Should Youtube or the US government take down the offensive video The Innocence of Muslims (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAiOEV0v2RM) ? In short I believe not. As an American, I have developed tough skin to defamations to my faith and other beliefs, and therefore did not see a reason to be offended by the inflammatory video. Many Muslims in Arab countries felt differently, and some have responded with outrage. First, with the assassination of Chris Stevens and 3 other Americans working in the US embassy in Libya. Since then there have been riots around other Arab countries in response to the video and its depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Youtube has blocked access to the video in Egypt and Libya, but the video remains up on the site.
The video has sparked a debate on the limits of free-speech. In his speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama advocated for the universality and importance of free-speech, though he said that the fledging democracies in Arab nations had to make their own choice on free speech. In his address to the General Assembly (http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/09/obama-addresses-the-united-nations-136598.html) President Obama said: “We believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values – they are universal values. And even as there will be huge challenges that come with a transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.” Obama argued further that at a time when people can spread whatever information they want around the world with relative ease, there is not much that can be done to stop this flow of information. Obama also condemned the violence in Libya, claiming: “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
In their speeches Wednesday, Arab leaders from Egypt, Yemen, and Pakistan issued rebutals to Obama’s stance on free speech. President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt said: “Egypt respects freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone.” He expanded on this idea, saying: “insults to against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or deed.” Currently Egypt doesn’t have completely free speech; there it is illegal to insult any of the three Abrahamic religions. President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemin, and President Asif A Zardari of Pakistan both agreed with the points that Morsi brought up; free speech on religious matters should be limited to speech that doesn’t incite hate against religion. Nabil Elarby, the secretary general of the Arab League, voiced that: “If the international community has criminalized bodily harm, it must just as well criminalize psychological and spiritual harm.”
While I wouldn’t want to live in a country without the free-speech rights that I have in the United States, I believe that there are people in Arab countries who do not want to live in a country where their faith is insulted or questioned. If the people of Egypt, Libya and Pakistan want to place restrictions on free speech, then I believe that is the right decision for their country. If these nations do choose to place these restrictions on the scope of their citizens freedom of speech, they must do so understanding that the US has no such plans, and that the internet makes it very hard to entirely block items of spiritual harm. Really what I believe this comes down to is an issue of respect between nations of our different ideals. People in the US must respect these nations’ views on the scope of free speech just as people in other nations must respect the US’ decision to allow the free speech of its citizens.
UPDATE: The filmmaker responsible for the Innocence of Muslims video has been arrested for violation of his parol.