home
RSS
September 12th, 2012
03:11 PM ET

Reaction to anti-Islam film fuels debate on free speech versus hate speech

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - The deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans amid protests against a film that denigrates Islam has sparked global discussion and debate  about whether there is a line between free speech and hate speech and, if so, where it lies.

“They don’t regard perceived insults to the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran as being protected by free speech, they regard it as a capital offense,” says Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, referring to protesters in Libya and Egypt, where the U.S. Embassy was attacked, who were angered by the film.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the movie was made by a real estate developer who wanted to portray Islam as a hateful religion.  The attack on the U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, was orchestrated by extremists who used the protests as a diversion, U.S. sources told CNN Wednesday.

“In some of these cases, the people releasing these films or cartoons are trying to make a statement about free speech, which is fair enough,” says Bergen, referring to the film and other provocative recent depictions of Mohammed, Islam’s founding prophet.

"But in some cases they are deliberately trying to provoke," Bergen says. "The film that is at issue is certainly very provocative, the way it treats the Prophet Mohammed, and people who release these things are being very irresponsible."

Read: Why Muslims are sensitive on Mohammed

Newt Gingrich told CNN Wednesday that the United States should seize on the violence spurred by the film “to teach the Muslim world about freedom,” specifically about freedom of speech.

His remarks, echoed by other conservatives on Wednesday, signaled something of a divide in reaction to developments in Libya and Egypt between the political right, which stressed freedom of speech, and the left, which added condemnation of those behind the anti-Muslim film.

"The horrific attacks in Libya & Egypt are a stark contrast to our American ideals of free speech, civil disagreement," wrote Todd Rokita, a Republican U.S. congressman who is from Indiana, on Twitter.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Gingrich, the former presidential candidate and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said that after the attacks, “We had an opportunity to stand up and say, ‘You know, it is true - some people in the United States might make a film that is totally whacked out.’”

“Sooner or later, we in the modern world have to say to those who are living in a different way, ‘Look, we stand for freedom,’” he said.

Gingrich criticized statements from the U.S. government that he said went too far in condemning and apologizing for the anti-Muslim film.

In a statement on Tuesday morning - before the violence - the U.S. Embassy in Egypt wrote that it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy," the statement continued. "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Some U.S. officials spoke to the tension between U.S. support for free speech and what some have described as the film’s “hate speech,” in reacting to the attacks.

"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” she said. “But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."

Some other political and religious leaders also cited the tension between free speech and what they said was hate speech. "I support #freespeech AND believe this film is hateful," tweeted Eboo Patel, an American Muslim leader based in Chicago. "I stand up for #Islam AND condemn violence of extremist Muslims #fb #responsibility."

Others joined in venting disapproval of both the film and the attacks. "For the record, you can condemn violence in response to hate speech, and you can also condemn hate speech," wrote Jeff Fecke on Twitter. "You don't have to support either."

Some American Muslims said Wednesday that while they support the right of free speech, they believe that the U.S. applies its values selectively in the Muslim world, especially when it comes to military and intelligence operations.

“Freedom of speech falls alongside other freedoms to live and be free from bombs falling on people’s heads and to be free from occupations,” says Omid Safi, religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina, referring to American military and intelligence operations in parts of the Muslim world.

“I will take free speech comments seriously when others take people’s freedom of life and dignity and to be free from occupation just as seriously,” he said.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on the discussion around free speech and hate speech and we'll fold good ones into this post.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Islam • Violence

soundoff (1,088 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    Christians didn't blow up any buildings when a cross suspended in liquid human waste (not quite sure what the filters flag here) was not only declared as art, but given grants and prizes. Sure, there was massive outrage, and attempts to destroy the artwork itself, but I can't remember any RPGs being launched or people killed in the streets.

    Like it or not, people will always hold contrarian views to your own. I find it just as insulting to hear jihadist statements statements as I do the video itself, but both hold the right to say and believe what they want. They DON'T have the right to violence against those they do not agree with, though, and more so than I can blow up a mosque because I find them calling my religion blasphemy.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • gdubb75

      Political correctness to Jeff: "Shut up!"

      September 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Jeff

      Ya, I annoy political correctness about as much as I annoy equal rights....

