Islamophobic Video, Free Speech, Hate Speech and Money

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.

So What's New?

So one might ask as to what has changed in recent years? Why is the Muslim reaction so much stronger and more global than ever before? The answer is that the availability of the Internet, and particularly Google-owned Youtube, has made it possible for hate material to reach its intended target much more quickly than Dante's Divine Comedy or Voltaire's Mahomet could in the past.

The latest flare-up has so far claimed dozens of lives including the life of Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya.

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:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

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

Views: 770

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 22, 2012 at 10:47am

Here's a Wall Street Journal report on deadly violence in Pakistan on "Love the Prophet" Day:

The Pakistani government called a national holiday Friday so people could protest the video peacefully. It didn't turn out like that in Karachi, one of the world's most violent cities, where on average five people have been killed a day over the past few months.

Many of those deaths are linked to ethnic conflict and wars over land. Friday's protests were organized by Islamist political parties many of whom have links with pro-Taliban militants based in the city, said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst based in Lahore.

Criminal gangs that have thousands of armed cadre and regularly fight the police in the city likely provoked the protests, making them more combustible,he added. "Criminal gangs join them for their own agenda."

Security was tight in Islamabad, the capital, and city where most foreigners live, after protesters on Thursday tried unsuccessfully to get inside the highly guarded diplomatic enclave. A hospital official said 45 people were wounded in Islamabad—28 protesters and 17 police. Police and protesters also clashed in Lahore. Police fired tear gas and warning shots to try to keep protesters from advancing toward U.S. missions in the cities.

Opinion polls show a majority of Pakistanis view the U.S. as an enemy. Many people in the country believe conspiracy theories about the U.S. working to steal Pakistan's nuclear weapons or funding ethnic insurgencies against the state.

That makes it hard for the U.S. administration to persuade Pakistanis that it had nothing to do with the anti-Islam video. This week the State Department took out advertisements in Pakistan media to distance the U.S. government from the video—a strategy that didn't appear to have had much effect.

The clashes in Pakistan came on a day when thousands protested in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In Malaysia, thousands demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy, burning U.S. and Israeli flags. "Our message to the U.S. is very clear—stop it!'' said Nasruddin Hassan Tantawi, youth chief of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, which played a large role in organizing the protest. "You cannot allow Americans to insult our Prophet, to insult Islam." Mr. Nasruddin said that the Islamic party didn't condone the burning of the U. S. and Israeli flags, which he called a "provocation" that organizers had stopped from getting worseU.S. diplomatic missions in neighboring Indonesia were also closed.Several hundred protesters demonstrated without violence in the capital Jakarta as well as in Surabaja. Officials had expressed concern over potential violence after a clash Monday in Jakarta between police and demonstrators ended with thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The publication by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo of cartoons making fun of Muhammad has also angered protesters. In response to the protests,France said it closed its diplomatic missions in Indonesia, Malaysia and in several countriesIn Iraq, about 3,000 protesters condemned the video and caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a French weekly.The protest in the southern city of Basra was organized by Iranian-backed Shiite groups.Police estimated that 2,800 to 3,000 people took part in the protest. They chanted, "Long live Islam'' and "Destroy America.'' Officers formed a cordon in front of the embassy, which was closed. There were no clashes and no arrests.

In Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, police fired tear gas to disperse nearly 30 women who were marching Friday under the banner of the radical Islamic women's group Dukhtaran-e-Millat chanting "Down with the U.S."

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 24, 2012 at 6:13pm

Unfortunately, the Rushdie formula for getting attention has been noticed by profit-seekers.

The offensive video has 13.5 million hits to data and Google shares have hit new high of $ seems to be helping , not hurting Google's bottom line.

All the headlines from violent reaction in the Muslim world have actually helped Google get a lot more traffic and make a lot more money than they would have if the video had been ignored.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 26, 2012 at 10:27pm

Here's MQM's Altaf Husain on Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool Day riots as reported by Express Tribune:

KARACHI: Issuing a strong condemnation against the Ishq-e-Rasool Day riots, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain said that the people of Pakistan, to protest against blasphemy committed by others, were slitting throats of their own brothers.

“The filmmaker is sitting comfortably in America… Will you slaughter your own sister, brother, mother over blasphemy committed by someone else? What kind of love is this for the Prophet (pbuh)?”

Enumerating the losses of life and property suffered on the Ishq-e-Rasool Day, Hussain said that the “extremists and terrorists” looted everything and even had electronic cutters to cut away and steal entire ATM machines.

“Protesters had sticks in their hands. They had special ATM machine cutters. It depicts that they were not there to express love for the prophet (pbuh) or protest against the film. But instead, taking Ishq-e-Rasool as an excuse, they had left their homes to loot and kill,” Hussain stated while asking the audience if any of the looters were from Karachi. The audience replied in negative.

