Beverly Hills Coptic
Q: How do you create a weapon that could end the world for a few hundred thou?
A: Make a lame YouTube movie.
That’s what this guy called Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Egyptian-American sleaze from California did, and it was a bigger hit than any of the expensive bombs the studios put together. You’ve probably heard about the movie, The Innocence of Muslims, and if you haven’t there are hundreds of thousands of angry Muslims waving signs and burning tires, stinking up streets all over the world, to make sure you do hear about it—all the free publicity a producer could want, a real Hollywood PR version of the Tokyo firebombing, where the target actually adds its own fuel to the incendiary devices.
Movie talk has always been war talk—bombs, hits—and if you look at how war is made right now, online movies (not the dinosaur big-budget stuff they show at first-world multiplexes) have to win the Oscar for 2012’s Best Weapon.
Napalm can only burn one embassy at a shot, but this homemade movie, The Innocence of Muslims, got an American diplomat killed in Benghazi and sent huge crowds into the street from Sydney to Kashmir. Now that’s a weapon.
This is why I’m always encouraging war fans to see and appreciate the new weapons, even if they don’t look as cool as a T-34 or an F4. Comrades! You don’t need to waste your war-lives playing reruns of Stalingrad or Khe Sanh! Like I’ve said before: A weapon is what you are willing to use as one. A woman’s spike heel is a weapon, a passenger jet is a weapon (if you’ve got the boxcutters to arm it) and YouTube movies, as our Copt mogul just demonstrated, can be damn good weapons too.
I’m not using “weapon” in some fake UNICEF way, like “caring about people is the real weapon.” When I say weapon, I mean weapon—a way of burning stuff and killing people. Take that as your standard and it’s simple, obvious fact that The Innocence of Muslims had blockbuster kilotons of destructive power—and real staying power, box office legs, too, because it releases that power over weeks, not nanoseconds—and over half the world, not one city.
The version of the movie that's currently on YouTube is actually a 14-minute “trailer” for what’s supposed to be a feature film, but I doubt you’ll be seeing it at a mallplex near you any time soon. Hollywood likes to play the rebel, but the key word is “play.” There’s a whole world of difference between Susan Sarandon “speaking truth to power” and a Coptic Christian actually attacking Islam. Western “power” learned a long time ago that it’s cheaper and easier to let the lefties rant, but Muslims take these things very seriously.
There was a Dutch director named van Gogh who lost a lot more than just an ear when he decided to make a movie about Islam’s treatment of women. Van Gogh was bicycling down the street in your classic Dutch way, one fine day in November 2004, when he met a classic Salafist assassin, a second-generation Moroccan who’d dropped out of college a few times, then found God and a gun. Van Gogh was shot five times, then had his neck mostly sawn off and another knife planted in his chest. A knife with a note on it—a five-page note. So if you piss off the Salafists, you not only have to lie there full of bullets and cutlery, but you have to be a not-so-living kiosk for their bad poetry.
With bad reviews like that, the question is why Nakoula would make a movie that is absolutely guaranteed to get his fellow Coptic Christians in Egypt shot, raped, stabbed, burned or otherwise informed of the Muslim majority’s displeasure. How does that do the Coptic cause any good, Nakoula?
Nakoula doesn’t look like a hero. There’s a picture of him on a couch with the actress who played the female lead in his little opus, and it’s hilarious.
Nakoula, who looks like every sweaty shopkeeper in Cairo, is leering at her... he’s got one arm on her leg, the rest of his saggy old corpse is sort of melting into her as much as it can—and she’s staring right at the camera, trying to act like he’s not touching her. You can just about hear her whispering to herself, “It’s for my career, it’s for my career.”
Nakoula’s only other distinction was a fraud arrest in 2010. Again, not a hero-type crime. He doesn’t look like he wants to be a martyr, but martyrdom is all he can expect. So what’s the point? Why make a movie that will only get your fellow Copts slaughtered back home in Egypt, and keep you on the run for the rest of your life like a Benny-Hill version of Salman Rushdie, with saxophones following Nakoula as he skitters away from the scimitar-wielding hordes?
