The line between free speech, hate speech: hard to draw in US, elsewhere
Published: October 26, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The line between free speech and hate speech is a thin one, and not always as straight as one would like it to be. There is no free-speech protection for the person who yells "fire" in a crowded theater, but the issue gets complicated when religion is thrown into the mix. A case in point is the firestorm that erupted over the posting on YouTube of a 14-minute trailer for a video called "Innocence of Muslims," considered by many Muslims to defame Islam and its founder, Mohammed. The video sparked violent protests throughout the Muslim world, many targeting U.S. embassies and consulates. Initially, outrage over the video was even linked to a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed J. Christopher Stephens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others, but U.S. intelligence reports said later that assault was planned before release of the video. During an Oct. 22 symposium held at the U.S. Institute of Peace and co-sponsored by the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, panelists discussed the tensions between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. "What you saw was a reaction that turned into a global scale," said Manal Omar, director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa programs for the U.S. Institute of Peace, about "Innocence of Muslims." Muslims in the region were skeptical at the lack of response by U.S. elected officials to the video, she said. Because of their experience under authoritarian leaders, she added, many expected President Barack Obama to "tell YouTube to pull the video," which was privately produced. Muslims also complain of a "double standard" in that "you can limit Al Jazeera (the pan-Arab news channel) but you can't limit this?" in the mistaken belief that the U.S. government can dictate the content of cable systems' channel lineups. Muslims fume, too, that "anti-Semitic comments" are dealt with more sharply than anti-Muslim ones, according to Omar.
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