“We burnt down a church in the name of Ishq-e-Rasool. What if, in the name of Eshwar, Krishna or Jesus Christ, someone burns down our mosques?” Hussain asked which was followed by a heavy silence from the audience. “Blasphemy should not be committed against any prophet under the banner of freedom of speech,” he maintained.

Calling out to all “liberal, democratic, progressive and secular” people of the country, Hussain asked, “Do you want a Taliban-type, al Qaeda-type Pakistan or a liberal, educated, progressive Pakistan?

“Now is the time to come forward and break the criminal silence.”

While serving an apology for being harsh during his speech, Hussain said that his greater interest was to save Pakistan.

Karo kari

Hussain also condemned the karo kari that is practiced in the name of honour in parts of Pakistan. “If a girl marries out of her own will, according to Shariah, then she is accused of karo kari and is murdered.

“If we love Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), then we have to get rid of karo kari,” he stressed.

He added that those who bury women alive should be buried and the “skulls should be disjointed” of those who murder in the name of honour.

Absence of leadership?

The party leader said that people always complain that there is an absence of good leadership in the country, but he said that new leaders “won’t descend from the sky in the form of angels”.

“If you can’t see the right leaders, then it is not anyone’s fault,” he asserted and told the audience about how he was the first one to lodge his protest against the blasphemous film when all the others were asleep. “They were sleeping when I sent a telegram to Ban Ki-moon and the OIC that this [film] is intolerable.”

Addressing the Pakistani youth, he said, “If you don’t want to come forward then I won’t have any other choice than to back out from Pakistan’s politics… Decide and tell me today, do you want me to say goodbye forever?”

Comment by Aftab Kenneth Wilson on September 27, 2012 at 11:10am

I saw this video which was very insulting. West has tendency of insulting even Jesus Christ and Mother Mary but Christians do not react the way Muslims do which shows their deep respect for their Prophet. Even if something good is shown through film or video about their Prophet they will not accept it. I would rather beg all not to hurt the sentiments of any followers of any religion. Clear cut resolution should be passed in UN not to allow any individual or a group to harm the stability between the nations. There are many tugs in all countries who take unnecessary advantage as it happened in Pakistan. Banks, ATM machines and even wine stores were looted. Many government and private property was burnt. Some Churches were also burnt.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 30, 2012 at 7:06pm

Here's a Op Ed titled "Hate Speech Hypocrites" by William Saletan:

Jews have too much influence over U.S. foreign policy. Gay men are too promiscuous. Muslims commit too much terrorism. Blacks commit too much crime.

Each of those claims is poorly stated. Each, in its clumsy way, addresses a real problem or concern. And each violates laws against hate speech. In much of what we call the free world, for writing that paragraph, I could be jailed.
If we’re going to preach freedom of expression around the world, we have to practice it. We have to scrap our hate-speech laws.
President Obama, while condemning the video, met these proposals with a stout defense of free speech. Switzerland’s president agreed: “Freedom of opinion and of expression are core values guaranteed universally which must be protected.” And when a French magazine published cartoons poking fun at Mohammed, the country’s prime minister insisted that French laws protecting free speech extend to caricatures.

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told the U.N. Human Rights Council:

We are all aware of the fact that laws exist in Europe and other countries which impose curbs, for instance, on anti-Semitic speech, Holocaust denial, or racial slurs. We need to acknowledge, once and for all, that Islamophobia in particular and discrimination on the basis of religion and belief are contemporary forms of racism and must be dealt with as such. Not to do so would be a clear example of double standards. Islamophobia has to be treated in law and practice equal to the treatment given to anti-Semitism.

He’s right. Laws throughout Europe forbid any expression that “minimizes,” “trivializes,” “belittles,” “plays down,” “contests,” or “puts in doubt” Nazi crimes. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic extend this prohibition to communist atrocities. These laws carry jail sentences of up to five years. Germany adds two years for anyone who “disparages the memory of a deceased person.”

Hate speech laws go further. Germany punishes anyone found guilty of “insulting” or “defaming segments of the population.” The Netherlands bans anything that “verbally or in writing or image, deliberately offends a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their hetero- or homosexual orientation or their physical, psychological or mental handicap.” It’s illegal to “insult” such a group in France, to “defame” them in Portugal, to “degrade” them in Denmark, or to “expresses contempt” for them in Sweden. In Switzerland, it’s illegal to “demean” them even with a “gesture.” Canada punishes anyone who “willfully promotes hatred.” The United Kingdom outlaws “insulting words or behavior” that arouse “racial hatred.” Romania forbids the possession of xenophobic “symbols.”