To understand why Nakoula “just HAD to make this film,” like they like to say in L.A., you need to think like an Egyptian Copt. This isn’t easy for most Americans, because—well to tell the truth most Americans don’t know the Copts even exist—but even if you know your history, to think like a Copt you have to do something us Americans don’t like to do: you have to start with the fact that as a Coptic Christian in Egypt, you cannot win. You can never, never win.
We hate that. That’s why Captain Kirk’s a hero for rigging the Kobiyashi Maru test: there’s GOTTA be a way to win. Well, no. Ask the Modoc about that. Lots of times, for tribes all over the world, there is no way you can win. And that’s definitely true for a 10% Christian minority in Egypt, a Muslim country that just got taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.
As a Copt, the most you can hope for is to be tolerated. For a while. But the first time some local Muslim’s wife has a miscarriage, or his crops fail, or he doesn’t like what you charge for cooking oil, there’s going to be a pogrom, and it’s going to be at your house. And you can’t do anything about it. The police are going to be neutral, if you’re lucky, or right there in the front rank, stealing your merchandise and raping your daughters, if you’re not.
The best way to see how this nightmare, the one Copts live with, is to watch the first scene of Nakoula-Nakoula’s movie. The first scene shows a Muslim mob hacking and burning a Christian neighborhood somewhere in Egypt. (Just to make sure you know who’s who, the director cleverly had the woman who gets hacked to death with an axe wear a big, huge crucifix, and put a giant picture of Christ in the victim-family’s living room).
This might not be great cinema, but the fear it’s trying to show is real—and realistic, for that matter. The Copts aren’t just being paranoid. They get pogrommed all the time. Even trying to count them is a dangerous thing to do, because it reminds the Salafists that not everybody in Egypt is Muslim. This first scene, before the movie goes into a ridiculous lecture about Mohammed, is a pretty good, amateur scene showing what it actually feels like to live in fear of your neighbors every day of your life.
The kind of pogrom Nakoula and his cast of dozens show here happens all the time in towns across Egypt, and has been ever since the Arab-Islamic invasion of Byzantine Egypt in 640 A.D. So pick a number between 640 (A.D.) and 2012; you’ll find all the anti-Coptic pogroms you want.
There was a classic example in 2000, when 21 Coptic shopkeepers were chopped up by the local Muslim farmers over a price dispute in El Kosheh. The only man convicted of murder in that one was the village idiot, who shot a fellow Muslim by mistake. That’s the Egyptian Police’s motto: “Pogroms, yes; sloppy pogroms, no!”
I’m using “pogrom” here—a Russian word that they used for their occasional terrorizing/robbing of the local Jews—for good reason. We’re talking about Pogroms here, not the organized slaughter the Nazis did to the Jews (or, to take another Muslim-on-Christian case, the Ottomans with the Armenians). The political parties that pushed for pogroms, like the Black Hundreds in Russia, were weak groups, full of nuts and defectives. They didn’t need to be strong organizations, because pogroms are not The Holocaust. They’re unpredictable, local events, almost like festivals for all kinds of people: Unemployed sadists, thieves who can rifle the till while the shop burns, drunks who want to steal the liquor, horny teenage boys who get to rape the wrong-religion girls and say it’s for God, or majority-religion merchants who want the competition burned out. It doesn’t take a lot of organization to start one; the hate’s already there, always ready.
The Copts deal with this stuff pretty much the way the East European Jews did: they can’t fight directly so they try to keep a low profile, stick to themselves, go into business, focus on getting money and above all, getting out. Part of the reason Muslim Egyptians (some, not all) hate the Copts is that the Copts run a lot of businesses and have the same rep as cheating misers the Jews had in Poland and Ukraine.
And a lot of that Coptic money is leaving Egypt. There’s a Coptic Diaspora too, and it’s those uppity Diaspora Copts the Jihadis really hate, because they’re harder to intimidate. It’s an old pattern: the first generation scrapes and saves so the kids can get to somewhere where they don’t have targets painted on their backs, then the third generation comes back pissed off and not in the mood to grovel.
