Freedom of speech comes with a price
Riots erupted within Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya last week because of, according to several news networks and the U.S. government, an anti-Islamic video called “Innocence of Muslims.” The producer and director of the film hasn’t formally identified himself, but U.S. law enforcement officials cited Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an American of Egyptian decent.
Notice I do not describe him as “Egyptian-American.” Nakoula, who went under many stage names, his most well-known name currently being Sam Bacile, is an American citizen whose family comes from another country. And as an American citizen, he has certain basic human rights that we all share: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech...”
The First Amendment of the. Constitution goes on to include three other freedoms: press, assembly and petition. But for now, let’s focus on the first two — religion and speech.
Religion is always a hot-button issue. It has been mentioned many times during the 2012 presidential campaign already, and it plays a vital role in both global policy and many of this country’s rituals.
President Barack Obama cited a Bible verse at the memorial service for the four Americans killed in the Benghazi riots. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
It’s John 15:13 and quite appropriate for the somber occasion, not because it’s a Christian excerpt but because it speaks to the sort of men who were killed. There are other phrases that would have been just as heartfelt from the Torah, the Quran or the Vedic texts, but who cares which person sites from what holy text?
Religion is not the real issue. Fundamentalist Christianity and Extremist Islam duke it out all the time, but it’s a front. Both players are covering up what annoys them most — what the other side says.
An angry mob, set off by a view that they didn’t like, burned the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and gunned down Ambassador Chris Stevens. Frankly, disrespect ticks me off as well. Being upset over rude depictions of a beloved holy figure is one thing. Bloodshed is another.
“In an odd sort of way, this incident is introducing people who have no experience with freedom to the concept of freedom,” writes Steve Helle, journalism professor at the University. “There is zero support for the publication of this video in Muslim-dominated countries, and they do not understand why the U.S. would allow such publication. But merely asking the question — ‘Why would the U.S. allow such an offensive expression?’ — is a useful dynamic. Freedom of speech is counterintuitive. It does not come naturally. It is a learned value, and it is best learned in situations where it is under stress.”
Speech is not just the spoken word, and when it’s free, it’s powerful — even dangerous.
“Innocence of Muslims” has a crappy trailer. Take away the insensitive sentiment toward the Islamic faith, and you are still left will shoddy acting, historically inaccurate costumes and scenery that looks like it was rejected from Apple’s Photobooth background application. It was a low-budget project, and it shows.
But Bacile (or whatever his latest name is) had every right to make this movie. This is not to say that he should have, but he did.
And now Chris Stevens, along with Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods, are dead. The violence in Northern Africa continues.
According to the First Amendment, we have a right to express ourselves — we tend to focus on the “self” part. We forget that the freedom of speech also applies to our fellow Americans. Anyone who calls the United States his country has the ability to make ideas and viewpoints known. This is the price we pay for the freedom we enjoy.
_Renée is a senior in Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org._