The enemy of convenience
Earlier today, I saw the short-clip posted online of ‘Innocence of Muslims’. All 14 minutes of it. It was not hard to locate. As the Interior Ministry, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Jamaat-e-Islami have yet to grasp, the internet is nebulous. In my case, I found it within two minutes of a torrent search on the infamous thepiratebay.se. The banning of YouTube therefore, is far more likely to inconvenience teenagers searching for music videos and those trying to troubleshoot their iPhones, rather than to deter any curious Pakistanis seeking the bizarrely titled video referred to above. In this case at least, the reactionary forces (to which the Interior Ministry has fallen prey) are nothing more than the enemy of convenience.
As for the video itself, upon watching it I was indeed highly offended, as an armchair critic of television and cinema. The production is so very amateurish that to even term it a home-video would be a disservice to camcorder owners. According to a quote attributed to the film-maker by the New York Times, the budget for the film was five million dollars. I find this preposterous and unbelievable. Including a dozen fake beards and one (rented) donkey, I doubt the entire budget could have exceeded five thousand dollars.
Even the actors involved in the production have revealed that they were kept in the dark regarding the actual plot of the film. Offensive dialogue was dubbed in (in a crude and obvious manner) to tailor the scenes for their intended purpose. CNN has attributed the following quotation to one actor: “They brought the actors in in post [production] and had them say specific words. Like ‘Mohammed,’ for example. It was isolated. It wasn’t in context… They’d say ‘Say Mohammed,’ and they’d [the actors would] say ‘Say Mohammed’ why?” What this says about the standard of acting one might expect, is self-evident.
Which brings me to my next point: the question of why I was not offended as a Muslim. It is for the simple reason that the film itself was so very ridiculous. There was no thought put into the production whatsoever (at one juncture, a character posits the following equation: Man + X = Islamic Terrorist; Islamic Terrorist – X = Man; Solve for ‘X’; when his daughter asks him what ‘X’ is, he responds: “this is for you to discover” or something like that).
It is plainly obvious that the film is not ‘propaganda’, as commonly understood. There is no nation or group in the world that would deign to produce such trash for the furtherance of their cause. The work is in fact a liability, since I cannot imagine any actual bigots who would not be embarrassed to be associated with it. I found it absurd when media outlets trotted out a quote by Salman Rushdie to rubbish the production. The literal parallels may be obvious but there is in fact no real comparison: The Satanic Verses was a work of art which made a controversial assertion; this is merely the ravings of a mad man.
Yet I do think that an offence is made out under s.153-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises the incitement through words, written or spoken, of enmity or hatred on the basis of religious grounds. The offence is made out not against the makers of the film (who, for God’s sake, have never even been to Pakistan) but against the opportunistic demagogues who are fanning the flames of hatred on the basis of this non-event. The very same flames which engulfed one life, left several injured and caused massive public property damage during riots against the US Embassy in Karachi.
As a friend poignantly noted yesterday, what does it say about our society when a former convict with a camcorder can shake the foundations of our nation’s stability. Does such an event merit mass protests in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore? Does it merit the banning of YouTube.com, a popular website which, in the second half of 2011, attracted 24 per cent of the global bandwidth? By way of comparison, in the obverse situation (where an isolated Pakistani misanthrope were to make a hate film targeting Essa) would Mississippi (noted to be a highly religious US city) come to a shuddering halt? Would they ban video streams of Pakistan Television? Clearly, there is something deeply wrong with this picture.
The writer is a lawyer practicing in Karachi.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.