Should Anti-Islam Filmmakers Be Thrown in Jail?

Controversy over what should be done about 'Innocence of Muslims' has pushed the First Amendment to its limits

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Of all the commentary that emerged after last week’s deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya, one has been getting a lot of attention. Would the man who made the anti-Islamic movie that set off the attack be arrested? asked Ivy League professor Anthea Butler on Twitter. It was an understandable yet troubling reaction.

(MORE: How Innocence of Muslims Emerged from the Seamy Side of Hollywood)

In a follow-up essay in USA Today, Butler, an associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, insisted she does not oppose freedom of speech. But the movie, she said, “is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam.” Instead, it “denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers.” The government of Egypt agrees. It has officially called on the U.S. to criminalize “acts that stir strife” on the basis of religion, race and color.

Indeed, Innocence of Muslims appears to have been made with the express intention of viciously insulting a figure much of the world reveres — and of sparking an angry response. The movie’s producer, operating under the false name of Sam Bacile, appears also to have defamed Jews — by falsely claiming to be an “Israeli Jew” who made the movie with the backing of 100 Jewish donors. And the movie now has blood on its hands. The protests it set off in the Muslim world led to the death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, as well as three other Americans, and the violence then spread through the Arab world.

(PHOTOS: Protests Rage in Middle East, Sparked by Anti-Islamic Film)

Given all this, why not bring charges against the shadowy producer of the movie who was questioned by authorities but not put under arrest? Because under the Constitution, our default setting is to protect speech — even hate-filled and violent speech. A lot of countries take a different approach. In France, you can go to prison and face heavy fines for publicly insulting someone based on their race, religion or national origin. Last year, the fashion designer John Galliano was convicted of “public insults” for an anti-Semitic tirade a Paris bar. In Saudi Arabia, insulting Islam is a crime. Many European countries make Holocaust denial illegal.

The First Amendment does not allow any of these. In the U.S., Nazis have the right to parade through a heavily Jewish suburb — as the courts allowed them to do in Skokie, Ill., in the 1970s. In 1992, the Supreme Court struck down a Minnesota law against burning a cross — the Ku Klux Klan’s historic symbol of hate — as violating the First Amendment. In other words, the Supreme Court has set a very high bar for prosecuting people for stirring up violence with speech. Unless a speaker is pushing people to “imminent lawless action” — getting the mob right there to start breaking the law — he is not likely to be convicted.

Google, which owns YouTube — where the movie can currently be seen — made its own calculus. It has blocked the film in Libya, Egypt, India and Indonesia, but is letting people in other countries see it. YouTube has said that the film falls within its own decency guidelines, although the Obama Administration has asked them to review their policy. Most of the digerati support YouTube’s position to leave the video up, and agree that the company should refuse to yield to the censorship of the mob. For the government, though, the First Amendment must dictate the response — and there are good reasons our system gives even hateful speech wide leeway. Freedom of speech encourages the haters to make themselves visible. That both allows them to let off steam and makes it easier for people to keep an eye on them.

(MORE: Cohen: A New First Amendment Right: Videotaping the Police)

Even more important to remember: censorship is hard to rein in once you set it up. If we start putting people in prison for saying things various groups find offensive, how far do we go? Should Mel Gibson be locked up for his anti-Semitic and antiblack comments? Should immigration hard-liners face criminal charges for what they say about Mexicans?

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the UCLA School of Law, has made the provocative argument that punishing blasphemous speech would likely lead to more violence: if you let the mob get people punished, there will be more angry mobs. That practical argument may be true, but it is also not the main point. The reason not to make films like Innocence of Muslims illegal or to force YouTube to take them down is that we are a nation committed to freedom of speech — and that is something that we believe in deeply. Living in a world where hate speech goes unpunished is far from ideal, but living in a world where the government decides what we cannot say is worse.

151 comments
NimrahGhazanfar
NimrahGhazanfar

It is very alarming how the Media only highlighted the riots and not the peaceful protests that were carried out in several Muslim states throughout the world. While it was completely unacceptable, the killings that followed, it shouldn't be forgotten that people will act violently when they are wronged. This is human nature and insulting someone how holds a lot of importance for a certain religion or race is a dumb thing to do. It's like standing in front of a bull and asking her to come and hit you. Plain dumb.

She Lives Desperate
She Lives Desperate

Film makers. make films. We tell stories.  You don't have to watch it or like it.

