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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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Good Speech, Bad Speech, Obnoxious Speech                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Sep/20/2012 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: People, Society, The Law,

It is the summer of 2012 and things are not going well in the Middle East. There have been attacks and large scale protest on American embassies and consulates in Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. At the center of all this violence is a YouTube video titled “Innocence of Muslims.” It is unfortunate, but most of the world does not understand why we tolerate, and even periodically defend such trash.

“Innocence of Muslims” is apparently a poorly crafted Trailer for a movie that is currently available on YouTube, the video streaming and sharing website. Innocence of Muslims was made by a convicted felon named Nakoula Basseley. Nakoula is known for using aliases, in this case he masqueraded under the name Sam Bacile. As Sam Bacile he hired a cast and crew of 79 using CraigsList and other low budget tools. The majority of his cast and crew signed up for a story entitled “Desert Warrior” which was supposed to be a “historical Arabian Desert adventure” according to the ads posted in July of 2011.

After spending time in the editing room and with the aid of voice over dubbing, Desert Warrior became Innocence of Muslims, an amateurish hack of a film that portrays the Muslim Prophet Mohammed as a womanizing jerk, a buffoon, a child molester and a ruthless killer. I only watched a little bit of the online trailer, but “amateurish” is generous. Portrayals of Mohammed in this manner are considered violations of blasphemy laws in many Islamic countries.

Nakoula has a recent bank fraud conviction and the FBI reports that he has at least 17 known aliases. As of this writing, Nakoula is being interviewed by authorities to determine if he has violated any of the terms of his parole. Some of his parole restrictions include not using a computer or any device that accesses the internet without the permission of his parole officer. Additionally, terms of his parole specify that he must only use his real name. Most of the cast and crew who have come forward have made it clear that they were misled as to the nature of the project they were working on and the name of the individual they were working for. None of this is surprising since Nakoula has shown a history of misleading people.

Using public forums to propagate hate is not new. We have seen for many months Fred Phelps and his family-run Westboro Baptist Church use the pulpit and religious protections to promote a doctrine of hate and intolerance by protesting at the funerals of American soldiers. According to his doctrine, the reason American soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan is because God is punishing American’s for “tolerating gays.”

In a Journal interview Nakoula Basseley, the filmmaker characterized his movie as “a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam.” He went on to state that “Islam is a cancer.” Apparently his production effort was funded by some anti-Islam groups in the United States and a community of Coptic Christians in Alexandria Egypt.

For me, two of the best things about living in American are our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion. One of the more frustrating things about living in American is hearing what others have to say under the protections of the “freedom of speech.” People take things differently depending on where they come from, how they were raised and their personal history. For those who come from a repressive or very restrictive society, the notion that things like this are said publically is foreign. For those of us from a more open or free society; we have learned to ignore statements and obnoxious rhetoric of this nature. I grew up being drilled on phrases like:

“turn the other cheek’
“sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you”

These and other phrases like them emphasize ignoring the other person when they say something offensive. With time and patience we generally come to realize that the words and behavior of the person ranting only serve to make them look like an idiot. Unfortunately, my childhood training is not the global standard. In many countries of the world there are laws restricting free speech. In many Muslim countries there are also specific “blasphemy” laws. These are laws that specifically restrict any words or actions that might be considered irreverent to a holy person, custom or belief. In some countries, the penalty for violations of the blasphemy laws can include execution. I know this seem foreign to an American, but to many Muslims from Pakistan, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries this movie trailer is more than merely outrageous. For many Muslims this trailer is criminal based act against the rules in their society. For those who have grown up in more restrictive societies, this trailer is not the rude statement of an individual, it is seen as an insult from America as a whole rather than the rants of an individual.

I have taken a brief look at the online trailer for Innocence of Muslims as part of my research. For me it is clearly a low-budget hack job with a thread-bare plot presenting the obnoxious views of a few extremists. In that spirit it is easier for me to simply choose to forget it and surf to something more enlightening or entertaining, but I grew up in America.

Clearly, there are other forces at work.

For the open minded observer, these periodic uproars over perceived blasphemy from the west are rarely, if ever spontaneous. Instead, much like the master illusionist, they can be opportunities, exploited for political purposes as a grand distraction or a bait and switch.

•   When the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (death sentence) against Salman Rushdie for his novel Satanic Verses, it helped distract attention from the bitter decision to end the war with Iraq and compromise for peace.
•   When the Danish cartoon incident broken, it stirred European sentiment that Muslims in Europe needed more protections. Later it was learned that many of the cartoons were faked by Muslim supporters of a freelance European imam, hoping to create prominence for himself through controversy.
•   In Pakistan recently, a Christian girl was accused of blasphemy for supposedly burning pages from a Quran. It was later learned that a local imam had faked the evidence and planted the pages on her. This was an attempt to discredit the local Christian community.
•   This latest video uproar has been used by al-Qaeda factions in Libya to shake and rattle the foundations of their fledging government and their relationship with the west.
•   This latest video uproar has also been used by factions in Egypt to take credibility away from the west. Hurting the western image helps to undermine the military that have held onto significant portions of leadership to the frustration of many despite the election of a president.

Do you see a pattern here? In the case of this video; by creating a controversy around this video you potentially drive a wedge into any government or their agencies that has a relationship with America. It is a very creative attempt to bust the credibility of that government. More important, schemes such as this really don’t cost anything to create; they just need an opportunistic leader.

Let me be clear, one of the problems with defending free speech is that you often have to defend people you personally find to be unpleasant, disgusting and obnoxious. The YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” is not a piece of scholarship or art. It is a shabby piece of bigoted trash where the producer even lied to most of the people working on it. But it is protected by our American right to free speech. Free speech is not just what people say, print or put to video, it is what they think. When we start regulating what people say, we are effectively regulating what they think. Histories in other parts of the world have shown us that regulating thought leads to very repressive societies. As bad as the video is, it doesn’t warrant all the violence associated with it, this is the work of opportunists playing on hatred and fear, for their own agenda that is just as self-serving as Nakoula Basseley’s.

In American we have learned that the price of freedom is to sometimes have to put up with the rude, the wrong and the obnoxious words of a few. We have also learned that the best way to counter bad free speech is with really good free speech.

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Sir Winston Churchill
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.
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