By M. S. Shah Jahan
“This is what Islam is like: Islam of killing, Islam of terrorism,Islam of setting things on fire. We are stating the truth and showing the path of redemption. I wish you would be civil and be reasonable and respond to what is said against Islam with calm reason. They are proving that Islam is terrorism to the whole world”.
Zakaria Botros Henein, 77, a bearded controversial Egyptian Coptic Christian preacher, wearing a large cross and a black robe, who is called Islam’s “Public Enemy No. 1″, teaches that Muhammad was a homosexual, a pedophile and, he dissected multiple scenes from the movie trailer, defending each negative depiction of Muhammad and Muslims by pointing to the Koran and other Islamic teachings.
For decades, the Coptic Christian priest is known around the Muslim world for insults to the prophet Muhammad that are strikingly similar to those in the film and has been among the most galvanizing and high-profile figures in the Muslim world. He criticized Muslims who have responded to the film with violence, noting that it will only reinforce a negative world view.
Coptic Christianity traces its roots to Egypt 1900 years ago, where it was founded by one of Christ’s apostles. Its 8 million followers constitute the largest religious minority in Egypt’s 10% national population.
But they have long lived with violence. In 2010 six Christians and a Muslim guard were killed in a drive-by shooting in southern Egypt on Coptic Christmas Eve. Last year, a New Year’s day bombing at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt killed 21 worshippers, setting off three days of protests and clashes with security forces and Muslim passers-by.
An age old story is; a complaint was made to the governor of Cairo that a Christian statue of worship was disfigured by damaging the nose. The governor gave necessary order to his men to catch the culprit. But nothing happened. The complainant reappeared. The ruler sought one more week. No result.
Again the governor sought 7 more days with the assurance that if the culprit was not caught, he would offer his nose to be damaged. Finally governor came to the place where the statue was placed and wanted his nose to be damaged. A man stepped forward with the intention to take revenge.
At the same time one person shouted from the crowd “stop stop”. He said it was he who damaged the statue with the belief that it would bring a communal clash between the Muslims and the Christians and wanted him to be punished.
Besides, Zakaria Botros Henein’s anti-Muslim teachings earned him the ire of the governments of his native Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia; Al Qaeda allegedly declared a fatwa calling for his death with $60 million offer to his killer.
Jailed several times in Egypt for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, he was exiled by Hosni Mubarak’s government in the early 1990s in exchange for an early release. He fled to Australia and ran a parish there for more than a decade, before departing in the midst of a dispute with the Coptic pope over his authoritarian style.
In Australia, he began an online ministry that moved to cable television and reached a worldwide audience that grew into the millions. He preached that Islam was a misguided religion and that the prophet Muhammad was a morally challenged man who engaged in homosexual acts and was a necrophiliac.
Early in the last decade, he relocated to Orange County, suburb of Los Angeles where he bought a house and married a 15 year old young girl. He kept his whereabouts quiet, but his ministry continued. Hundreds of episodes of his 90-minute show were transmitted on the Coptic satellite channel, Al-Hayat, before the show was cancelled in 2010. A year later, he launched his own network, Westminster-based Alfady, where his programs continued.
Although Zakaria Botros Henein, has not been linked to the anti-Muslim film, his teachings have influenced the three disparate figures Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Steve Klein, Joseph Nassralla, who are strong supporters of his views and who have emerged as key forces behind the movie.
Steve Klein, a militant Christian who worked on the script, has publicly hailed Botros as “a close friend” and compared him favorably to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while Joseph Nassralla, the operator of the Christian charity organization whose offices were used in the film, directs visitors from his website to Botros’ website, FatherZakaria.net.
Nakaoula Basseley Nakoula, who paid the actors and organized every detail of the production, spoke openly of his devotion to the cleric in federal prison where he did the preparation for the film, reading Quran and Islamic literature, the year before the August 2011 filming. Both Joseph and Nakoula are Egyptian immigrants.
After finishing the production, in latter part of June, he tried a tricky way to attract audience to his film by distributing posters in Arabic to few Mosques and Islamic institutions with Osama bin Laden’s picture. It read ;
“Glad tidings to the Muslim and Arab community, with the occasion of holy Ramadan upon us we would like to announce the movie of the 21st century: “Innocence of Bin Laden”. For the first time in the history of international cinema, my Muslim brother you are about to witness the true terrorist [and] contains the evidence of his condemnation, the terrorist who killed our children in Palestine and our brethren in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Steve Klein said “We passed out fliers at mosques around California where we knew there was a small percentage of a terrorist. And the idea was to locate, which we did, those folks who believed Osama Bin Laden was a great guy, and to try to get them to come to the movie.”
Passersby spotted the Arabic posters on 18 June and later saw an abbreviate title of the film on June 28 on the, usually closed, Vine theater’s marquee. The poster wasn’t huge, but it was enough to catch eye. The sign hawked a one-night showing of the film “Innocence of Bin Laden,” with a picture of Laden. So seeing the name and picture of Osama bin Laden plastered on the theater was unsettling, one said.
“I thought it was a joke at first, in all honesty,” a resident said “I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. We didn’t know what it was about because we can’t read Arabic.” The film was screened on June 30th for an empty theater barely with 10 viewers.
“Innocence of Muslims” opens with Muslims ransacking a Christian medical clinic and then segues into a flashback of Muhammad’s life. “Set the place on fire! We’ll burn out these forsaken Christians!” cries one Muslim character.
Church leaders were quick to distance themselves from the movie, saying it doesn’t match the sentiments of most Copts and most Egyptian Christians in the U.S. have rejected the movie and now worry that the video will worsen the situation for their fellow Copts in Egypt as the trailer was released against a backdrop of increasing uncertainty for the Christians who remain in Egypt and live under an Islamist government run by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood
Christians there saw an increase in violence after Florida pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Quran and after the publication of cartoons ridiculing Muhammad, said Boules, the Coptic priest.
Coptic leaders said they were unaware of Nakoula until the trailer surfaced. Zakaria Botros Henein left the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles a decade ago and has no connection to it, said Bishop Serapion, the church leader for Southern California and Hawaii. “We don’t know about what he is doing, we are not responsible (for him), even we don’t even know where he is,” Serapion said.
“We have never reacted or behaved like this for the very simple reason that this is against Christianity,” said the Rev. Joseph Boules, a priest at St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church in Anaheim, Los Angeles. “We are not going to abandon our principles and return hate for hate. That’s not what orthodoxy is about.”
Finally, it was one mischievous Guru who set the world in fire