Mu Çe
Mu Çe

The lack of respect to other beliefs can not be acceptable. If goverment has a weakness to stop the things that you are left to be faced to face, you have to do something to protect. Punisment is diffrent from people to people. Some people protest, some people complain, some people ignore, some people kill. Well, we have to know the world enough to take a step that does not cause hovac and panic

islamthepure
islamthepure

i' Will talk to you as human being that we should respect each other. Imagine that one person insulted your mum by telling to her :'you are a whore' will you accept it and your mum she is not a bitch  or will you admit it as a right of speech. Even if your mum is a whore you wont accept this offense. Muslims are are not afraid from you but they respect you and we can not act as you do because we believe in all prophets. To insult a person even if he is not muslim is a great sine and our prophet tell as that a non muslim who is kind with people is better than a muslim who is rude and tend to offend people. If we are going to return to philosophy 'your freedom ends where mine begins' jean jack roussou. Then we can not talk about a freedom of speech if it is going to hurt more then 1.000.000.000 person in the globe.

Pour tous les français que c'est pas étrange pour eux d'être

racistes  vous parlez des droits de liberté  en se prétendant que

vous êtes un pays laïque mais est ce que quelqu'un d'entre vous est capable de

parler de holocauste ou parce que vous êtes déjà en crise financière pour payer

a Israel le préjudice en money ha ha ha

islamthepure
islamthepure

I'would like just to tell that i'am speaking on the name of  hummanity and we are human beings we do not need to offend each other. I'am not going to offend your mum by telling that she is whore while she is not. But even if she is , you wont accept it because this is your mum. So we are not affraid from you but we respect you and muslims can not react as you do because they believe in  the all prophets then they can not offend them. A true muslim can not as well insult because our prophet tells us that the one who insults people is not a muslim and generally  a non muslim person who is kind and behaves with people well is the best according to him to take as friend than a muslim who offends people.

xzaebos
xzaebos

No. These people have a right to make that video. They absolutely should not be thrown in jail. That is an absurd idea. I am a firm believer of freedom of speech and if we were to bow down to violence from another nation, then we suck hard. He has a right to make that video and everyone else has the right to say what a worthless ass he is.

But that isn't enough, the president asked us to violate our own citizen's rights, and I say "no."

Shams Aci
Shams Aci

Books, films, dramas etc. are for knowledge giving moral lessons but negative ones do its adverse, destruction,   not construction. Minds that create violence that need to be put in a corner room far away from the peace loving society/world.

Shams Aci
Shams Aci

 Something that creates hate and anger is a fire-play and those who play with fire, die in fire bringing nothing but ruin.         

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

Butler is wrong in saying the movie 'denigrates Islam.' Students of Islamic history know how Islam began and what was the real character of the founder when he was in the service of Khadija and later when  he  moved  from Medina to Mecca. I don't want to go into all details. The YouTube, which I watched, gives a historical narration. You cannot expect the film maker to portray the founder as a Jesus or the Buddha.

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

Daniel Piper in a follow-up essay in Fox News gives a good solution. "Fleming Rose, a newspaper editor, created the greatest crisis for Denmark since World War II by publishing 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad. Florida pastor Terry Jones sowed panic among American commanders in Afghanistan by threatening to burn a Koran. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and friends prompted a crisis in U.S.-Egyptian relations with his amateurish "Innocence of Muslims" video. And the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo caused the French government to temporarily shut down diplomatic missions in 20 countries. Plans by the German satirical magazine Titanic to publish attacks on Muhammad likewise led German missions  to be closed.

Daniel Piper suggests, A Muhammad cartoon published each day, or Koranic desecrations on a quasi-regular basis, would make it harder for Islamists to mobilize Muslim mobs. Westerners could then once again treat Islam as they do other religions – freely, to criticize without fear. That would demonstrate to Islamists that Westerners will not capitulate, that they reject Islamic law, that they are ready to stand up for their values.

So, this is my plea to all Western editors and producers: Display the Muhammad cartoon daily, until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger."

Frank Frank
Frank Frank

"The two rabbis concluded that Jews were obligated to kill anyone who posed a danger, immediate or potential, to the Jewish people, and implied that all Palestinians were to be considered a threat. On these grounds, the pair justified killing Palestinian civilians and even their babies. "

http://www.globalresearch.ca/r...

Dr.Yogesh Sharma
Dr.Yogesh Sharma

www.poemhunter.com/dr-yogesh-s... 

Every body has the right to free expression. So such reprehensible ideas should not be allowed to be accepted. Muslims have the tendency to be violent and kill others on minor things or non-issues. Violence must be curbed at any cost. But in the name of Muslim anger democratic and secular countries are inflaming and inciting Muslims and violence. Now this thing has converted into hate in Muslims for all non-Muslims. Such fanaticism must be curbed with iron hands in Putin-Bush style. 

Dr.Yogesh Sharma 

Fabio Juliano
Fabio Juliano

Islam is evil. Telling the truth about it is good.

goldengrain
goldengrain

I can understand hate legislation regarding a person's race or sexual persuasion.  These are things a person has no control over. 