What have these laws produced? Look at the convictions upheld or accepted by the European Court of Human Rights. Four Swedes who distributed leaflets that called homosexuality “deviant” and “morally destructive” and blamed it for AIDS. An Englishman who displayed in his window a 9/11 poster proclaiming, “Islam out of Britain.” A Turk who published two letters from readers angry at the government’s treatment of Kurds. A Frenchman who wrote an article disputing the plausibility of poison gas technology at a Nazi concentration camp...

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 12, 2013 at 9:02pm

Here's a excerpt of a Aljazeera story on the acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry in America:

There's an interesting and rather illuminating thought experiment you can perform when listening to media figures and politicians discuss Muslims. Take the recent interview on Fox News of the author Reza Aslan, where the host interrogated him at length about his religious background, at one point accusing him of having "gone on several programmes while never disclosing [he is] a Muslim".

Or take New Atheist ideologue Sam Harris, who has said "We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim", as well as his counterpart Richard Dawkins who has become famous for asking incisive questions like "Who the hell do these Muslims think they are"?

This is all above-board language in today's popular discourse. But as a simple test try replacing the word "Muslim" with "Jew"; or "Muslim" with "Black" in each of these quotes and see how it sounds in your head. Most likely, it sounds significantly less comfortable, normal, and acceptable than it did just a moment ago.

Indeed, it's difficult to imagine how Harris, Dawkins, or the Fox News host who questioned Aslan about his faith could continue as public figures were they to make the same types comments about any minority group other than Muslims. They would've in all likelihood won broad, well-justified, condemnation and even been drummed out of the public sphere for their frank bigotry.

Perhaps they'd have been taken up as martyrs by the fringe-right where such xenophobic language about Jews and Blacks is still commonplace. Instead they've so far been permitted to continue spreading hatred against one of the few minority communities it is still acceptable to negatively generalise, degrade and menace.
Richard Dawkins recently ignited a minor furor by pointing out that "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge". His defenders rushed to point out that his statement was merely a fact and as such there was nothing bigoted about it whatsoever.

Dawkins declaration also happens to be true when you substitute the word "Hindus", "Blacks" or "Chinese" for Muslims here, but his admirers would have had a harder time defending the same statement made about any of these groups without being tarred as xenophobes.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor explained the fallacies behind this crude chauvinism:

Dawkins, as an educated man, should be well aware of the legacy of colonialism and of simple poverty…. When the Nobel Prize was founded in 1901, the vast majority of the world's Muslims lived in countries ruled by foreign powers, and for much of the 20th century Muslims did not have much access to great centres of learning like Cambridge. The ranks of Nobel Prize winners have traditionally been dominated by white, Western men - a reflection of both the economic might of the West in the past century, preferential access to education for that class of people as well as a wonderful intellectual tradition .

The same reasons why Muslims are underrepresented in the halls of Western scientific achievement are also applicable to essentially every other group in the world besides white males living in Western countries. If there's nothing bigoted about saying it about Muslims, Dawkins and his defenders should come out and make the same unqualified and context-free statements about other groups in society whom they see as not stacking up. The fact that they refuse to do so signals that this has little to do with courageously speaking the truth and more about picking out which minorities it is still safe to bash. .....

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 18, 2014 at 8:22am

#US DoD changed rules on beards, turbans under pressure from #Sikhs, not #Muslims. #Islamophobes via @TIMEPolitics

Once again, according to the headlines, the Pentagon has bowed to Islamic demands:

– “Caving to pressure from Muslim groups, the Pentagon has relaxed uniform rules to allow Islamic beards, turbans and hijabs,” Investor’s Business Daily reports.

– “At a time when the U.S. should at the very least be wary of those who openly wear their Islamic radicalism around their face and head—beards for males, hijabs for females—the U.S. Pentagon (of all places) is embracing them in ‘celebration of multiculturalism,’” says Raymond Ibrahim, a self-described “Middle East and Islam expert” in a column headlined The Pentagon’s Bow to Islamic Extremism.

–”As our troops in the combat zone contend with the release of Taliban killers and restrictive rules of engagement, they must contend with an Obama administration cowering to Islamic political correctness at home,” writes Allen West, a former Army officer and congressman, on the Fox News website.

Actually, no.

The Pentagon recently tweaked its rules on facial hair and turbans after years of pressure from members of the Sikh religion, not Muslims.

