Freedom of speech comes with responsibility

“Innocence of Muslims”, a full-length feature, whose production involved a man who goes by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian currently being investigated for financial crimes and previously convicted for bank fraud, inflamed the global Muslim community upon the release of a 14-minute trailer for the movie. It ignited riots against United States embassies throughout the Middle East, spread protests against the film from Egypt to Australia and resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three of his staffers in Libya.

The film is an absolute farce, and the outrage from the Muslim community is understandable.

“Innocence of Muslims” portrays Muhammad as an arrogant, sex-hungry bastard (the archaic definition), advocating only for himself and those disciples closest to him. In this depiction he wants women and blood ... and that’s about it. There is, at least in the trailer, no talk of the actual tenants of Islam, or the actual text of the Koran.

Set against a 1980s-style green screen, and taking place primarily in two tents in the desert, actors’ actual lines are dubbed over with more insulting and offensive ones. The culmination of the trailer and the vaudeville act comes as a naked “Muhammad” is chased around by two women flailing their flip-flops at him.

While I certainly don’t agree with the film’s message or with the way it was done, I must defend the filmmaker’s right to make and say such things.

Islam has been “off limits” for most media, discussion and the depiction of Muhammad especially. In 2004, Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was killed after he released a film that discussed the abuse of women in Muslim society. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005, where Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the prophet, sparked riots against Danish embassies. “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were threatened in 2010 after putting Muhammad in a two-part episode of their show. One of the great things about the United States (and the Netherlands, as well as many other countries) is our freedom of speech, our freedom of expression. It’s what allows flag burning to be used as a form of protest, for the Occupy Wall Street movement to exist, for members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at the funerals of soldiers, for the Klu Klux Klan to advertise and for the Washington Post to expose government scandals.

Freedom of speech cannot be limited to speech that only you agree with. As the American Civil Liberties Union explains on their website, “If only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure.” As much as I may disagree with what you say, or you may disagree with what I say, we both have the right to say it. And that’s an important right. Perhaps it’s the most important right — it is the first amendment after all.


As an appendix to my defense of free speech, I must add that in speaking, you must understand and accept the consequences that come along with that freedom. Speaking, making films, burning flags, wearing black armbands and donating to political campaigns all have consequences, whether it’s being ostracized, mocked, or — yes, in some cases — threatened.

I realize every time I write this column that I may get hate emails from those who disagree with me. People may attack my character, my opinions, my ideas. They may threaten me or boycott me or campaign to get me off the page. But in writing this column and signing my name to the bottom, I shoulder that responsibility. I understand it.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula initially gave the pseudonym of “Sam Bacile” when contacted by interviewers. This shows a cowardice beyond comprehension.

In refusing to sign his name to his work he is effectively hiding from the responsibilities that accompany making such a film. His opinions are strong. When he talked to The Wall Street Journal before abandoning the moniker “Sam Bacile,” he claimed he made the film because “Islam is a cancer.” Statements like that, in today’s world, are sure to draw attention. Nakoula is aware of this, and runs from it. He wants to make and say what he wants without the repercussions that follow.

That is neither strong nor honorable. It is not brave.

Nakoula needs to remember the prophet of the religion he claims to follow as an example of bravery and honor. Honor does not cower and run from its responsibility. Strength recites verses when insults are thrown. Bravery lets the stone sit.

In his harassment of another prophet, he has failed to follow the examples set by his own.

_Sarah is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at

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