Father Mauritius Mikhail of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Bellflower acknowledges that the man known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula attended occasional services at his church three years ago.
But he adds that most parishioners didn’t know Nakoula, an Egyptian Copt who also uses the name Mark Youssef. Father Mikhail says he’s not surprised by the man’s arrest this week on a probation violation - and he suspects that other Coptic Christians won’t be, either.
“I haven’t spoken, because his arrest is something very recent—I heard about it from the news just yesterday," says Mikhail. "But the anger, or the disturbance, was not because he was arrested, but because the movie itself was something very inappropriate.”
Two weeks of news headlines that connect Nakoula and his incendiary film, “Innocence of Muslims,” to Southland Copts have shed unwelcome light on a small, low-profile immigrant and religious group. Shortly after an Arabic-dubbed trailer for the film surfaced on YouTube, its producer also claimed that Israelis had helped to finance the project. There's no evidence to support that assertion.
Father Joseph Boules, a priest at St. Mary and St. Verena Church in Anaheim, says he’s had to repeatedly explain to journalists that the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles has never endorsed anti-Muslim rhetoric like that in Nakoula’s film.
Boules says news outlets in Egypt and in the United States are equally responsible for offering false representations of Coptic Christianity. "Everyone has condemned the movie,” he says. “It is not worthy of this attention at all."
“If we hold people responsible for their actions, then we do away with the labels—they have no place in the conversation," Boules explains. "But what was behind putting these two words before his name—Coptic Christian?—so for that, I do hold the media responsible to a large extent.”
Father Boules says the intense media attention has upset many of his parishioners. But he adds that the opportunity Copts have now to better explain their faith may, in the long run, turn out to be a “blessing.”