Thursday, March 23, 2017

40 years ago: Islamic terrorists take people hostage in Washington, D.C. while demanding the cancellation of the screening of a movie about Muhammad

On March 9, 1977, 12 Hanafi Muslim gunmen seized three buildings in Washington, D.C.--the District Building; B'nai B'rith headquarters; and the Islamic Center of Washington--beginning a 39-hour standoff. One of the terrorists' demands was that the U.S. premiere screening of the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (1976) be cancelled because they regarded the film as sacrilegious. The incident concluded peacefully on March 11 when the more than 130 hostages were released after ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran joined the negotiations. The film's world premiere screening, on July 30, 1976 in London, had been beset by bomb threats and a hasty change of the film's title to The Message--but at least that screening had taken place without any hostages being seized.

Harry and Michael Medved, in their entertaining and fascinating book The Hollywood Hall of Shame (1984), have a chapter on Mohammad, Messenger of God (pp. 143-152), with detailed information on the movie. They note the irony of Muslims protesting a movie that was produced and directed by a Muslim--Moustapha Akkad--and financed by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi--after initial funding from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and subsequent funding from King Hassan II Morocco was withdrawn. For those who may be unaware, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Libya are Muslim countries.

It's worth comparing the reaction of Hanafi--a branch of Sunni Islam--Muslims who protested Mohammad, Messenger of God with the reaction of Christians who protested the blasphemous movie The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. In the latter case, there were letters of protest, and a rally outside the offices of MCA/Universal in Universal City, California, where 25,000 people heard a few speeches--and then quietly left. What violent protests did take place were in France, and were attributed to extremist Roman Catholics. See my post 25 years ago: Violent Islamic protests over The Satanic Verses contrast with peaceful Christian protests over The Last Temptation of Christ (February 21, 2014).

There's one delicious similarity in the case of both movies: The Last Temptation of Christ was a major box office failure, with a loss reported to be as much as $14 million, when promotional and other costs are added to the basic cost of making the movie. According to the Medved brothers (p. 151), Mohammad, Messenger of God had, by 1984, made less than $2 million in the United States and less than $5 million worldwide, making for a loss of almost $30 million. Wikipedia and Infogalactic report a take of $15 million, still a considerable loss when other costs are factored in. The movie was reportedly popular with Shiite Iranians.

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