In the past week, the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens has become irrevocably linked with the outbreak of a crude video attacking Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
The video, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ directed by Californian Muslimphobe, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was blamed for mass protests in Libya and Egypt of an anti-American nature, which included storming of the U.S. embassy in the Libyan capital of Benghazi symbolically on the eleventh anniversary of September 11 attacks, killing Stevens and three of his embassy staff.
Reactions worldwide have been fairly unanimous in outrage and condemnation of the short, 13 minute video. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy called for the prosecution of the U.S. filmmakers, and appeals were made to the United Nations to formally forbid the denigration of religious faiths.
However, by doing this objectors also inadvertently call for revision to U.S. constitutional laws and its wider, cultural values of liberty and individual rights. In America, where federal and state laws protect freedom of speech without exception, even ‘hate speech’, the publishing of material inciting hatred, is perfectly legal under the First Amendment.
In other, less democratic libertarian societies such as the recently politically re-birthed countries Egypt and Libya, the dominating Islamic faith can be equally as authoritative as constitutional law. What this means is that rudimentary videos – or comments, or essays, or songs, or anything – disrespecting the Prophet are faced with public cries to terminate the source of offense, rather than treating the video merely as ‘hate speech’, to be condemned, certainly but not as impetus for killing four innocent Americans. Notably, Mohammed Hamdy, commentator of a popular Egyptian Salafist television station al-Nas, publicly announced that ‘an apology is not enough. I want them convicted.’
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have scrambled to smooth over diplomatic relations with both Arab states, and tried to salvage its image as a peaceful, democracy-bearing intervener in the Middle East. This is probably a dismal prospect I would say, as after blatant U.S. support of corrupt Arab dictatorships, violent and protracted occupations of two nations (one that was justified on fabricated evidence at that), you can bet that anti-American sentiment is going through the roof. White House officials have also requested Google to remove the original video, and to consider whether the video had breached Youtube guidelines.
On a socially constructive level, it could be argued that the removal of such a video could prevent the further spread of dangerous hate speech and ease U.S./Coptic Christian/Islamic tensions in flash points of conflict across the Middle East.
In its submission guidelines, Youtube states intolerance for hate content:
We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation/gender identity, or their status as a returned soldier).
Is this purely a matter of offending the wrong people? We all know that religious sensitivities are not the same as political bias and support or football team loyalty, but should they be? Up until last century, political ideologues like Nazis, Stalinists, Chinese communists would have reacted with similar violence to public slander. Yet since then, Western political factions have of course managed to moderate their reactions to public dissent.
As much as it would be easy to directly eliminate what is seen as the source of violence, blocking the video doesn’t solve the root of the problem. This should be a fight against extremism. We should, as we do now, continue to embrace freedom of religion, and while such freedoms come with the inevitable conflict and antagonisms of diverse believers coexisting in a single society, we should tolerate and sort these out with each other. Simply shutting down voices everywhere because of their potential to offend is surely an insult to our capacity to overlook and forgive.
Should Google Inc remove such inflammatory videos from Youtube? What do you think?