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.

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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."

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"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. Muslim

    Koran says fight with your enemies with your full strength but if your enemies try to make peace with you then accompany them to a safe place...

    September 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • CW

      and then what? Kill them in secret?

      September 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  2. Rahul_the_Waffle

    The film should be protected by free speech as is appropriate. That is not an issue for me. The issue seems to be the film as a potential national security threat or a flashpoint.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Cq

      One is not free to yell FIRE! in a crowded theatre just for fun, so why is this any different? The film maker may think Muslims should react differently, but he must have known that they wouldn't, right?

      September 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  3. Muslim

    Mr porter....where does islam justify killing of a non muslim????????atle you cite any quotation from koran....On the contrary Its written in our holy koran that IF YOU KILL ONE INNOCENT BEING IT IS AS IF YOU HAVE KILLED THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY.........its true that there are many battles associated with islamic literature but understanding there context is important..muslims fought only because they were subjected to oppression.....and verily even a merest logical brain would agree to it

    September 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Cq

      So, while the rioters probably see the film as an opression and those responsible as not being innocent, they have no religious right to attack any other American just because they're a handy target, right?

      September 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Saddam

    I guess all this violence proves the film was accurate and depicted everything correctly.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Cq

      No, it only proves that Muslims over there are extremely sensitive to harsh criticisms of Muhammad. If someone were to make a film depicting Jesus as just a con man, and Christians protested it, would that prove that the film must have offended because of it's truth? People do get offended by lies, do they not?

      September 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  5. CNN Sucks

    Muslims will just have to grow up like that the more civilized religions of the world.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Cq

      Like how Christians let atheists put up billboards, and Muslims build mosques where they like without a fuss I suppose?

      September 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  6. Muslim

    Mr steven porter your knowledge about islam needs a recheck....It seems you have read an anti islamic book and imbibed its biased and erroneous conclusions.........

    September 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  7. Muslim

    Mr steven porter your knowledge about islam needs a recheck....It seems you have read an anti islamic book and imbibed its biased and erroneous conclusions....

    September 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  8. Concerned

    Free speech comes with a responsibility. It is about intelligent discussion. We need to start dealing with the people that abuse the right and jeopardize our foreign policy. In today's world, with the ability to disseminate this information so quickly and so far, it is dangerous. It destabilizes our world and its economies. The people that made this film knew that it would cause a dangerous reaction. Because they knew what they were doing: they should be held accountable. As far as I am concerned, they are responsible for the deaths.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • FreeSpeechwithCommonSense?

      I agree 100% with concerned.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • nojusticed

      So you suggest speech still be free, but with consequences? We have been down that road and it does not work. The only consequences should be on those who performed the violence and blame someone else for opening that door with words. We must protect these rights to the fullest extent and if it upsets some people than so be it, we will have to achieve peace in acceptance from both sides equally, until then this is a step towards that not a step back.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Cq

      So, you don't think we've ever been able to prosecute someone for inciting a riot, or for endangering people by yelling something like FIRE in a crowded place just for fun?

      September 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • FreeSpeechwithCommonSense?

      Nojusticed: I don't think it's practical for us to enforce our right to free speech globally. We now live in a world where as Americans, we are unwelcome in a large number of countries. Sam Bacile (name?) and others like him do not speak for me. And I shouldn't have to pay for his right to free speech with my safety. The four dead diplomats should not have had to suffer that either. The luxury of free speech is very expensive. Men like this film maker raise the cost.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • CW

      Hey it worked for Stalin. Let's try it!

      September 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  9. Nick

    All this violence is an example of the extent of power inculcated by contrasts in religion to hamanity......Free speech is always free but DO NOT Be naive nor ignorant that what we say is always ok to everyone. We are different people, shaped by diferent history, culture, demographic, beliefs, and infividually minds...We will always be different. Unfortunately, some are happier to life their life in the past and some live now and some live in the future. In the end, we are just like the other beings, animals, and the rest that biologically live in this world, we fight for existence and dominance and one way to strive is to use religion as a tool.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  10. RobTer

    As a deeply devout Christian I watched the full video and found it offensive. Not offensive to Christianity but offensive that people who supposedly are Christian would produce such trash.