Egyptian Christians have been trying the other way, the turn-the-other-cheek way, from the beginning. When the Arab horsemen took on the few Greek garrisons in Egypt in the 7th Century, the Egyptian Christian civilians reacted the way peasants everywhere react to kings hacking at each other: They stayed out of it and figured it didn’t make much difference whether it was a Greek or Arab profile on the coins, since they weren’t likely to have any either way.
What the fellahin (peasants) found out too late is that this was one of those invasions that really does make a difference. That’s one of the hardest judgment calls anyone has to make: a peasant deciding whether to fight or let the guys who can afford swords use them on each other. Most times, the right answer is “stay the Hell out of it,” but there are times it’s worth helping your local vampire lord, because something worse is coming over the horizon. For Egyptian Copts, there were about 1370 years of bad times—and counting—in the dust cloud behind that Arab cavalry.
There have been a couple of decent times for the Copts in those goin’-on 14 centuries. Muhammad Ali—the Albanian rebel pasha, not the boxer—took it a little easier on them than most Muslim rulers did, and the early 20th Century looked so good, what with the Middle East supposedly modernizing and secularizing, that the Copts still remember it as The Golden Age. Seriously: That’s all it takes to make a Golden Age when the norm is Permanent Sectarian Zombie Mob Attack.
Most Americans don’t realize what a huge U-turn the Muslim world made around 1980 (maybe because we made pretty much the same U-turn at the same time). Until then the up-and-coming Muslim countries were trying to be like Turkey, which was secular (officially, anyway) or Iran, under Reza Shah Pahlevi, who made it pretty clear he admired pagan Shahs like Darius and Cyrus way more than any mere Arab.
Iran was the first to make the big U-turn, back to Khomeini, whose whole look was his platform: eyes like fire, a wasted face that seemed about 200 years old, and a black on black wardrobe. At almost exactly the same time, Pakistan made the turn most easily of all—after all, it was founded on Muslim identity, one of the nastiest tricks the Brits ever played on the world. So in 1978, General Zia “Dracula” ul Haq picked the first day of the Islamic calendar to announce that the Land of the Pure was going to get a lot purer, meaning more Muslim. If you wonder what that meant to the local Christians, you could ask their spokesman, Shahbaz Bhatti… only you’ll have to bring a shovel, because he’s been resting in peace, shot to pieces, since he objected to the death penalty for anybody who said one bad word about The Prophet or His Book.
Turkey was next; they’ve dropped the “secular” veil and made the womenfolk put real ones back on. And that brings us to Egypt. You can sum up the Copt view of recent history pretty simply: At the same time re-Islamization was gearing up in Pakistan, Turkey and Iran, Egypt (under Sadat) started shifting Nasser’s Arab nationalism to Islamic nationalism, and it’s been getting worse every year since then.
Now Egypt has democracy and that means the Muslim Brotherhood is in charge. Mursi, the Brotherhood leader, told Copts they have “nothing to fear” from him a few weeks ago. If I was a Copt, that would make me very afraid. The little scimitar-shaped weathervane on the minaret is blowing toward Jihad.
What do you do? If you have money, and you can get it out of Egypt, you leave. If you don’t have money, you hunker down, bribe the local cop boss, put a stronger steel gate on your shopfront, donate to the protection groups that want 10% “for Allah” and wait it out. That’s the pogrom calculus: 999 times out of 1000, it’s not going to be all-out extirpation. If you or your kids happen to be out in the street at the wrong time, say after Friday prayers—never go out after Friday prayers—then you’re out of luck. But you’ve probably got a big family, and most of them will make it. Remember, people with six kids don’t think like childless yuppies. As long as some of the kids survive, with a little money, the family will… not “win” but at least survive.
But why make the Muslim majority angry? That’s still the question. Why would Nakoula, who has family back in Egypt, talk a bunch of Freeper/Evangelical backers into giving him money to make The Innocence of Muslims with a retired porn director—Ed Wood meets Jihad? How does that work as a weapon?
Well, when you absolutely cannot win—a state of mind Americans really hate to live in for even a second—you think differently. Sleazily. Oppression doesn’t make people pure; that’s one of Hollywood’s biggest lies, dumbest lies. Oppression makes you crazy and sleazy and smart, all at once. And you start to think like the Russian left used to think: “The worse, the better.”
