Muhammad at the Movies: The Sequel

Internationally-known Koran burner Terry Jones has returned to the internet with a film condemning Islam's prophet Muhammad after Jones helped promote the internet trailer Innocence of Muslims, a source of global controversy. Posted on Jones' website Stand Up America, the over one-hour long movie The Innocent Prophet: The Life of Muhammad from a Different Point of View uses mainly cartoon images to present Muhammad and Islam as fraudulent. Legal actions taken against Jones' co-producer, the Pakistani exile Imran Fisarat now living in Spain, show once again how free speech critical of Islam is under threat. Curiously in several respects, Spanish authorities have acted against Fisarat even though no Muslim rioters around the world have expressed outrage against The Innocent Prophet as was the case previously with Innocence of Muslims.

An international relations scholar resident in Madrid, Soeren Kern, has extensively analyzed Fisarat's background at the Gatestone website for which Kern works. Firasat obtained political refugee status in Spain in 2010 after receiving death threats in his native Pakistan as well as Indonesia for condemning Islam after leaving the faith and marrying a non-Muslim. Fisarat has continued his condemnation of Islam in Spain with his multilingual website entitled World without Islam/Mundo sin Islam. In March 2012, Fisarat also filed a petition with the Spanish government calling for a ban on the Koran as a violent, hate-filled book and threatened to burn a Koran publicly in central Madrid. Firasat refrained from emulating Jones in America after Spanish police informed Firasat that such a burning could be an infraction of Spanish laws "against offending religious sentiments."

Fisarat explained to a Belgian newspaper that he drew his inspiration for The Innocent Prophet from Innocence of Muslims. Upon hearing of the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stephens in Benghazi, Firasat thought, "Okay, you Muslims, use violence, but we will continue to make films. One day one of us will lose." Similar to Innocence of Muslims (discussed in detail here, here, and here), The Innocent Prophet claims to present, in the words of Jones at the film's beginning, an "accurate historical portrayal" of Muhammad's life, however critical. The film, however, merely generally references canonical Islamic documents like the Koran and Hadith at the beginning without any specific references included in the narrative.

Although the production values of The Innocent Prophet are slightly better than the abysmal Innocence of Muslims, with its cast and crew drawn partly from the porn industry, the treatment of Muhammad in The Innocent Prophet is no less negative. Jones' opening monologue questions whether Muhammad was an "inspired prophet of God" or a "perverted madman driven by his demons." Likewise, Jones asks whether Islam is a "religion of peace" or of "violence and oppression."

The somewhat monotonous narration by Fisarat in the following film leaves no doubt about its answers to these questions. Muhammad grew up a lonely, poor orphan who sought to compensate his deprivation by gaining fame and fortune through the establishment of Islam as a "false faith." Islam allowed Muhammad and his followers to pillage under the banner of God in the "greatest mafia movement of that time." Islamic veneration of Muhammad as the final and greatest of prophets, expressed most succinctly in Islam's First Pillar, the statement of faith or shahada, meant that Muhammad would be "respected forever." Islam also allowed Muhammad to fulfill his own carnal desires as a "sexual robot full of lust." Muhammad's resulting "Islamic trap" and "lie" led to the "worst human massacres in human history."

Appearing throughout the film are cartoons drawn by Fisarat and available at his website with often anachronistic portrayals of Muhammad. One, for example, presents Muhammad on a wanted poster calling for an "Immediate death penalty" in response to various crimes such as homicide. Another caricature presents Muhammad sitting at a table with Osama bin Laden and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an "International Islamic terrorism convention." Yet another cartoon shows a crazily euphoric Muhammad identified as 52 years-old and wearing undergarments but no pants standing over a girl identified as six years-old, a reference to controversial canonical accounts of Muhammad's child marriage to Aisha. A mosque with minarets shooting off like missiles features in another caricature.

Jones' December 3, 2012, announcement of the release of The Innocent Prophet on December 14, 2012, immediately drew concerned reactions. Belgian authorities on December 7 decided to increase the country's terror alert status from two to three on a four-point scale. Riots following the release of Innocence of Muslims in Brussels and in the heavily Muslim Borgerhout district of Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city, had led to 300 arrests.

More drastically, Spanish authorities on the same day summoned (images of the Spanish documents are available at Stand Up America) Fisarat to appear in court on December 13 to answer charges concerning violation of section 510 of the Spanish penal code prohibiting incitement of violence or hatred. Spain's interior ministry also threatened to revoke Fisarat's refugee status in a December 3 letter, a move that could send him to his death in his native Pakistan with its blasphemy laws. Spain is thus bizarrely seeking to revoke a refugee status precisely because of the kind of free expression that made Fisarat a refugee in the first place.

At his court appearance, the presiding judge allowed Fisarat to remain free provided that he do nothing to disseminate so much as a single image from The Innocent Prophet. Fisarat expressed his compliance by disassociating himself from the film that same day in a Spanish television interview. On December 16, 2012, meanwhile, there were temporary reports of Hungary blocking YouTube access to The Innocent Prophet.

Such sensitivity to Islam by various European authorities appears incongruous with a recent public statement by the European Union's (EU) chief executive body, the European Commission (EC), on October 31, 2012. Two days before, Poland's supreme court had overturned a lower court decision and allowed a blasphemy prosecution to proceed against a Polish rock musician, Adam Darski. Darski in September 2007 had ripped apart a Bible during a concert while calling it a "book of lies" and the Catholic Church the "most murderous cult on the planet."

Standing for free speech, the EC conceded that "national blasphemy laws are a matter for the domestic legal order of the member states." Yet the EC noted Poland's adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights with its right of free expression and the convention's implementing body in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe. "This right protects not only information or ideas that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also those that offend, shock or disturb," the commission argued, with traditional free speech justifications.

These varying official European responses once again demonstrate the increasingly notable differences in sensitivity accorded to Islam and other faiths such as Christianity (see here and here). Repression of The Innocent Prophet in Spain and elsewhere, moreover, has occurred even in the absence of any reported violent response to this film. Such a muted response suggests that observers like Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch are correct to assert that past expressions of Islamic rage against offenses to Islam such as Innocence of Muslims are not necessarily spontaneous. Yet with such vivid memories, some authorities are now apparently preemptively censoring criticism and condemnation of Islam. In a dangerous development for free speech concerning Islam, some Muslims have now actually achieved a heckler's veto that works in advance.