'I Am Nakoula': Anti-Islam Moviemaker Now Cult Hero

Wired/September 29, 2012

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is many things: a huckster, a convenient scapegoat, a terrible filmmaker. But to the members of America's Islamophobic fringe, the producer of "The Innocence of Muslims" is something altogether different. He's a victim.

Nakoula is a man being punished by the Muslim extremists who have infiltrated the White House, and now want to criminalize any criticism of the Prophet, according to anti-Islam crusaders like Robert Spencer. "He is a political prisoner," Spencer says.

Never mind the fact that Nakoula seems to have tricked his actors into making a viral video that depicted Muhammad as a child molester. Never mind Nakoula's conviction for bank fraud, which earned him a 21-month sentence in federal custody and a ban on using assumed identities, after he used 14 different aliases. Never mind the fact that Nakoula not only appeared to violate that probation by using the identity "Sam Bacile" when producing his video, or the fact the he doesn't even seem to have been convicted under his real name. (In court Friday, he said he was really Mark Basseley Youssef. He changed it back in 2002 because "Nakoula is a girl's name and it cause me troubles," he claimed.)

To his defenders, it may even be kind of appropriate for Nakoula to go by so many names. To them, he's become less of a man and more of a symbol – a prism for projecting a thousand conspiracy theories about a Muslim president gone mad with power, ready to unleash his scimitared hordes.

"He has been arrested not for the technicality of the probation violation, but for insulting Muhammad. His arrest is a symbol of America's capitulation to the Sharia," Spencer writes.

"I am Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," blogger Scott Johnson adds.

"Hillary Clinton, I insist that you have me arrested. I am thinking of making a movie about Mohammed," declares Roger L. Simon, who continues, "Any Jews who now vote for Obama are 'useful idiots' beyond anything ever conceived by Lenin."

Is there a First Amendment critique to be made of the White House's handling of Nakoula and his video? There sure is. At first, the Obama administration tried to put the blame for the current unrest in the Middle East on Nakoula — a charge we now know to be unfair. Then the Pentagon's top general tried in vain to talk one of the video's promoters into abandoning "Innocence." And the White House unsuccessfully asked YouTube to pull the video from its servers.

Afterward, ACLU executive Ben Wizner said the civil liberties group was "concerned" by the federal government's apparent attempt to "throw its weight behind a request for self-censorship." That didn't stop Investors' Business Daily from fuming that "Americans might as well be living under Islamic blasphemy laws, yet the nation's champion of free speech — the ACLU — is AWOL. That's because it's now largely run by Muslims."

The rhetoric only heated up with Nakoula's arrest on Thursday. "He was hunted down like an animal," wrote Pamela Geller, a prominent member of the anti-Islam camp. "He is being jailed for blasphemy. This is Obama sharia enforcement in America."

It's a bit of an odd accusation, considering that Nakoula directly contradicted his terms of probation (.pdf), which explicitly forbade him from "us[ing], for any purpose or in any manner, any name other than his/her true legal name or names without the prior written approval of the Probation Officer."

But what makes the Obama comment particularly odd is that U.S. Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal (.pdf), who ordered that Nakoula be taken into custody, was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 — during the administration of George W. Bush.

Of course, it's not surprising that Geller would come to the defense of Nakoula and his film. She's a political ally of one of the men who helped make the movie.

Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih is the president of Media for Christ, a Duarte, California-based broadcasting concern. He not only obtained the permits to shoot "Innocence" and allowed Nakoula to use his soundstage. Media for Christ's Arabic-language television channel, "The Way TV," also hosts a regular segment by "Innocence" consultant Steve Klein, who uses the platform to let loose a series of anti-Muslim diatribes. (A sample: "We're just telling the truth about Muhammad being a pedophile and a murderer. Why do you want to kill us? Why do you want to come to America? Why do you want to replace our Constitution? Why do you want to replace our church?")

Nassralla appeared alongside Geller, Rober Spencer, and "Innocence"-promoter Morris Sadek at a pair of rallies protesting a Muslim center in downtown Manhattan. "I come from Egypt. Egypt was Coptic, was Christians. From one thousand four hundred years, Islamic conquer our country with their lies [sic]," Nasralla declared at the 2010 event.

After portions of "Innocence" aired on Egyptian television, and rioters seized on the film as an excuse to storm the American embassy there, Nasralla published a statement on Geller's blog saying he was "shocked" that Nakoula has turned the film into an anti-Muhammad diatribe. "The work of my ministry and my television station is to expose the brutal ideology of sharia and terrorism…. We never insult anyone."

In February of this year, Geller used her blog to promote a movie not unlike "Innocence." The idea was to make a film so devastating to Muhammad, it would shatter the religion of his followers. "To get rid of Islam we need to reveal the truth about it," the blog noted. " We need to make a motion picture about Muhammad – a biopic that reveals the details of his life. The Devil is in the details."

The post was written long after Nakoula began casting "Innocence." But it's not hard to see why Geller would rush to the defense of the film, and its maker. She had a similar notion herself.

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