I cannot understand limiting free speech over something like religion, which is an individual's intellectual choice.  A person can change religions, can be persuaded that there is no god.   Free speech should be encouraged in such areas, in my opinion.   

entertainmac
entertainmac

How is this film any different from yelling fire in a crowded theater?

xzaebos
xzaebos

How is it, at all, similar? This video isn't feigning a crisis. It's not like it's a video saying "OMG nuclear missles inbound!"

bertafiable
bertafiable

Its the radical cleric's who inflame their masses, and they will continue to take every advantage they come across, to do it again and again.

Myself, I get plenty upset every time I see them burning an Amercian flag, or chopping off the heads of hostages.

They prove each and every day that they are still living in the mid-evil past. I cannot expect them to believe everything I do, however tolerance of others views should be paramount, especially in a modern world.

I fear that a world wide conflict is fast approaching, I only hope the west is not caught off guard like peal harbor, or the world trade center attacks, and if we are attacked, (AGAIN), retrabution should be quick, powerful, and desisive, not a long drawn out war. Let the military do its job when the time comes, and don't tie their hands with foolish rules of engagment.

Do not attack, but once attacked ............ ( see above paragraph)

STRENGTH THROUGH POWER

Guillermo Caraballo
Guillermo Caraballo

Why should , the US goverment, punish anybody . Im sick and tire, as a 22 year veteran of the military, and as a converted Catholic Christian(yes, I also love my God,his son Jesus and the Holly Spirit) of all this "softness" with this muslim RADICALS that its all ofensive when is regarding their religion, but they can go around killing, (yes killing) thousands of christiam faith believers around the world like if they were killing roaches. And then ,they act all upset, when the world around them, tryes to tell them, hey, we can all live together in this world of ours. Why WE, as a free society, should let nations like Iran, Pakistan, India, and the rest, howl like hungry wolfs , the DESTRUCTION of Israel. Im not advocating a full out war. NO. thats not the point. But we,  the christian world, should send a message of unity, telling this goverment ,that, WE WONT TAKE IT ANYMORE.  Its time to stand upp to this bullies, aint that, what we teach our own kids. Wake America. Evil is here already, and its not a 6 headed monster with fangs ang fire breathing eyes, Theire face are radical all over the world.

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

If you throw producers of anti-Muslim materials in jail why can't you throw producers of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish materials in jail as well? Oh I know why because you have to arrest 90% of the Muslims and communists on the planet. The hypocrisy expressed by morons like this self hating Jew Adam Cohen is astounding.  Last I heard free speech is still allowed in America... although it is in danger because of fools like Cohen his God, Obama.   Cohen and Obama can abide by Sharia law if they want but don't tell anyone else they have to.  I also like how not so subtly, Cohen drops in the line about how immigration hard liners are all bigoted against Mexicans. What a superficial moron.

Garzhad
Garzhad

Free speech may be hate speech; it may be lies. But this speech too must be protected, for once we start down the slippery slope of regulating free speech, the urge to abuse that power becomes overwhelming, and speech isn't free anymore.

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

were does it come from that islam is a religion of peace?  have you ever read the Koran? the only peace that this book preaches is to fellow muslims, but also preaches death to jews no matter what they believe and death to christians and all other infideles UNLESS THEY EMBRACE ISLAM!!!!! this is no religion of peace, it's a political commandment aimed at illiterate and primitive tribes to create an army. Mohammed was a clever political leader not a prophet of God and it will be the end of the western world democratic right of free speech if we start to throw people in jail only because a mob of savages wants it

Shinzakura
Shinzakura

 Look, I'm a devout Christian and, frankly, the Old Testament isn't exactly Dick and Jane either.  The fact is the Koran (I assume you've at least taken a look at it instead of just rehashing what others say, right?) states that "People of the Book" (i.e. Jews and Christians) must be given the same amount of respect as Muslims.  Just because a relatively minor (although very violent) few want to be idiots doesn't mean all of Islam is an issue.  The issue is the tribalist and savage ways these people think; they could be in another religion and be just as bad, e.g. the Hindu extremists in India.

Christ asked us to turn the other cheek and pray for peace.  You might want to consider getting around to that part.

kev13
kev13

Can any muslim brother answer my simple question, you all say that islam is religion of peace and all muslims want peaceful world , then why protest with anger, why almost 80% muslims country are going throught trouble and fights, you can kill and prousecute non muslim in your country without having any fear for God and if anyone of you get held for trouble maker in christian countries then you guys all get togather and fight for your right or protest for fare trial. Whats wrong with your humanity then when underage kinds are getting kiiled for name of islam becoz they are non muslims. and what does your religion teach or you preist wants to teach or tell about islam ?

Guest
Guest

As far as freedom of expression goes,  it's superior to a lot of the anti-American Muslim crap we see on youtube.

simonsharry
simonsharry

Death to Muslims and to Islam. 

I slam Islam.