      September 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  2. John

    While most-of-us abhor hateful speech, the only way to have free speech is to allow all speech. Otherwise groups and government will simply condemn those they disagree with as using "hateful" speech. The recent issue of "gay marriage" is another instance where people should be allowed to voice an opinion (whatever opinion). Failing to protect free-speech we will find the government becoming like the the Indian government who charge Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist, with sedition because... they didn't like the message.
    So I suggest we all grow a little more thick skinned and understand that not everyone will agree with us or even like us (maybe you don't like me or what I am saying) but appreciate that for people to remain free requires we protect everyone's right to speak what they believe.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • rt4y

      I am not sure how you can consider the movie hateful speech. If you do and want it stopped you will have to censor almost every comedian, comedy show in this country. It is and should be taken for what it is. Stupid and a horrible production. But funny how it is labeled as such to try and rationalize how some people are willing to commit horrible crimes in retaliation of it. Let call it what it is. Excuses for criminals to criminal.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  3. Richard Harris

    Why are the Americans attacked and not the Germans or French or anyone else? Probably most adults know that the Americans will weep and moan and even apologize to the attackers. No one respects or fears America anymore.Certainly not
    the Muslims. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of Americans attacked the Libyan or Egyptian embassy? There
    would be international condemnation of "FASCIST AMERICA"! As it is, almost no one will say a word when America is attacked.
    Incidentally,why not name the knucklehead in California who made the film which so antagonized the Muslims?

    September 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • ME II

      @Richard Harris,
      Didn't you just answer you own question? Why Americans? Because the guy who made it was American.
      oh and his name is Sam Bacile

      September 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jeff

      I'm pretty sure there were a few Dutch under police protection over the exact same line of Islamic commentary

      September 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Bobandy

    they are trying to bully US.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  5. *frank*

    Muhammed was a filthy rat.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      Jesus and Mohammad jerk each other off in hell.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Perhaps you don't understand.

      The only filth I see in the U.S. are the Jews and Christians and all other Infidels blind to the teaching of Muhammed. When you learn to maticulate into Islam and the one true and correct life of Islam, we can be brothers in the light of Allah. Soon this earth will be made as one. Muslim and sacred.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Cobra

      ^Perhaps you dont understand blows goats...I have proof.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Infidel

      I spit in your haircut! Son of a biscuit!!

      September 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  6. Drink my Kool-aid

    Religion is retarded.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Libacryte

      ^^^^^ HATE SPEECH, HATE SPEECH – somebody arrest him!!!

      /sarcasm: OFF

      September 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Perhaps you don't understand.

      Unlike you my friend, The Muslim community in this country have respect and reverence for Allah, the one truth. You are so blind you do not see that we must not show the face of Muhammed. Me must not criticize His perfection. Soon we will all be gathered as brothers to rejoice in Him.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      Your fvcking delusional. Zeus is the only real god, all others tremble in his presence.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Bobandy

      im going to produce a comic book about Mohammed enjoying golden showers and stroking off many penises.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • sam

      'Perhaps' has to be a Poe – the true believers never type that well. Too busy being fervent.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Cobra

      Mohammed isn't allowed draw pictures of Chuck Norris and Chuck Norris isn't allowed to draw pictures of Bruce Lee...

      September 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  7. MICHAEL WHITE

    The film made about Islam and its prophet are not hate speech, but offensive speech which has already been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court (remember the U.S. vs. Larry Flint?) and even if it's hate speech, that's allowed too. Because humans have the right to hate. Perhaps people should review John Locke's harm principal. An action is not considered harmful unless it's direct, tangible (actual physical destruction) and other regarding (actual person/s not religion). This film does none.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  8. Perhaps you don't understand.

    It is not permitted to degrade or just the face of Muhammed. Only Allah is to be worshipped. Why are you not persuaded by this central tenent of Islam. Why do you insist on following the lies of the infidel?

    September 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Perhaps you don't understand.

      Also to understand this please. One day this mother earth will be united under Islam. Praise be to Allah.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • perhaps you don't, either.

      Uh...you're not really helping your case, there.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • nope

      Never happen. 🙂

      September 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • ME II

      Too bad the rapture will happen first...

      Oh wait, the Mayan long count ends soon, maybe...

      September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • sam

      I'm still hoping for a well placed asteroid!

      September 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • rt4y

      My friend you dont have to like it, as a matter of fact you dont even need to watch it. However that does not give any person the right to utilize mob style justice over a film that no one will probably even watch. This intolerant approach to things that you disagree in is what gives people who do not understand your religion fuel. If there is infact a alah let him judge, it is not your or any persons place to commit violent acts over a movie of all things. And yes there have been many pictures, skits and shorts made of Jesus in many degrading scenarios.Yet no christians marching on anyone or thing with mayhem or murder on their mind. They react in a civilized manner and ignore it.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Cobra

      I smoked opium with Mohammed in college.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Sailor101

      I we are not mulim and do not follow that religion, then the rules of Islam do not apply to us! How much more simple can it get!

      September 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Mike

    Liberals are ridiculous. Jesus has been dipicted in sit coms and so called art in a very bad light. Liberals celebrated this calling freedom of speech and expression and when an outspoken Christian dare spoke out they were labeled ast being "out of touch" "stupid" and "close minded".

