The Global Social Network
Negative stereotyping of Prophet Mohammad has been the preoccupation of generations of Western writers from the time of the Crusades to the
present day. Among those who have engaged in highly offensive portrayal of Islam's prophet are Italian poet-philosopher Dante Aligheri (1265-1321), Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1325-1450) and European "Enlightenment" leader François-Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694-1778).
More recently, there have been attempts by Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses), Kurt Westergaard (Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons) and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (Innocence of Muslims) to ridicule Muslims' most revered leader.
As if to add fuel to an already intensely burning fire, a French magazine has published fresh batch of insulting cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. And such western provocations from hateful bigots are almost certain to grow in number and intensity in the future.
Free Speech or Hate Speech?
It appears that the US President Barack Obama and the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton understand the extremely dangerous implications for the United States of this ongoing escalation of hostility in the Muslim world. In fact, the White House asked Google to remove the offensive Youtube video, a request that was denied by Google as violation of the right of free speech. New York Times reported that Google's "policy is to remove content only if it is hate speech, violating its terms of service, or if it is responding to valid court orders or government requests. And it said it had determined that under its own guidelines, the video was not hate speech."
To defuse the situation, the US government has run ads in Pakistani media which show President Obama and Secretary Clinton denouncing the video and condemning the violence in response to it.
Google's refusal to remove the offensive video from Youtube raises significant questions about the definition of free speech....a debate that is already raging for a different reason since the US supreme court's Citizens United decision which has opened the floodgates of big money to influence US politics and policies by the rich and the powerful for their own advantage.
Free Speech and Money:
The questions of money and free speech are closely tied in America. Google removes thousands of Youtube videos everyday for commercial reasons. Like any other big corporation, Google decisions are guided more by its commercial interests than any other considerations. Here's how Tim Wu, the author of Master Switch, describes it in an article in The New Republic:
YouTube, to be clear, isn’t an open forum (even if it sometimes seems that way). For one thing, Google uses an ingenious sex-detecting algorithm to preemptively yank porn. It also employs a complicated system to help copyright owners (mainly Hollywood) locate their works. Finally, the firm bans a long list of other content, including: “animal abuse, drug abuse, under-age drinking and smoking, bomb-making, graphic or gratuitous violence, gross-out videos, hate speech, predatory behavior, stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people’s personal information, inciting others to commit violent acts, and spam.”
Regardless of whether the latest offensive video constitutes hate speech or not, US legal discourse often makes references to Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States in 1919. Here's what Justice Holmes wrote in his opinion:
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man
falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The
question in every case is whether the words used are used in such
circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present
danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress
has a right to prevent.
So the question now is whether the mass distribution of such material via the Internet presents "clear and present danger" that "will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent".
Why the Violence?
The violent reaction in the Muslim world also raise serious questions. For example, can the Muslims demand tolerance of their faith from others when they show such intolerance against minorities in their own countries? Do Muslims have a right to ask others to control their undesirable behavior without showing any restraint themselves?
Let me end this post by paraphrasing a Syrian activist's tweet:
The only thing that seems to enrage the Muslim world today is a movie, a cartoon or an insult, but not the pool of blood of their own fellow citizens shed by fellow Muslims in their own countries.
Here's a video clip of a recent discussion on the subject:
Growing Intolerance in Pakistan
Exposing Congressman King's Hypocrisy
FBI Entrapping Young Muslims
Fighting Agents of Intolerance in Pakistan
Muslim Scholars Must Fight Hate in Pakistan
South Asian Christians Celebrate Christmas in Fear
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Vision
Pakistan Must Defeat Agents of Intolerance
Celebrating Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Birthday