because those faiths warn specifically about false prophets, and the strength of their faith in the word of God may be keeping those without firsthand experience from converting.

He owns a bible, and reads it with an eye towards the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and the interpretations of the hadith that teach one to struggle against one's ego, to give to the poor, to accept the weakness of one's enemies, and to unconditionally strive to improve the human condition.

He also just happens to have an unshakable belief that an insult to the prophet is punishable only by death, and that all Muslims have a deeply seated duty to murder all apostates and heretics. Now, I can deal with, say, a dirt-poor, illiterate Pashtun hill savage whose only religious teachings come from political puppet mullahs and like-minded, third-generation Wahhabis. What curdles my guts is that someone with such a broader education, both secular and religious, can abhor violence of all sorts except for one.

Commentary on what "moderate" or "extreme" Islam are, from any source, will never again mean anything more to me than the front page of a checkout stand magazine. None of it means a damn thing but what will attract more eyeballs or what agenda is being pushed.

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