“The changes come after Sikhs pressed the military to allow members of their faith to grow beards, keep their hair uncut and wear turbans, as required by their faith,” the Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 22, the day the Pentagon announced the change. “In recent years, the military has begun to accommodate the religious requirement of Sikhs and the new directive extends that accommodation more broadly.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 12, 2014 at 5:48pm

Ayan Hirsi Ali, who was dis-invited by Brandeis University where she was to receive an honorary degree, tells Muslims to convert to Christianity by quoting verses in The Quran that she sees as encouraging violence and misogyny but she fails to see similar verses in The Bible....
Here are some verses from a Holy Book:
1. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
2. “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ ... do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death.”
3. “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
Q. Are these from the Quran or the Bible?
A. From the Bible. Matthew 10:34, Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Numbers 31:17-18

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 18, 2015 at 12:48pm

Shooters of color are called ‘terrorists’. Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’? #CharlestonShooting

Police are investigating the shooting of nine African Americans at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston as a hate crime committed by a white man. Unfortunately, it’s not a unique event in American history. Black churches have long been a target of white supremacists who burned and bombed them in an effort to terrorize the black communities that those churches anchored. One of the most egregious terrorist acts in U.S. history was committed against a black church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. Four girls were killed when members of the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, a tragedy that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

But listen to major media outlets and you won’t hear the word “terrorism” used in coverage of Tuesday’s shooting. You won’t hear the white male shooter, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, described as “a possible terrorist.” And if coverage of recent shootings by white suspects is any indication, he never will be. Instead, the go-to explanation for his actions will be mental illness. He will be humanized and called sick, a victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources. Activist Deray McKesson noted this morning that, while discussing Roof’s motivations, an MSNBC anchor said “we don’t know his mental condition.” That is the power of whiteness in America.


I hope the media coverage won’t fall back on the typical narrative ascribed to young white male shooters: a lone, disturbed or mentally ill young man failed by society. This is not an act of just “one hateful person.” It is a manifestation of the racial hatred and white supremacy that continues to pervade our society, 50 years after the Birmingham church bombing galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. It should be covered as such. And now that authorities have found their suspect, we should be calling him what he is: a terrorist.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 19, 2015 at 10:42am

#Islamic scripture is not the problem, #US should not fund dissident #Muslims like Ayan Hirsi Ali. #Islamophobia

Some Muslims have cited Scripture to justify violence, and some have cited it to justify peace. If Scripture is a constant but the behavior of its followers is not, then one should look elsewhere to explain why some Muslims engage in terrorism. And if Islamic Scripture doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, then one should not expect the reform of Islam to end terrorism. Indeed, even the ultratextualist followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State ignore Scripture that is inconvenient for their brutal brand of insurgency.

Consider the Gospels, Scriptures that advocate far less violence than the Koran or the Hebrew Bible. Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. Yet the crusaders murdered thousands in their rampage across the Middle East, and U.S. President George W. Bush, a devout Christian, invaded Iraq without military provocation. Readers may object to these examples, arguing that other factors were at play—but that is exactly the point: Christian Scripture doesn’t always determine the behavior of its followers, and the same goes for Islamic Scripture.


The faulty causal chain is the biggest flaw in Hirsi Ali’s essay, but there are others. Even assuming that the liberal reform of Islam would help reduce terrorism—and indeed, few outsiders would complain if the majority of Muslims decided that some of the harsher passages of their Scriptures weren’t relevant to modern life—the picture Hirsi Ali paints of lonely Muslim dissidents trying to start an Islamic reformation is not accurate. A liberal reformation of Islam has been ongoing for two centuries; the problem is that it has faced some stiff competition.

As with the Protestant Reformation, there is a conservative reform movement in Islam today that competes with the liberal reformers. Foremost among the conservatives are the ultraconservative Salafists—Islam’s Puritans. They want to scrape off all the foreign accretions, such as Greek philosophy, that have attached themselves to Islam over the centuries and go back to a supposedly pure version of the faith. One big reason the conservative reformers have won the day so far is that some governments, especially the wealthy states of the Persian Gulf, have sponsored the ultraconservatives. Because rich Muslim governments have put their thumbs on the conservative side of the scale, Hirsi Ali wants the United States and other Western countries to do the same on the liberal side.

There are many problems with this approach. For one thing, the United States has laws against promoting one set of religious beliefs over another. Before 9/11, the U.S. government refused to fund programs that gave preference to one sect over others or a more tolerant version of a faith over a less tolerant form, although there was some wiggle room for secular programs, such as science education, overseen by religious institutions. Better, officials argued, to promote human rights and freedoms without the trappings of religion. But after the attacks, the U.S. government began to make a few exceptions to this long-standing tradition by funding some Muslim institutions overseas to promote pluralistic versions of Islam. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Indonesia funded a group that put pluralistic messages in religious sermons delivered by women and sponsored a radio show about religion and tolerance. That’s not quite what Hirsi Ali wants—the programs didn’t repudiate parts of Islamic Scripture or seek to reform the religion wholesale—but it’s close.


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