The rumours and the rampage

Travelling as I was in the middle of last week, I missed the beginning of the story of what became known as the "US film" - in reality a shoddy YouTube trailer made by someone in the US - that led to/sparked/coincided with/had nothing at all to do with (delete according to source) the attacks on US and other diplomatic buildings in the Muslim world.

Coming to it late, I found myself piecing together what had happened through various clues, mostly online. In my Times inbox, for example, I found a press release from a Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, based in Greater Manchester. Mr Shafiq, a man I esteem and himself a moderate, condemned violent attacks arguing that "whilst we Muslims are hurting and disgusted at his film we must maintain peaceful protest and ensure we channel our anger towards those that have done such actions".

A Guardian blogger argued that Zionists funded lots of anti-Islam stuff

But who, in that case, should anger be channelled towards? Who had made this "film"? Mr Shafiq, I now think taking initial reports from the Associated Press, gave me the bad news. The film was the work of "Israeli film-maker Sam Bacile". But, continued Shafiq, "what concerns me more is that this man funded his film of $5 million from Jewish donors, at a time when there is mistrust between our communities surely we should all be working together to understand and respect each other's faith… We call on the Jewish community to condemn this film and those that have donated to it."

I have yet to see Mr Shafiq's reaction to the subsequent news that Mr Bacile did not, in fact exist and was not an Israeli, but was one pseudonym of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Copt living in California. Mr Shafiq, fortunately, did not have time to put out a new press release calling on Copts to condemn Mr Nakoula before the Egyptian Copts had done just that. Nor was there apparently a moment when he could squeeze a few words out to condemn the evangelical Christians with whom Mr Nakoula was briefly associated.

By the end of last week, Mr Bacile, the Zionist Israeli who had made a $5 million film with Jewish money, had gradually turned into Mr Nakoula, the indicted fraudster whose speciality was "synthetic identity theft" - ie the creation of multiple online false identities. He had 14 accounts under different names at Wells Fargo alone.

By the time you read this, we will have gone through several more stages of this strangely bloody game of Chinese Whispers. There was a suggestion, without much evidence, from one online publication that Nakoula was a federal informer. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone blames the Iranians.

It took until Friday for Mr Shafiq to withdraw his call on "the Jewish community" to condemn the film, though the Chief Rabbi probably has already - in an act of religious solidarity. In any case, there was, of course, a Guardian blogger (Max Blumenthal) on hand to argue that even if Zionist money hadn't funded Nakoula's anti-Islam "film", then it had funded lots of other anti-Islam stuff. Mr Blumenthal's blog is so long, detailed and full of hyperlinks (often to other long blogs by Mr Blumenthal) that I hadn't the time to check it out. He may be right, he may not.

But my God, we're in lumber here, aren't we? You, me, Mr Shafiq and everyone else? In large, free countries in the era of the internet, there are millions of people making videos, writing blogs, doing stuff.

If we are to be held violently accountable by mobs (who may sometimes be the first even to know that some of these things exist) for every emanation of every mind, then we are royally screwed. That way really does lie the Clash of Civilisations.

Last updated: 10:27am, September 21 2012