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Manipulation: A Case Study

Protests over the film trailer insulting Mohammed have spread from Egypt and Libya to several other countries. The Toronto Star:

    “Just as the video itself was an act of manipulation, U.S. officials are on alert to the likelihood that the reaction will involve further manipulation, as Salafist groups seize upon and stoke the fury.”

Here’s an article from the great Max Blumenthal that reveals the identities and motivations of the men who made the film—radical, anti-Islamist Christians, among them Egyptian Copts living in the U.S. He makes the point that there is an ideological link between these individuals and the Islamophobic network led by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who are the same people who provided inspiration to Anders Behring Breivik—the Norwegian who murdered 77 people, mostly teenagers, for being “multiculturalists” last year.

It should be noted that virulent hatred of Islam is not the default position of the Coptic community, either inside or outside Egypt. Blumenthal concludes his article by mentioning that one of the collaboratators on the film, Morris Sadek, was recently attacked on the street in Washington by four Coptic women, who were angry with him for endangering the lives of their fellow Copts.

What is troubling to me are the intentions behind this film. Steve Klein, a right-wing Christian activist and militia trainer who was a “consultant” on the film, was quoted as saying, “We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen.” And Sadek, who was banned from Egypt last year for incitement, said, “The violence that it caused in Egypt is further evidence of how violent the religion and people are.” It seems that the filmmakers intended to stir up violence in the Middle East—and not incidentally, make it harder for the U.S. to find common ground with moderate Islamists there.

Blogger Joseph Cannon takes this point a step further, in a series of posts that question the film’s financing, and the network of kooks who created it. Where did Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the purported director of the film—who was convicted in 2010 of bank fraud and owes $790,000 in restitution—get the money? Cannon’s theory is that he was part of an Israeli “psy op” designed to stir up trouble for President Obama in the Middle East and help Mitt Romney get elected. This is of course highly speculative, but Cannon provides useful details on the backgrounds of Klein, Sadek, Nakoula, and pastor Terry Jones—the Qur’an burner who helped promote the film—that go deeper than those in the Blumenthal article.

If the Israelis did order up this film in an attempt to discredit Obama, it makes a perverse kind of sense. Obama now faces a battle on two fronts—first, to calm things down in the Arab world before the protests spiral out of control and reverse the progress of the Arab Spring; and second, to deal with a virulent Islamophobic network at home that is doing all it can to stir up trouble. At the same time, he must face down blatant efforts by Benjamin Netanyahu to get him to commit to an inopportune, ill-considered war with Iran.

This may be the time to consider that despite all Obama’s faults, we have a decent man in the White House. When Muammar Qaddafi threatened Benghazi with extinction, he decided to step in, despite being almost alone among his top advisers to see the moral necessity. It seems obvious now that it was the right thing to do, but at the time it was a huge risk. A new article by Michael Lewis provides an intimate portrait of Obama, with a focus on his decision to help Libya. It’s long, but well worth reading, and timely in this new crisis.

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