By that logic, anything that pushes the Jihadis into worse pogroms could end up re-shaking the whole Etch-a-Sketch, to borrow Mitt’s toy for a second. So Nakoula sits out there in L.A., sweating out his check-kiting parole term, and full of a lifetime—generations of lifetimes—of fear and humiliation at the hands of Egyptian Muslims, and he starts to think.
There are all these Freeper Evangelicals who agree with him that Islam is the root of all evil. They don’t know what they’re talking about, unlike Nakoula, but he’s what you’d call a flexible guy (again, think Ed Wood with an agenda). So he goes to Steve Klein, a classic Freeper with an old-west sheriff’s face, and gets the money from Steve’s Muslim-hating friends (I have to quote Ed Wood one more time: “We want these Baptists to like us!”) to make a movie exposing Islam.
Klein is a real classic himself (I swear, every one of these characters deserves a movie of his own). He belongs to Courageous Christians United, which demonstrates outside “abortion clinics, Mormon temples, and Mosques.” Now that is an equal-opportunity hater, a guy who can’t get enough excitement.
After Nakoula gets the money from those Courageous Christians in Hemet, he hires the porn director and a few desperate idiots to be his cast, makes the movie fast and dirty, and then he comes up with his most classic trick: the invention of Sam Bacile. “Sam Bacile,” who was supposed to be an Israeli Jew, was listed as the guy behind The Innocence of Muslims until Steve Klein admitted there is no Sam Bacile. Nakoula’s middle name is “Basseley” (I’m guessing “Basseley” was his dad’s name, since that’s the custom over there: given name, then dad’s name, then granddad’s). So Nakoula just donated part of his own name to his imaginary partner. But the real kicker, the plutonium core to this online nuke, was making this Bacile an Israeli Jew.
The whole anti-Semitism thing never went out of style in the Middle East. Check out the Saudi website and they’ll tell you plain: “Jews are not permitted in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The surest way to get the mob out on the street is to say “Jew.”
So there’s a weird kind of historical overlap, and a nasty cleverness, in the “Sam Bacile” trick. First of all, Nakoula is a Copt, who in some ways are like the Jews of Egypt—but there’s no Jews like the real Jews, so Nakoula invents a real one, an actual Israeli bogeyman, just to make his movie even more offensive.
For all I know, it might be two birds with one stone; maybe Nakoula doesn’t like Jews himself and thought, “Aha! I’ll bash the Muslims and the Jews will get the blame! I’m a genius!” Or maybe he just wants Israel attacked, because one thing is sure: The Israelis are like the Muslims; they take life serious, they react. And Nakoula wants a big, big reaction. Either way, adding a fake Jewish producer turns this from an online nuke to an online Tsar-Bomba.
And the people at Ground Zero will be Nakoula’s own Coptic minority. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Not American sense, anyway. But keep trying to imagine that you can’t ever win, and it starts to make more sense. Because if you can’t win—and Nakoula’s people can’t win, are going to go through Hell for the next few generations, the way things are now—then you need to sweep the board. “The worse, the better.”
So you do everything you can to set off all the Muslim mobs in the world at once—which, thanks to technology, is now feasible. That’s Nakoula’s dream scenario: His movie causes chaos all over the world, and the riots get worse and worse; the West gets more and more disgusted as diplomats get killed and hairy mobs do their usual job of making Islam look loud and stupid; and maybe, if all goes well, the real thing comes down and the real nukes come out. That would be the end of the Egyptian Copts, of course, along with everyone from the Levant to Islamabad, and a good chunk of Europe too—but Islam would be crippled for good.
Of course, that’s all dream talk, never gonna happen. But this is Hollywood we’re talking about. Dream talk is the currency there, with coke for fuel. They love you for thinking big’n’stupid.
And what if only a part of Nakoula’s little brain is dreaming of Armageddon? Maybe he half knows the world won’t end because of his little home movie. Well, he got paid at least, which in Hollywood is a very big, very rare thing. They’re generous with compliments but tight with money out there, and Nakoula got his money. Maybe a lot of it; well, he wouldn’t be the first movie producer who pocketed some of the take on a message movie. Or a weapons contract.