We now know that “Sam Bacile” is not a Jewish filmmaker.
The name, according to the most recent media reports, is a pseudonym for a Coptic Christian man who lives in Cerritos, and he is definitely no filmmaker.
But when “Bacile’s” short film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” spurred outrage in the Arab world, its maker, speaking from an undisclosed location, told the Associated Press (AP) that he was a “Los Angeles Israeli Jewish filmmaker and real estate developer.”
He said he financed the $5-million movie using contributions from more than 100 wealthy Jewish donors.
When the story broke early on Sept. 12, our reporters Tom Tugend, Danielle Berrin and Jonah Lowenfeld set out to find this Sam Bacile, but as the morning wore on —and there was no Jewish Bacile to be found — I began to suspect there never would be. Later that day, on jewishjournal.com, I posted several reasons a Jew could not have made the incendiary YouTube movie:
1) It was terrible. No “Jewish Israeli film producer” would ever destroy his or her reputation putting out such garbage, no matter what his or her political beliefs.
2) The AP initially quoted the filmmaker as saying he raised $5 million dollars to make the film. The clip on YouTube looks like it was shot for $29.95, with actors who were clearly working for snacks, and not even worth that.
3) The filmmaker said he raised the $5 million from “100 Jewish donors.” Clearly this was stated by a person who has never tried to raise that kind of money in a short time from anyone — and certainly not from sophisticated people who’d want to see what they’re getting for their $50,000 each.
4) The filmmaker said his name was “Sam Bacile.” But no Israeli or Jew we interviewed had ever heard of him. Only someone who doesn’t know the Jewish community, who thinks of it as a mythic collection of rich, filmmaking, real-estate selling non-beings called “Jews” would assume anyone could operate in this community without making a hundred connections, going to a thousand parties and banquets, getting on dozens of lists, taking endless meetings, making friends and enemies and developing a reputation.
5) The film mocked the theology of Islam. But the Jews who are actively anti-Muslim, and there are a hard-core handful, don’t ridicule its stories — who are we to criticize stories? They focus on what they see as the Koranic roots of Islamic intolerance and violence.
6) The film “accused” Mohammed of being gay. That set off all my kooky-Christian-homophobe alarm bells. Jews consistently show the highest levels of approval for gay rights. In an April 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, 81 percent of Jews supported gay marriage. Could you find 100 Jews to fund a film full of anti-homosexual scenes? In Hollywood? Please.
Sure enough, later that day, the AP sleuthed out the filmmaker to be a 55-year-old named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
Even if we learn that he indeed was the sole perpetrator, I don’t place the blame on Nakoula for the riots and murder of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Islamic extremists did that. They are the kind of people who could be set off by an episode of “Modern Family.” The kind of people who committed a far greater atrocity on Sept. 11, 2001, without a single bad video to spur them on.
“The film did not cause violence,” Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg reminded us. “Violent men caused the violence. ... The belief on the part of an unknown number of Muslims that the appropriate response to blasphemy is violence is what caused the violence to erupt.”
All true. But I do accuse whoever made the video for trying to hide behind “the Jews,” for perpetrating a pathetic sort of blood libel, blaming Jews for a video clearly intended to provoke, and that led to the deaths of innocents.
That’s the reason the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee have all demanded media outlets correct and retract the initial reports — and become far more careful about spreading such lies in the first place. As mobs gather, eager for revenge against a bad video, spreading the idea that “the Jews” were behind it could lead only to more loss of life.
Almost 700 years ago, on Sept. 21, 1348, Jews in Switzerland were charged with causing the bubonic plague. A pogrom broke out in Zurich, and the people of Chillon tortured their town’s Jews into confessing to poisoning wells. Centuries later, the same slanders can now travel not just throughout one village, but to millions worldwide.
We live in a time when technology has weaponized rumor and universalized free speech. Words fly around the planet, from a home in Cerritos to a street in Libya, and hate, misunderstanding, even slaughter, may ensue.
At the same time, free speech, a universal principle in theory, will have to become one in practice. Otherwise the world will forever be hostage to the mobs that demand blood for mockery, and the simpletons who egg them on.