Religious Tolerance, Freedom of Speech, and One Big Mess in the Middle East

Posted on September 15, 2012 by


Anti-American protesters burn an American flag in the streets after the release of an anti-Muslim film

Outrage has spread throughout the Arab communities over a United States made, 14 minute YouTube video insulting Islam and their founder, the Prophet Muhammed. Mobs of protesters have flocked to the embassies in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen to show their  displeasure with the film and with America in general. On Tuesday, peaceful protesters turned violent when they killed the American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats in the parking lot of the embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

The film that sparked this anger and violence throughout the Middle East was made by American, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, of California. Nakoula, who went by the alias of “Sam Bacile” on youtube, created a film titled “Innocence of Muslims” which portrayed the prophet Muhammed as a buffoonish caricature of the prophet and also included a satirical version of his life and teachings. The film plays out the stereotypes of Muslims as being terrorists and twists the prophets teachings into offensive scenes that make the religion look like a selfish, neanderthal-like practice. The film, which was posted in July in English but within the last week was translated into Arabic, has sparked conflict in areas that are already sensitive to conflict due to recent wars and struggles in government (Yemen, Egypt, Libya).

So, how exactly does one video create such chaos and violence? In order to understand the magnitude of this we have to take a look at the recent history of some of these countries. First off, in general in the Islam religion, it is completely unacceptable to portray any image of the prophet of Muhammed. This is a huge no no. Secondly, Libya, where the riots started, recently (February, 2011) has overcome a civil war over human rights and the overthrow of their leader and dictator Muammar Gaddafi. This was less than a year ago. A nation that is rebuilding itself is going to be sensitive to religious prejudice and intolerance, especially by an American filmmaker. Historically, Muslims and Americans have had trouble getting along. On September 11, 2001, Muslim terrorists hijacked two commercial airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers in New York City. Since the riots began just one day before the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks (September 10th), I would have to wonder if this video motivated already angry Muslims to retaliate on a date that we as Americans are still very sensitive to.

Riots break out at the US embassies in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen

I have no sympathy for the maker of this film and am disgusted at the type of religious intolerance that he displays, but this film does bring up the point of freedom of speech. The first amendment of our constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”. In interpretation of this amendment, Nakoula does have the right to make such a video as this. But it isn’t necessarily the smartest thing to post on YouTube. Nakoula presented this video in a way that is offensive to those who practice Islam and created unwanted tension in an already fragile nation.

There is no question that this film has created greater tensions and will bring about more protests and violence throughout the Middle East. The purpose of this film, I believe, was not for entertainment but was made to insult a religion and portray the authors own selfish beliefs about something that he is intolerant to.


Posted in: Hinduism, Islam