September 28, 2012
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A man involved with the controversial short film “The Innocence of Muslims” was arrested yesterday and held without bail in California.
One of the film’s creators, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Christian originally from Egypt, was accused of violating his parole and taken into custody. According to assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale, he was caught using aliases and engaging in a “pattern of deception” that made him a flight risk. Nakoula has been on parole for one year after being convicted for bank fraud in 2010 and serving 21 months in prison. His parole prohibited him from using the internet or aliases without permission from his parole officer, both conditions that he allegedly violated in the making of the film.
Nakoula has been in hiding since he was identified as part of the crew that worked on the trailer for the anti-Islam film that has sparked protests, sometimes violent, across the Middle East over the last two weeks. Since it was posted on YouTube in July, the 14-minute trailer has already hit 14.5 million views. It has also prompted considerable outrage across the Muslim world, which has included U.S. flag-burning and violent protests against U.S. embassies.
The anti-Islam film has created a tricky position for U.S. officials, who have struggled to toe the line between respecting the constitutional right to freedom of speech and pacifying the anti-American sentiment that is sweeping through the Middle East.
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said that the video was an “insult not only to Muslims, but to America.” However, despite his personal opinion that the video was “crude and disgusting,” he said that the U.S. cannot ban or block the video.
“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.... Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with," Obama said at the United Nations meeting in New York City.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized the film, calling it “disgusting and reprehensible,” and working to distance the U.S. government from its message while emphasizing that the state couldn’t actual sanction his right to free speech. However, the State Department later did ask Google to take the trailer video down from YouTube, a request that the company denied.
The federal authorities have had their eye on Nakoula since the protests began, looking for any potential violations of parole. They brought him in for a meeting with his parole officer and even opened an investigation against the film. Because his parole conditions explicitly banned him from using computers or accessing the internet without permission from his parole officer for five years, it wasn’t difficult for the Justice Department to find multiple violations.
The close watch has some on the right claiming that the U.S. is using technicalities to pander to their Muslim allies. On one right-wing website, commenters complained
that Nakoula was “being arrested because he ‘hurt their religious feelings.’”
Yet others recognize that the film was created to be intentionally offensive at a tense moment for politics in Middle East after the wave of uprising in 2011. When the violent protests began this fall over the film, Nakoula--speaking under the alias of Sam Bacile--announced that he created the film to expose the truth about Islam.
"Islam is a cancer, period," he said to the Associated Press. Quickly afterward, he went into hiding and violence provoked by his comments swept across the Muslim region, putting lawmakers and diplomats in a gordian knot that the discovery of his parole violations helped resolve.
A California-based christian group called Media for Christ, a group of Egyptian Christians who are known for propagated anti-Islam views, paid for the permit and production of the film, which was about $250,000. The group has produced several videos, broadcast abroad and translated into Arabic, with extreme criticisms of Islam.
Nakoula is currently being held in protective custody to protect him from other inmates.