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Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand

Fri, Sep 21st, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

By Karen Reisner

Rights and freedoms granted by the first amendment to the Constitution including the freedom of speech carry with them the necessity to act responsively. Ideally at least, they should. With the unfolding of the protests and riots in the Islamic world which were sparked by a crudely made, denigrating film, we are reminded that freedom of speech is an American value and unassailable, and not all will act responsibly.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, or Sam Bacile as he represented himself while making the 14-minute trailer film, used and twisted the protection afforded by the freedom of speech in his production of an inflammatory film, “Innocence of Muslims.” Even the title was a lie, as it was a film made to incite the Islamic people. Actors hired to make the film were duped. Mohammed was later dubbed over ‘Master George.’ Nakoula falsely claimed he was an Israeli-Jew to add to the effect of the hate film to further his agenda. He was surely well aware of the Islamic reaction to other disrespecting and disparaging depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. If the intention of the film was to denigrate a religion and knowingly provoke violence, is that protected under the First Amendment? The simple answer is yes.

Nakoula is actually a Copti Christian which is the largest religious minority in Egypt. He has spent about a year in prison for bank fraud. He is currently on probation and lives in a suburb of Los Angeles. Nakoula also plead guilty in 1997 to possession with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine. Per terms of his probation, he is not allowed to use aliases or the Internet. He is under investigation at this time for probation violations related to the making and dissemination of the film on the Internet. The reason for the investigation is not the production of the film, as it is not a crime under US law. The film was posted on the Internet in July and not translated to Arabic until shortly before the protests.

The United States has denounced this film, which was made in America, but respects the first amendment right to make the film. This film has been used by extremist elements to spark outrage. The film provided the spark to ignite the abundant fuel of discontent in Islamic countries which has driven the angry mobs.

It seems the hate film is now being used by Islamic extremists and anti-American militants to create more anger and further their agenda in the Mideast. The film stirs up populations in countries with weak, fledgling governments and triggers an underlying resentment of the West. Our forefathers could not have foreseen this kind of abuse of the first amendment. They could not have envisioned how a filmmaker with his own agenda and a very small number of backers could so effect world events through modern technology. There is the inability of many in the Mideast to understand that this offensive film is the work of a few and not condoned by or representative of the United States.

The United States defends the right to free speech regardless of how detrimental this particular film has become, even when it effects national security. President Obama has maintained that the attackers of the Libyan consulate that killed four Americans will be brought to justice. They are certainly guilty of criminal acts no matter what their provocation. US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice reported that at this time (September 16) there is no evidence that suggests that the Libyan attack was preplanned. She believes it was a spontaneous reaction, after the riots in Egypt over the offensive film just a few hours before. Extremists with heavy weapons which are plentiful in Libya used the protest to attack the consulate and kill the four Americans. However, Libyan interim President Magarief claims foreigners came into Libya in recent months and planned the attack which occurred on September 11. Rice reported that an FBI investigation is in progress. It should be noted that a majority of the Libyan people are pro American. Rice believes “opportunist extremist elements” escalated the protests that resulted in the deaths of the Americans.

In any case the extremists are taking advantage of relatively new, unstable and weak governments formed after the Arab Spring. These governments have not publicly supported the violent attacks. Opposing factions are jockeying to direct the future of several of these countries.

Some have suggested that the making and dissemination of the film would fall under “reckless endangerment.” If the filmmaker expected the film to incite a riot and intentionally produced it for that purpose, would it still be protected by the First Amendment? The film when aired broadly in Islamic countries produced the effect that one would reasonably expect. Many citizens in Islamic countries view their religion as their identity. Any disrespecting of the Prophet demeans their culture which is one with their religion. It is difficult for many of us to understand, as the violent protests seem to be an overreaction to a vulgar film. We should understand that the film was like throwing a match into a very dry grass; the conditions were already there for the angry mob reaction. Extremists are ready to take advantage of any spark to further their own political agenda.

People with hateful agendas in this country have the right to use freedoms which many have fought and died for, thereby creating circumstances where more have to fight and die to continue to protect American values. Geoffrey Stone, professor of law at the University of Chicago, concluded, “If we punish American citizens for engaging in otherwise constitutionally protected speech in order to prevent foreign terrorists from engaging in violent acts, then we cede to those very terrorists the meaning of the First Amendment.”

Stone is right. That being said, First Amendment freedoms are basic to our way of life. We should not abuse these freedoms, but protect and use them responsibly.


Your comment submission is also an acknowledgement that this information may be reprinted in other formats such as the newspaper.


6:42:25, Sep 25th 2012

andrew kingsley says:
It seems quite naive to fall for the media's/Pres. Obama's claim that these events in Muslim countries have been due primarily to one poorly constructed video by one ignorant moron. And even if that were true, would it say more about us or those Muslims participating in the riots and violence? I don't see Christians and Jews picking up their weapons and rioting every time Christianity or Judaism is denegrated. The very fact that we are alive as non-Muslims is what they hate us for, first and foremost. Our government's apology tours for being who we are doesn't appear to appease their hatred in any way. Looking at history, it seems these same Muslim nations respect only one thing, strength. Weak presidencies like that of Obama and Carter appear to invite and incite these kinds of events. We can bow to them and praise them and make excuses for their actions all we want, but they will still hate us for not being Muslims. I say we stay out of all these nations, keep our foreign aid to solve our own problems, and let them hate eachother like they did before we were there.


12:20:06, Sep 28th 2012

EW says:
What you have to realize Andrew is that there are other perspectives and whole different worlds beyond your small perception of the truth and what is right. The Muslim faith condemns these actions. It is a select few fundamentalists that are marring our perception of an entire faith. Would you agree that the Christians who protest military funerals are representative of all Christians? No, every religion and culture has their extremes and since their world is very much different than ours we should try to understand how perceptions may be different.
In many coutnries of Muslim faith, free speech and media are very much controlled. So when their norm is that nothing is released by the media that doesn't have government approval, how could they truly understand a concept like YouTube where anyone can post anything they want at any time? Your stance is just as bad as the Muslim extremists that took physical action to express their opinion and outrage over what they hold most sacred, you assume without an ounce of understanding.

Call it weak all you want, but I don't say that it isn't reasonable to at least try to see a situation from a different perspective. Please educate yourself on the Muslim faith don't make broad, uneducated assumptions on an entire group of people becasue of the actions of a few. I hate it when all Americans are stereotyped as being ignorant as you.

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