    Jesus Christ said 'love' your enemies, not mock them. That video is specifically designed to mock Islam and that type of mockery does not come from Christian love but human frailty. I feel ashamed that someone I should call my brother (and sister) in Christ would do something this banal.

    Muslims have their extremists who misappropriate Islamic teachings for their own twisted egos. So does Christianity have people like that also, and this video proves it.

    As a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ I apologize to Muslims everywhere who are offended by my brothers foolishness. Please take it as the stupid act it is and pity the producers of the video rather than take out your angst against innocent people who not only had nothing to do with the video but feel it was wrong also.

    We (Christians and Muslims) may never agree when it comes to religion but at least we can try to live peacefully together while on this earth. Both the Bible and the Quran espouse this ideal.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      Jesus is not real.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Coflyboy

      To DinkMyKoolAid- Just like you have the right to Not believe in Jesus, other have a right to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Just like you would be offended if someone pushed religion on you, others will be offended if you push your non-religious beliefs on them. Your comment did not help the disparity between believers and non-believers and should be withdrawn.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • nojusticed

      Who said anything about the people who made the video were christian? Its bigger than that.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Jim

      You have to admit that all of the threats of Koran burning and all of the opposition to mosques being built at the world trade center and in the south comes from fundies? No one else seems to hate Muslims more in the USA so it's a pretty good bet that this film came from one if them.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  11. El Toucan

    The brain behind this mess should face criminal charges. " The respect to others Peoples right's, is the Peace."

    September 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • CW

      Agree. The perpetrators in Libya should be brought to justice. Finally someone gets it....

      September 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  12. MAC-G

    If someone was to write an article on the holocaust and deny it – They would be in prison for racial hatred
    Anti-semantic comments – So why does this not work when people say stuff about Islam? Or other religions? Double standards –
    There is no such thing as freedom of speech – people in power will always censor what they want

    September 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Ben Cote

      Not in the United States. Holocaust denial protected speech.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • sensor

      Bogus. We let Irans preisdent come over and do just that. We boo'd him but didnt try to kill him for it. US is very tolerant

      September 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Jim

      We couldn't jail the president of Iran because he's a diplomat, but we could jail a citizen for saying what he said if they were judged trying to incite hate.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  13. Nicholas Jenkins

    Freedom of thought, belief and expression is the only protection against tyranny, regardless of the faith of the people involved. These need to be protected exactly and only when everyone else in the world disagrees with the author, such as now. The notion that "hate speech," vulgarity, and heresy (an expression of beliefs) should be excluded from this protection is ALWAYS the first step to eliminating Freedom of thought, belief and expression.

    However, as a society we could shun him, each according to our own conscience.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Steven Porter

      I totally agree with out. There is one point that really comes to the fore however, The movie in question was to depict Islam and Mohammed their prophet as what he truely was. This was done to show radical fundalmentalists th reality of what Islm is really about. Anyone, and I have, that has read the Koran knows that Islam is not a peaceable religion. The facts are in black and white in their own book.
      So is this reaction from the Islamists really so unexpected. I would say that they used this movie as a stepping stone to gain a more respectable appearance with the world and take advantage of our pro-Islamic government body and make inroads into our society. Think about it.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  14. ajkaur

    I am totally shocked by Newt Gigrich's comments. There is a diference between free speech and provocative hateful film. In a civilized world, free speech would consider other people's sensitivities (friends and non-friends). If this film is just free speech, why can't the makers of the film be traced? Each religion and culture has different sensitivities, why can't we respect that? I hope the people who made this film (in addition to the terrorists who actually killed them) be held responsible for the deaths of great four Americans. We just cannot keep hiding behind free speech, need to take responsibility not just to respect others but for our own protection as well.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • derp

      Fvck you!! You backwards animal!!!

      If you don't like the film don't watch it. I find the way your barbaric religion treats women to be offensive. I am so offended that I think I will go kill people at the the embassy of some muslim country.

