In a tragic reminder of the downsides to rapid-fire global communication, one poorly-made YouTube video has gone viral in the Middle East and resulted in protests that killed four Americans in Libya on Tuesday.
It was in California that Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old Israeli with a day job in real estate, assembled the cast and the cameras to produce a movie called "Innocence of Muslims."
A trailer of the film, posted to YouTube in July, led to violent protests on Tuesday in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya.
In Cairo, demonstrators entered the facilities of the American embassy, destroyed an American flag, and staged a sit-in. Benghazi saw a more violent attack against an American consulate, involving rocket-propelled grenades. Four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens.
Bacile's film follows the life of Mohammed, the prophet of Allah according to Islam. Any portrayals of the prophet are strictly forbidden, making the film inherently blasphemous to Muslims.
But "Innocence of Muslims" goes much further than that. It depicts Mohammed in the most insulting terms; he is described by turns as foolish, murderous, lecherous, nonsensical, and corrupt.
Even the Quran itself is insulted when a would-be author tells Mohammed's wife Khadija that he will "make a book for [Mohammed]. It will be a mix between some versions form the Torah and some versions form the New Testament and mix them into false verses."
The film's jokes range from caustic, to obscure, to inane. In one scene, an old woman asked why Allah is "such an oppressor and so unfair to the people" before she is torn apart by donkeys. In another, Mohammed laughingly confirms rumors that he is homosexual.
The two-hour movie cost about $5 million to produce; it was partly financed by sympathetic donors. This is an astounding amount considering the film itself appears awfully slapdash, as is evident in the trailer: the desert landscapes are copy-pasted behind poorly costumed characters. The dialogue is stilted, and voices are briefly -- and poorly -- overdubbed at various occasions. In the trailer's last scene, the actor portraying Mohammed is covered in fake blood, wildly swinging a sword as computer-generated fire engulfs the screen.
Bacile reportedly went into hiding on Tuesday -- that's before it was officially confirmed that four Americans had died. But in statements to the Associated Press, he did not regret posting the YouTube trailer and maintained his belief that Islam "is a cancer."
"This is a political movie," he added. "The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're fighting with ideas."
And those ideas have cost lives on all sides.
Blasphemy accusations are a dangerous game, as we have seen in Afghanistan, where the accidental incineration of religious texts this February resulted in protests and attacks that killed at least 40 Afghans and Americans; or in Pakistan last month, when a young Christian girl was arrested for allegedly burning a Quran, causing hundreds in her community members to flee their homes in fear of retaliation; or in the famous case of 2005 when a Dutch cartoonist's depiction of Mohammed caused protests across the Middle East that killed at least 100 people.
In an environment like this, and especially as the United States struggles to establish a new diplomatic relationships with quickly-changing societies all across the Middle East, Bacile's decision to produce a provocative anti-Islam video was both reckless and foolish.
Bacile was not the one to carry out the attacks against the American embassy in Benghazi; he is not responsible for the deaths of four Americans on Tuesday. But his actions will complicate the ongoing efforts of Stevens' peers, diplomats from Western countries and others, as they work to establish a peaceful presence in the burgeoning democracies of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
U.S. President Barack Obama said as much in his official statement, released on Wednesday.
"While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants," it said.
"The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward."
Fortin is the IBTimes Africa Correspondent based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She joined IBT in February of 2012, and has previously worked as an editor and reporter for...