Ernest Dempsey — Some 5 days back, I learnt about the film Innocence of Muslims as I came across news of its condemnation by some Muslim groups and anger rising at its appearance on YouTube. Various short trailers of the film and a few longer clips had been uploaded to YouTube but the videos appeared rather unpopular. The total views of the trailers were no more than 3000 and the maximum views of the longer clip were less than 5000. But in 5 days, things really have changed. Now those same videos have been viewed from nearly one million to over five million times!
We have seen the course of events in these five days unfolding in different parts of the world: violent protests by Muslim groups, attacks on American and European embassies, clashes with security, burning tires and effigies, ad nauseum. Even repeated advertisements in the most popular newspapers could not give such publicity to a video about which one person wrote that the first show of the film in a theater received hardly a dozen people. Obviously the filmmaker – regardless of who he is – had a huge disappointment over his lost investment. So he knew where to catch the route of success.
This film is not the first one to use Muslim reaction as a free worldwide publicity tool. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a satire on Islam’s prophet, sold millions in America right after Iran’s ruler Ayatollah Khomeini placed a bounty worth $3 million on Rushdie’s head for writing the “blasphemous” book while its pre-bounty sales added up to no more than a few hundred. The book was clearly a dud, and Rushdie must have thanked the blind Muslim wrath for making him a celebrity over the top of all contemporary writers.
Then in 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published caricatures of Islam’s prophet and all hell broke loose. Public protests, attacks, smashing and burning, etc etc, all served to increase the paper’s circulation. That was most probably the reason why the paper printed the cartoons – to provoke the Muslims and thus stay in world headlines, reaching a global audience amidst a declining circulation of Danish papers. That Danish papers have all been on decline in sales was described in Georgios Terzis’s 2008 book European Media Governance: National and Regional Dimensions. Several attempts of getting publicity by using the blasphemy tool in the meantime have gained various levels of success.
The film Innocence of Muslims is the latest in this series of time tried success ploys, and it has worked again. Today, the filmmaker and film are getting as wide coverage in world media as the most accomplished showbiz celebrity or the world’ most popular (or unpopular) political leaders. My assumption is that the filmmaker already has become a millionaire over this otherwise worthless video. And this stratagem works best on Muslims. What religions call “blasphemous” is created in routine and targets various religions. Spoofs on Christianity are much more common and even video games using Hindu deities have appeared. But all these are ignored wisely by the authorities in these religions, knowing well that nothing works better to serve the offender’s publicity stunt than mass irritation and violent eruption of religious fervor. Hopefully, Muslims will someday realize how they are being used to promote the stuff they would rather see flushed down the toilet.