      See how stupid it is.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Steven Porter

      I believe you have a good point. If we respect freedom of speech and use it with rationality and common sense there would be no disagreement within common circles of discussion that this type of activity would be acceptable. But who is to say what is rational and virtueously common?
      You said yourself that other cultures have differing ways of expressing themselves. nd that those ways may very well be misunderstood. I fully agree with you.
      But look at the Unted Nations. Ths august body strives to implement a comprehensive understanding for human rights within all nations. Thus giving all peoples the rght to lfe and a pursuit to happiness.
      Not so with Islam. Unbelievers can be killed and this action is approved within the most holy book of Islam, the Koran.
      Is this common sense? Is this justice? I say no. I believe that Islamic fundamental belief is nothing but a face with many other faces hidden so the world can be taken into its fold and then indoctrinated into its law. Therefore there is no real
      common good except for Islamic believers under the thumb of fundalmentalist leaders.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  15. HugoCorv

    Was the Da Vinci code hate speech? It was distributed in every country in the world.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • therealhawkman

      Of course it was. Did you not see all those Christians out killing anyone, particularly Muslims, that disagreed with their religion. Maybe several hundred years ago. But they did see the light........so to speak. Muslims never will apparently.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Christian!

      At the point of a gun the USA must force the First amendment upon all nations 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      it is the only way... well maybe the best way ..The first amendment must be broadcast all over the world until they understand what is means ...
      What is means is if your God is God he don't need government necessarily to do what it is that he needs to do..he doesn't need anyone to kill for him.. he can do that himself if he needs someone to die let him do the killing...
      let us take the first amendment and observe what is means and why and marginalize the religious fever from the religious Reich here at the same time.. yes !!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  16. rogermoor

    You guys live in a modern society but let Mr.Bush attack Iraq for weape of mass destruction killing millions and later never prosecuted anyone. You go for a war on Lie, Murdering millions in the name of war. just because you are powerful, your war, your freedom of speech, your right is right!!!!!!! You have different value for south sudan, east tmour and different for Palestine. So Everything depends on power. When you have power your are right what ever you do. when you dont you are wrong!!!!!!!! Thats where the problem lies. When you have double standard on our own value you will continue to have problem. By just policing you cant save life.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  17. stargazer

    I think those from the Muslim faith need to understand is all it is a word, just a word, and if you can see it just as that we would be making more progress. A word should not be attacked with bombs, guns, and violence, one word should be met with another word.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • derp

      Barbarians don't think.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  18. n

    Free Speech. I don't see this outrage for when Southpark portrays Jesus or when people make movies mocking Christians. They can protest how they want, but there is absolutely no excuse for violence. They WANT their so-called Holy War.

    September 13, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Dino

      it seems as i understand u blame the muslims beacuse they mock jesus in southpark.
      let me tell you that jesus is also a prophet to the muslim peopele and they would not make and insults against him what so ever otherwise they are not real musims and the same aplies to the prophet moses and all the other prophets.
      by the way i am a burn muslim but not a beliver.
      i just think that people shuld respect others religous belives and not insult them intensionaly and yes im an atheist.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  19. Jim

    The difference is that people living in Mid East Muslim countries don't have a secular government that would prosecute them for rioting because of religious offense like we have. Our Christiams could be riled up just as violently if they didn't have to worry about getting arrested. There are places still where they can get away with basically illegal stuff because the local law is sympathic. America under Christian Law would be just as bad.

    September 13, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  20. dandandan

    free speech: has a prerequisite; free will; it is an unwritten pillar of western value, we have control of our actions, and are responsible for them. This basic idea of enlightened humanity has failed to penetrate the Arab street. the attackers ( murderers, let’s be clear) should have every right to be upset, every right to scream to the roof tops about how their sensibilities are disgusted; but at the point where that anger manifests itself in violence and murder; they fail a basic test of modern humanity. No excuses, no ‘the dog ate my homework’, Period. the reaction should be, ‘we expect better from our friends, we demand higher standard from those who would be our allies.’ As the president rightly notes “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,”… Well that is the problem, America’s status vis-à-vis too many nations is in limbo.

    September 13, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • sensor

      it just be know if you cross the wall of an embassy, you wont back to the other side. If you fire on an embassy you might not get another chance to explain yourself. Protect our own,, let them burn their own country down.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Steven Porter

      Very rational. To bad we're discussng irrational people.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
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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.