Anti-Islam Movie: Christian-Muslim Relations in So. Calif. Under Scrutiny

Although normally associated with a region of the U.S. where many religions and beliefs harmoniously coexist, Southern California has come under the microscope of late as the result of an anti-Islam movie with production roots in Los Angeles. The movie "Innocence of Muslims," which many are calling amateurish, is reported to be the focal point of the recent violence and protests in the Middle East.

In previous years, if any conflict between Christians and Muslims existed it was hard to detect. New mosques in the So Cal's rural eastern valleys and urban centers sprung up with little or no obstruction in an area also known as California's Bible belt region (counties east of Los Angeles and Orange County).

However, tensions have been "percolating" between the region's Muslim communities and some local evangelical Christians in the last few years, according to a story published recently in The Wall Street Journal. The reporter for the WSJ called the Muslim antagonizers "right-wing evangelical groups."

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Although the WSJ article pointed to an association between the anti-Muslim sentiment and a "small, vocal anti-Islam movement in Southern California that incorporates evangelical Christians, a small number of Copts, or Egyptian Christians, and a few other Arab Christians," it is unclear as to the magnitude of the problem.

Pastor William Rench of Calvary Baptist Church, who was not tagged with any anti-Muslim group in the article, told WSJ the violent reactions of Muslims to the film underscored his concerns about Islam.

"There are thousands of offensive videos and films that attack Christianity and you don't find the same reaction with Christian people as we see in the Muslim world," Rench said. "I don't intend to retaliate against anyone or chop anyone's head off, or if they offend me by saying profane and vulgar things about my faith."

Rench is reported to have "a cordial relationship with the leaders of the Muslim congregation next door, and views them as practicing a 'more liberal, moderate' form of Islam," according to the WSJ article.

The Coptic church in the U.S. has officially condemned "Innocence of Muslims." The Christian denomination founded in Egypt with a huge following in the Middle East has also made strong public statements against the movie on the international front.

Locally, in Anaheim, Calif., Father Joseph Boules of the St. Mary & St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church said, "The film is totally inappropriate and shocking and this person did not secure permissions from the church." Boules was referring to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who is alleged to have produced the movie.

Boules said he is concerned about Muslim retaliation against Christians in Egypt, but not in the U.S., WSJ reported.

The film depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womanizing goon whose followers are mindless thugs. It also shows the prophet in compromising sexual positions and offers insults to Islam as punch lines.

Those depictions, coupled with the fact that Muslims find it extremely offensive to depict the prophet in any form, ignited an already flammable base of Islamic extremists.

Early Saturday, Nakoula was interviewed voluntarily by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station, authorities said.

Nakoula was taken to a station in his hometown of Cerritos, Sheriff's Deputy Don Walker said. He was not arrested or detained, AP reported.



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