Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech, Anti-American sentiment, and the Spread of Intolerance

Picture via blog Burgeoning Pakistan

The recent protests in Benghazi, Cairo and Yemen have highlighted a gray area with Freedom of Speech. The protests, allegedly in response to a film mocking Mohammed, have left four people dead in Benghazi and made Americans abroad fear for their lives.

The director who made the film Innocence of Muslims said he is not anti-muslim. The actress who appeared in the film said she was unaware that it was mocking Mohammed. Do we take away the right to free speech because this film maker put Americans at risk. He says he doesn’t feel responsible for the deaths.

The NY Times had a report yesterday saying that the deadly protest in Benghazi looked planned and was not a spontaneous reaction to the film.

In Cairo the protests were allegedly spontaneous in reaction to the film. More protests erupted in Yemen today.

I wonder if it is a case of when Free Speech affects the US government then it becomes unlawful: Julian Assagnge and Wikileaks for example, and now this film maker putting American’s abroad at risk. Is this a case of freedom of speech being used to cover up hate speech?

What  is “hate speech?” Does this movie cross the line into that definition? And who gets to decide if indeed it is considered to be hate speech? The people reacting violently to the movie or the people making and watching the movie? Are both sides extremists? One side using the freedom of speech to perpetrate religious intolerance or the side reacting to the movie by killing people and protesting?

So who are the extremists then? The guys utilising free speech and putting people’s lives at risk? The people who react by killing others?

I think there is some similarity here between the release of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and the protests it caused in the 1979. However, no one burned embassies or took lives because of it.

Isn’t it amazing how even though it has been 30 years or more since the release of The Life of Brian, instead of the human race moving forward intellectually, we seem to be more intolerant and less analytical. Should the film maker have considered the ramifications of his movie for Americans abroad? Should Muslims take the content of the movie as satire? Were we always at risk of being hurt because of our nationality, skin color, or religious beliefs?

Maybe it was always like this and Freedom of Speech and the internet are fanning the flames of intolerance? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’d rather have the right to freedom speech than live in a place where you are imprisoned or killed for speaking your mind.


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