A shady cast of American characters behind “Innocence of Muslims”

Who made the infamous film and why?

By Nicholas Nehamas

L.A. County Sheriff’s officers escort Nakoula Basseley Nakoula to questioning on September 15, 2012. (Reuters)

Globalization cuts both ways. The self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, broadcast across the Internet, sparked the Arab Spring as the whole world watched in real time. But it also let a cheesy Z-movie from California help provoke the death of an American ambassador and three of his staff in Libya. Forget about Barack Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter now shape the political landscape of our time.

Here are four stories from the American press that delve into the murky back story behind Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a.k.a. “Sam Bacile,” and his magnum opus, the “Innocence of Muslims.”

  • Few Americans will have heard of the powerful Coptic preacher Zakaria Botros Henein, who lives in Orange Country. But Botros, the Los Angeles Times reports, greatly influenced Basseley and two other men who paid for the film. Exiled from Egypt in the early 90’s, the 77-year old established a media empire in Australia before emigrating to southern California ten years later. His teachings consistently portray Mohammed as a “necrophile, a homosexual and a pedophile,” according to the Times. While serving time in federal prison last year, Basseley proclaimed himself a devotee of Botros, who has been denounced by Coptic leaders. Al-Qaeda has offered a $60 million reward for his murder.
  • A woman from Bakersfield, California who played Mohammed’s wife in the film said she had no clue about the film’s anti-Islamic message. Cindy Lee Garcia, a pastor at a Bakersfield church, said the offensive dialogue was dubbed in after the movie went into post-production. “What they did to us was wrong,” she told the Bakersfield Californian. Basseley, whom Garcia knew as Bacile, allegedly pitched the film to her and other actors as a tale of desert life in ancient times. According to Garcia, Bacile was an exceptionally nice man, but clearly not the best producer: two assistant directors quit rather than continue working on the low-budget catastrophe.
  • In Florida, the controversial pastor Terry Jones is trying to take credit for the film, although it appears he had little to do with its making. Jones became famous around the world in 2011 when he burned copies of the Koran, which led to protests and riots in Afghanistan, which, in turn, led to the deaths of several UN Staffers. He’s a prime example of how a small-minded voice can be broadcast around the globe, thanks to the Internet, and erroneously speak for the American public at large. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Jones said he tried to promote the “Innocence of Muslims” at his church in Gainesville on September 11th, but technical difficulties scuttled the event. A real shame.
  • Finally, a former University of Washington professor, now a politician in Libya, has vowed to hunt down the “thugs, hoodlums and murderers” responsible for the death of Chris Stevens. Ali Tarhouni, who fled Libya in 1973, lectured in microeconomics at UW’s business school for 26 years before joining the revolution against Qadafi in February, 2011. “You will hear things in the next few days that shows the resolve of the Libyan people not to tolerate these radical elements,” he vowed in an interview with the Seattle Times. Tarhouni and Ambassador Stevens became good friends during the war. Reuters reports that the Libyan government has arrested around 50 people in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.