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In 1988, The Last Temptation of Christ, the movie by Martin Scorsese, based on a novel by the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, caused a storm of protests. Many  Christian groups found it offensive and staged pickets and protests across America. Several Catholic countries in Latin America and one Muslim country — Turkey — banned it. But across the Western world, it was screened to great acclaim. Protests passed off peacefully, by and large. And those who objected raised their voices — but did not rise up in arms.

There was one exception — the Saint-Michel cinema in Paris was assaulted by militants from a Christian fundamentalist group who threw Molotov cocktails into the audience. Four people suffered serious injuries and the building was burned to the ground.

That was then — and the assaults on the US consulate in Benghazi, the US embassy in Cairo and the US embassy in Yemen are now. The almost uniform explanation for the attacks was that rioters had been offended by a movie entitled The Innocence of Muslims. On September 13, for example, the New York Times ran a front-page story headlined "Video that stoked violence has murky history" — suggesting that it was the film that had stoked the violence. It was extremists who provoked the violence, not the movie.

Until people died under the pretext that Muslims were upset about it, hardly anyone had seen it — though it was available on YouTube and it went viral after the attacks. There has been controversy about the author's identity but it appears to be a California resident of Coptic Egyptian descent named Nakouba Basseley Nakouba.

The movie would make even diehard detractors of Islam fall asleep in their chairs. It is not remotely comparable to The Last Temptation, in which Willem Dafoe played Jesus, Harvey Keitel was Judas and David Bowie Pontius Pilate. That was vintage Scorsese, an incredibly gripping and dramatic rendition of Kazantzakis's masterpiece. The Innocence of Muslims, by contrast, is a soporific rant against Islam. Still, there's no law against poor quality and bad-taste films.

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September 26th, 2012
7:09 PM
Right on, Mr Ottolenghi. Right on!

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