In defense of the movie "Innocence of Islam"

We all have a duty to protect and defend freedom of speech and expression, even it it is lame, irresponsible or abhorrent. Photo: Peter V. Bella

“The thing that makes this particularly difficult for the United States is that … we treat what most of us would refer to as hate speech as constitutionally protected speech and Americans don’t appreciate, I think, how unusual this position seems in the rest of the world,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at Chapman University’s School of Law in Orange, Calif. (Associated Press) 

“But you must also understand that the Prophet (for us) is a million times more sacred than the American Constitution.” (Islamist blogger Khalid Amayreh/Associated Press)

CHICAGO, September 19, 2012— There is no such thing in law as hate speech. There is only free speech. This is America. We do not and should not care about how unusual our freedoms and rights seem to the rest of the world.

But what would lawyers know? Years ago some tried to ban and censor lawyer jokes. 

As to Mr. Amayreh, he can stay in Hebron on the West Bank, where he lives, to use his free speech to censor free speech and expression.  

“Hate speech” is a socio-political term. Its sole purpose is to censor free speech and expression, much like political correctness, political palatability, multi-culturalism, acceptable speech and expression, and so-called code words spun by those mysterious ethnic or racial cryptologists. 

Any speech or expression can be labeled as hate, racist, or given any negative connotation. Anything can be offensive depending another’s point of view. 

Being offended and expressing that offense is free speech and expression too. It is a wonderful circle, creating a free civilized open debate of ideas without fear of retribution or punishment. 

The First Amendment protects offensive, unpopular speech and expression. Protection is its purpose. It is also why there are so few restrictions on the First Amendment. There should be no restrictions to its consequences outside the United States, unless there is direct advocating of imminent criminal or violent activity. The operative terms are advocating and imminent. 

This whole kerfuffle over a movie denigrating Islam is as ridiculous and lame as the movie itself. What every American should be asking their selves is why our government is blaming, and especially, condemning a movie for the murderous reaction of others? Why is our government condemning free expression by people in our own nation to appease countries and religions that rely on censorship to control their populations? 

Why is our government apologizing for free speech and expression to people and governments who do not believe in it? Why is our government apologizing for America? 

According to Associated Press “Egypt’s general prosecutor on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for seven expat Egyptian Coptic Christians, including Nakoula ( the alleged producer of the film), and referred them to trial on charges of harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information. The charges carry the death penalty.” 

It will be curious to see if Egypt demands the extradition of Mr. Nakoula to Egypt. It will be more curious to see what this administration will do. 

The Red Scare of the 1940s-60s led to American citizens being investigated by their own government for what they believed, what they spoke, wrote, or expressed, and whom they associated with. People were blacklisted, their reputations destroyed. It took years to undo the harm and eliminate the stain of the House Un-American Activities Committee along with other investigations by federal authorities. 

During the 1950s Rock and Roll was attacked, deemed the Devil’s music by religious and conservative critics. There was a move to censor it. Also, young guy started a magazine in his apartment in Chicago. He was almost censored. “Playboy” became a major brand name and media-entertainment empire. Hugh Hefner is a major advocate for freedom of speech and expression. One of his competitors, Larry Flynt, fought a major criminal and legal battle over the right to distribute his magazine, “Hustler”. 

The Civil Rights Movement was not just about the rights of Black people. It was also about the right to redress grievances through peaceful protest. People were harmed and killed over freedom of expression. 

During the social and political unrest of the 1960s and 70s people were spied on and targeted by government on all levels for their associations, speech, expression, beliefs, and for protesting or organizing protests. This was another stain that took years to wipe away. Even the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s was roundly assaulted and criticized. 

From the post World War Two era through today Americans have pledged their fortunes, freedom, and sometimes their blood and lives to stand up for free speech and free expression in America. 

Radicals, extremists, and people making political or religious expressions, no matter how blasphemous or sacrilegious, must be offered the same protections and fear from retribution and punishment as the mainstream. We don’t have to agree with them. We can and at times should be offended by them. We have no right to silence, censor, persecute, prosecute them, or offer them up for prosecution to other nations. 

The First Amendment is one of the core values that make America an exceptional country. If people in other nations, or their governments and religious leaders, do not understand or like it that is their problem not ours. We owe no explanation to anyone. We owe no apology. They also owe us no explanation or apology for their censorship, despotism, and tyranny. 

There is nothing to understand, no understanding to be taught. America is a free country with guaranteed unalienable rights. You don’t have to like it. You do have to respect, protect, and defend it. We, all of us, have a duty and obligation to protect and defend any and all that express their views through any medium. We have a right to criticize, not censor. 

Some express irresponsible or truly abhorrent opinions, beliefs, and positions. So be it. Criticize all you want but respect their right to say, express, or believe what they want. Express your respect while criticizing them too. Remember, those people may think your thinking is abhorrent or irresponsible. 

If we, individually, and as a nation do not stand up for our rights we will have no rights to stand up for. Remember, “First they came for the…” 

One last thing. Last year Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine, was temporarily shut down after their offices were firebombed by Muslims insulted by publication of pictures depicting the Prophet in a comic fashion. They are now set to publish several cartoons of Mohammed guaranteed to inflame the militant passions of the true believers in the religion of peace. Though the French government criticized this decision and they provided security around the magazine’s Paris offices. 

“The magazine has defended the move by invoking the right to free speech. Speaking on French radio, the magazine’s director explained that a decision not to publish would “hand victory to a handful of extremists that are causing a commotion in the world and in France.”  (ABC News) 

Our media and government should be so bold. 

Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur.  He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys.  His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. 




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Peter Bella

Peter Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance photographer, freelance writer, budding videographer, and passionate cook.  He aims to be the sharp stick that pokes and annoys.  The Middle Class Guy is a political column written from a center-right point of view.  While concentrating mainly on politics he will stray into culture, entertainment, sports, cooking, and humor from time to time, along with Memories of things Pabst.  All from a middle class perspective.

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