    September 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • what?

      what's your point? Or do you just wander aimlessly crying about liberals?

      September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • gdubb75

      Yes isn't it funny that the ones crying 'tolerance' and 'open-mindedness' are the most closed-minded and judgemental of all?

      September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • what?

      "yuk yuk dem lib-er-alls are bay-ad, yuk yuk."

      September 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • gdubb75

      what?= typical liberal....no substance lots of name calling and stupidity

      September 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • what?

      "Liberull whut I call everryone who don't agree with me yuk yuk."

      September 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • gdubb75

      Liberals are so hot, though....sometimes I wish I wasn't such a redneck.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  10. Dave

    Free Speech????? Wait! You get arrested for yelling "Fire" in a crouded theater. You also get arrested if you start yelling "FU" to a cop. If you say "I have a bomb" in an airport, same thing. If you threaten to snitch on a criminal, you might get killed too. These are all forms of "Free Speech" if you really want to make the argument, but clearly there are limits. Free speech, yes, but inflamatory or hate filled speech is going to cause trouble.... like it or not.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Cobra

      Those are not forms of free speech. Those are forms of intent and direct threats with no intellectual backing or motivation. You sir, FAIL.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Libacryte

      ummm, no, you won't get arrested for yelling F U at a cop. You MIGHT get to meet his night stick, but you won't get arrested.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Libacryte

      also, your other example about "snitching" on a criminal is not relevant, as that is NOT the Gov doling out the punishment. VERY big difference.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • what?

      giant fail

      September 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  11. sendai

    It's remarkable, from what I read, that the problem is not offending someone's feelings about this Prophet Muhammad, but creating an image of him. Images are banned because someone might think to worship them. Allah is to be worshiped, not the Prophet. I fell an almost overwhelming urge to raise a golden idol of this Prophet and invite people to burn offerings to him, and maybe engage in ritualized sex acts with "virgins" dedicated to him.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Muslim

      We all know the limits of free speech but ask yourselves is it worth it, mr sendie the man u r calling this man is the best man who walked on the face of the earth so u can't won't and will never harm him with your words. The only question we Muslims ask is that CNN is an international media and should carefully choose the comments, as for the rest of this young men we call you Jaahiliin .but plis go out to the world and learn more about the world. The young Aisha who he married is his wife and was commanded by God.

      September 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  12. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLrN9PWzB_o&w=640&h=360]

    September 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  13. paul42

    free speech includes the possibility of hate speech. To prevent hate speech either through government censorship, political correctness, or fear of reprisal means that you do not have free speech.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  14. Sandy

    Freedom of speech covers any political statement, regardless of how extremist or distasteful it is. As long as you're not inciting violence, you have a right to state your opinion.

    For Muslim terrorists, there is no difference between any reasonable, based on facts, criticism of their religion, on the one hand, and hateful and provocative statements such as those included in the above mentioned film. Let this be very clear: neither the First Amendment rights, nor any critical discussion of their faith are acceptable to them.
    If you speak against the Prophet, or against ANY of the Quran teachings, you're an enemy of Islam, and you should be ready to pay the price in blood. You may also be guilty by association, just by being a Christian, or a Jew, or an American.

    Those who support freedom of speech should stop creating false dilemmas: there is no excuse for the kind of attacks seen recently in Libya and Egypt – and elsewhere in past years. NO excuse.
    I can join the criticism of crude, deliberately provocative anti-Islamic statements, as long as it's understood that you can't suppress their expression. Using the weapon of criticism against such statements – not any type of violence – is the only civilized, acceptable way of dealing with them.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Dave

      Sandy, as long as everyone is playing by the same rules, then fine, a verbal rebuff is where it ends. In the world we live in, not everyone is playing by the rules you mentioned, so all bets are off. Anger someone enough and you're bound to reap violent consequences.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Tired of this

      Dave, you seem to think that just because they are offended that this makes it okay for them to commit criminal acts.

      You seem to think that they are justified in murdering innocent people and that we should avoid offending them in any way or else their violent actions become OUR fault!

      Well, Dave, you are clearly a fool. No matter how provocative someone might be, those Muslims will always have the choice of doing violence or not doing violence. The choice is theirs no matter the provocation. It is NEVER the fault of the people who supposedly "offended" them. NEVER.

      What they did is indefensible. Just because they use their religion as an excuse and motivation does not make them right in what they did. Murder is murder. Their religion demands they murder innocent people. Their religion is a psychotic religion.

