Smell of garbage clears the air

I've just finished watching Innocence of Muslims, the film that has led to worldwide, often violent and occasionally murderous protests by adherents of the Islamic faith. As I did so, news came through that Muslim leaders are threatening to bring the film to the attention of the United Nations, with a view to persuading the international community to enact a law against religious defamation.

Just imagine: the leaders of some of world's most populous and influential Muslim countries - including Pakistan, Indonesia and Turkey - will stand before the world and demand that the lampooning and denigration of any religion and its followers be punishable under international law. Any religion? Including Judaism? Any religiously identified people? Including Jews?

Let's look for a moment at some features of the film protests. At first, Muslim spokespersons vouchsafed that the film was the work of Jews. Iranian media charged that the film was the brainchild of "Sam Bacile", apparently an Israeli-American property developer who had financed its production with the assistance of 100 Jewish backers.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, blamed "evil Zionists", who had caused the film to be produced in order to vent their fury at "the daily-increasing radiance of Islam and the Holy Koran in the present world". In fact "Sam Bacile" is neither Jewish nor Israeli and his Jewish backers are figments of Islamists' imagination.

But these libels against the Jewish people continued even after this became clear. "Who is behind the film? Jews", was the proclamation [in English] on a placard held by a demonstrator in Sri Lanka. Another placard at the same protest exhorted "dear Muslims around the world, stop purchasing Jewish products such as Coca Cola, KFC, McDonald's, Pepsi, Fanta, Pizza Hut, YouTube, etc." And a third - referring to the cartoons of Mohammad published in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo - read "France, don't fall victim to Jewish propaganda".

If you've a computer handy, Google "antisemitic cartoons Innocence of Muslims". When I did so, hundreds of examples appeared, drawn for the most part from Arab and Islamic media outlets. What united them was the insistence that Jews (not simply Zionists) were responsible for the film, and that this was part of a Jewish conspiracy to enslave the world.

It is depressingly familiar, isn't it? But what particularly interests me is the lack of attention that these libels have been given in the British media. I can't recall one British newspaper, radio or TV report that has linked the recent protests to the institutionalised antisemitism that lurks within the Muslim world. It's almost as if an unwritten but powerful self-denying ordinance had been promulgated, reminiscent of the misplaced sensitivity that - as we now know - has permitted members of certain ethnic groups to go unpunished for the organised sexual exploitation of vulnerable girls.

What I find depressing is that this mindset appears to be alive and well within the political establishment. I was in the packed audience in Hendon on September 20 when the three Barnet MPs (Mike Freer, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers) hosted an address by Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for the Middle East. Burt was vocal in his criticisms of Israel but did not see fit to pass judgment upon the anti-Jewish prejudice that's rampant in Islamic societies.

I will readily agree with the New York Daily News that Innocence of Muslims is "far beneath any reasonable standard of movie-making". It is, in my inexpert opinion, an appallingly badly made piece of cinematographic garbage. But even garbage has its rights. Yes, the film has few redeeming features. But its true significance lies in the reaction its release has triggered.

For Muslim countries to demand a global ban on blasphemy while persecuting Christians is an obscenity. And for the Muslim world now to call for an international law criminalising religious defamation - while at the same time giving unfettered publicity to incessant attacks on Jews, Judaism and Jewish values - is the height of duplicity.

In short, I am glad the film was made because it has revealed this hypocrisy in all its disgraceful splendour.

Last updated: 11:45am, October 15 2012