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. Bootyfunk

    "I may not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
    - Voltaire

    this is an attack on free speech. just because you think something is sacred, doesn't mean i have to. my words aren't hurting you. you don't have to listen. it is WRONG to murder someone because you disagree with what they're saying. if we become scared to speak our minds, they win.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  2. Muslim

    what is the name of the movie ??????

    September 13, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • doughnuts

      It was called "Mohammad: Caravan Raider, Womanizer, Child-Molester." Then they changed it to "The Truth."

      Both are accurate.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  3. Leo

    This was a planned attack to mark the anniversary of 9/11. The video is a smoke screen!! Wake up!!

    September 13, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  4. Rebel4Christ

    We shouldn't have to appologize to the Muslims!! There are anti Christian movies all the time, you don't see the majority of Christians getting up and starting a revolution!

    September 13, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • jimbobbeebob

      Just want to say...I AGREE!!! Geez I feel like they get upset all the time

      September 13, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  5. Brian

    If you ban free speech against Islam then Christians and others will feel justified in killing people as well when they are disrespected and insulted. If you ban free speech because of violence then it will prove that violence is the way to go and it works. If you want to ban free speech, you are a coward.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  6. AvdBerg

    The Ambassador’s killing in Libya was a culmination of the rising tensions and deep-rooted hatred amongst civilizations in a divided world (Matthew 12:26). For a better understanding of the history of Islam and the Middle East we invite you to read the articles ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’, ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Joe

      Keep on reporting abuse on AvdBerg spam.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  7. Inquiring minds want to know . . .

    Okay, if Allah appears in toast like Jesus like to do, do they kill the baker?

    September 13, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Joe

      And what happens if you eat that thing? With butter and jam or honey?

      September 13, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  8. Mohoward Curlyque Larryfine no-Shempel

    Freedom thing good is. Freedom gots you speak naughty of Mohammed buddy Allah guy. Freedoms us gots go BANG turn you glop into.

    All free. Free good. Free to obey, or free to miserable die.

    Allah loves.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  9. lindy5576

    Egypt and Libya have no problem mocking jews and christians on tv..

    September 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  10. donner

    Wow. so an American Jew makes a video that he knows will set off the Middle East. And gets 4 Americans killed. This wouldn't have anything to do with the election, would it?? The roads and schools in my town are crumbling. Sure would be nice to see the billions we give to Egypt and Israel back here at home solving OUR problems.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • doughnuts

      Since the film was made and posted to YouTube in 2011, it is doubtful.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  11. Reality


    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi--–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Reality

      For those who are reading-challenged:



      September 12, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Repeated hinduism absurdity of a hindu, lair.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Islam is a moon god cult. http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/islam.htm

      September 13, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Reality

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on religion to include Mormonism:

      • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore HINDUISM fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      September 13, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  12. Steve

    Free speech is a right that comes with responsibility, but silencing everything that offends people even slightly results in an oppressed society. If everyone learned to be a little more tolerant of others' viewpoints of them, there would be no need for this continuous cycle of protests and violence on both sides.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Commojoe

      True, but you're dealing with backward, hateful, extremists, so there is no rationalizing with them

      September 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      only by point of view of a hindu, uncivilized,

      September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • doughnuts

      But enough about the GOP, Commojoe. *ba-dum CHING!*

      September 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  13. Iqbal Khan


    September 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  14. Ting

    So, what are the chances that the majority of humans on this planet will ever agree that all religions are man-made and that none of the gods exist? Will it happen in 50 years? 100 years? Will it happen before the human race becomes extinct?

    September 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      well its based on how fare wee drift away from nature. their more we view the world as mechanical the more we stop feeling the longing to of nature, this will cause us to lose our sense of importance in nature it self. you see Atheism is vary much caused by Monotheism, buy leading us away from the animist perspective,..how ever their is good news because animism and atheistism can coexist together just look at the ecosist they are atheist who believe the nature is sacred, that it is alive but not conscience, eventual the entire human race will return to the pagan roots, of revering the nature and not a sky god who sits above nature, this is false nature created gods

      September 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  15. Iqbal Khan


    September 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  16. Drink my Kool-aid

    Hilarious Mohammed cartoon, no spam

    September 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  17. Sam Yaza

    f4ck it! just

    their the secret of why we are all here, yes the truth is reviled,

    there is your answer that plus 42

    September 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  18. Sam Yaza

    cant you see the parallels Christians, you are the same as the Muslims

    September 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • n

      bullcrap. stop being a moron.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  19. Iqbal Khan

    Destroying The World In War
    The 11th Anniversary of 9/11

    By Paul Craig Roberts

    You only have to know two things. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article32421.htm

    September 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  20. Islam: The religion that goes BANG! ! ! ! !

    Hello and welcome to the middle of your life. We Muslims are loving and giving, and want you to embrace the happy and most faithy wonderfulnessyness of Islam.

    You can be like Cat Stevens and change your name to exciting mystical-sounded names like Akhmed Halal Mohammedwank al-Cheetos, which sounds so romantic but actually translates to "My harem is nothing but goats." All of our names translate badly, so we don't tell you that part. Anyway, what I want to say . . .


    Ooops, my bomb robe went off prematurely. It happens. As the magnificent and perfect Quran says, "If Allah wills it, it will explode."

    ANyway, as I was saying, we are just exploding with new opportunities, and always have a position opening up . . . BANG!!!! See? There's one now, and Abdul is on his way to his promised 72 goat-virgins.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Mantra

      Islam and moslems do not deserve any help on earth. Look what they do when you help them. Islam is a mad dog.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      True picture of hinduism, denial of truth absolute by a hindu, ignorant of hindu dark ages.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
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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.