      You cannot put the blame on the guy who made the film. The blame is on the one committing the crime, not the one provoking the crime. Just the same as if an underage girl flirts with you – it is never her fault if you commit the crime – you are the adult and she is not. She is not culpable for your lack of self-control.
      I bet you blame rape victims, too.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Rahul_the_Waffle

      I think what Dave meant was that the previous behavior would have indicated a somewhat violent response from Muslims and that the maker should have expected that, not that the violent response was justified.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  15. Ken from FL

    Sorry, folks, the SCOTUS has already ruled on hate speech. Everyone has the right to be stupid in their speech, unless they act upon it.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  16. George

    First amendment does not protect what this film maker produced. He knowingly and directly caused harm. I am certain there have been many cases in the U.S. history that the court simply and clearly distinguished between free speech and hate speech and has set very heavy sentences for folks who did not care if their words cause harm.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Maya

      The case law says you're wrong.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • CJ

      So when people in the south spoke up for freedom and equal rights for the black race....they were inciting the guys who showed up at night to burn their homes because they knew it would upset the bigots? While I do not consider this guy to be on that level, I did consider some of the material from the Dutch cartoonist to be of that level, especially the one that made the point that Mohammad was weeping over the people bombing in his name. Freedom of speech cannot be stifled because the ignorant will resort to violence to make sure it is their way or else!

      September 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • ME II

      " He knowingly and directly caused harm."
      How so?

      September 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • what?

      George, you fail.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jeff

      Next time anyone says anything bad about meat eaters, I am going on a killing spree.

      Does that now mean that vegans have to shut up? I mean, I made it pretty clear if they use the line "meat is murder" one more time, I am going to cause someone pain.

      No, it means I am crazy and should be locked up? Huh, whats the difference....

      September 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  17. Mike

    Why would Muslims care what an American Jew thinks about Mohammed?

    September 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • what?

      They're pretty short on self-control.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  18. GodOfGods

    you are right meemee- however, US innocents in Egypt and Libya was hit –let me know when more are killed and you have had enough–i'll send down the thunder

    September 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • John

      Nah, keep your fight high in the sky, with Allah. It'll be entertaining for us mere mortals.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  19. Lavergne

    Correct me if I'm wrong. But doesn't Islam preach against violence, suicides etc. etc. If so then all those Islamic extremist and terrorist groups (or whatever they're called) that use suicide bombing are going against their religion, something like that.
    All of this hateful things that goes on in the US makes the rest of us Americans look bad not all of us are like that but soon some people will see us like a bunch of rabid racist beasts that's out for world domination, which wouldn't be the first in case you didn't know for others have tried. Plus the fact people have died cause of this makes it worst.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Christianity preaches against violence too. Yet we had the crusades, and the 30 years war (over which version of christianity to believe) and the like.

      Islam, Judaism, Christianity.. we call them the three judeo christian religions for a reason, they all have the same root. The same root story. And all three have admoniitions for peace, and admonitions to kill the non believer. It all depends on which PART of their holy books you decide to follow.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • John

      Familiar with the word jihad???? If not, why not?

      September 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • JoeSeattle

      Lavergne –

      I'll be glad to correct you. You're dead wrong. The Quran absolutely condones violence for the cause of Islam. But, since the Quran is only as far away as the internet, I'm guessing ignorance is something you've learned to accept.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • ME II

      @JoeSeattle,
      So does the Bible

      September 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Lavergne

      Well thanks for informing me of that. Then again I'm not religious so I'm not very educated of the "ways" of each religion, only the history, minus all the violence being created today cause of religion, it's pretty fascinating.
      As long as there isn't some massive international war started cause of religion etc.etc. in my lifetime I'm happy.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  20. Alam

    There are norms and values in every civilized society and one has to abide by that.Muslims respect Jesus as much as they respect Muhammed (PBUH).Their reaction would be same.Killing American ambasador is not justifiable anyway, since he had nothing to do with it.People who propagate hatred and voilence in the name of freedom of speech should be prosecuted and punished as any other criminals.

    September 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Maya

      Entertainers make jokes about Jesus all the time, but I don't see Muslims having temper tantrums about that.

      September 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • GodOfGods

      you are correct Alam –when Jesus is disrespected in mosques, editorials etc. by Muslim 'scholars' and Imans- i frequently send my followers to muslim-arab countries to kill innocent people-stop it! ..and oh–btw– the disrespect occurs about 12 times a minute–no biggie-right?... grow up- too bad that same passion wasn't exhibited living under Kadafi - we wouldn't have to have freed you....and died for your cause... OR maybe–you really liked it–no decisions, think like a robot–perfect, eh???--don't even bother with a lame response– i have to go with things to do in another more ntelligent universe- good luck-don't hurt yourselves too badly-but i'll be watching

      September 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.