Sending bad signals
Google should not have taken down an offensive YouTube video even after it led to violence in the Middle East
In addition to the senseless attack on the United States Embassy in Libya that resulted in the death of four U.S. citizens, religious
protesters stormed the embassies in Egypt and Yemen in response to a video that insults the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The video, which can be viewed on YouTube, is an amateur production titled “The Innocence of Muslims” that characterizes Mohammad as a womanizer, among other things. The violent reaction to the video resulted in YouTube’s owner, Google, blocking access to the video in Libya and Egypt in a slightly controversial act of censorship.
Google no doubt censored the video in those two nations as a way to dispel the violence. And in some people’s minds, that was probably the right thing to do. The video has kindled widespread anti-American sentiment and has led to attacks on the U.S. that resulted in the deaths of American citizens, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. So, in response to the outrage over the YouTube video, taking away the source of the violence in the most agitated countries seems like a wise move. Google, however, should not have censored the video in those two nations, and it should not censor the video at any time in the future. Doing so publicly displays to the world that Google will abandon the upholding of free speech in response to religiously fueled hatred. The problem was not the video itself. Rather, it was those who felt that violence was the necessary form of protest.
It is worth making the distinction that those who attacked the embassies are part of an especially intolerant subpopulation. There are countless people in Libya, Egypt and Yemen — many of whom perhaps found the video insulting — who recognize that the actions taken against the U.S. were abhorrent. Nevertheless, it is upsetting how sensitive a subject religion can be. Even in the U.S., where freedom of speech is ingrained into the culture, it is at times still considered taboo to do something that another person may find religiously offensive, even if there is no malicious intent. As an example, many American religious leaders of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths have condemned the video as a spiteful attack on religion, and something that even free speech cannot tolerate.
Why, though, is this one video so particularly inflammatory? Nothing about the video exhibits that it is especially nasty or malicious. If one watches the video, he can see that it is a shoddily made creation in which there appears to be no ulterior motive other than poking fun at Islam. The video could be likened to a Monty Python-esque production, albeit a very poorly acted one. Such videos are not at all foreign to the Internet. It is easy to search YouTube and find other videos questioning, denouncing or parodying other religions in ways that could be considered just as controversial as this video on Islam. In today’s society, in fact, it is commonplace to see videos directed toward other people or institutions that are even more degrading. For instance, in the current presidential race, parodies and caricatures of the candidates are ubiquitous. From pictures of President Obama with a Hitler mustache or the slogan “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing its idiot,” to ads claiming that Mitt Romney was responsible for the death of a steel mill worker’s wife, current campaign techniques can reach levels of insult that are akin or worse than what was portrayed in this video. Nonetheless, because they do not touch upon religion, they are more socially accepted. Religion should be able to endure the same amount of ridicule without inciting uprisings.
It seems a reasonable conclusion that if no violence had erupted in Libya, Egypt or Yemen, the video would not have been denounced so vehemently. But because American citizens died and because there was such a negative reaction to the video, it can be considered a terrible affront to religion. Yet the blame is unfairly being placed on the video. The real wrongdoers were those who were so unwilling to hear dissenting views on their religion that they felt the need to incite violence. The attacks on the U.S. embassies, which were indisputably heinous, were not a reasonable reaction to that YouTube video. And they were certainly not justified by the video’s subject matter. The video was made in the U.S., but the violence was not any American’s fault. In reality, it was solely instigated by religious fanatics who had a ridiculously negative reaction.
Google should remember the people who did not brutally revolt. It should not censor the video, even in the face of those who embraced violence. Doing so advertises that a sufficiently aggressive reaction is what it takes to suppress people’s exposure to opposing ideas. The violence in Libya, Egypt and Yemen should not ultimately reflect that those who attacked the American embassies were somehow vindicated. Google needs to stand strong and declare its commitment to free speech. In the wake of so much violence, hopefully these incidences can serve to remind the world of the dangers posed by religious ignorance. Everyone who sees the video has a right to his own personal feelings about it, but nobody has the right to demonstrate his distaste to others through violence and destruction.
_Alex Yahanda is a senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily.
He can be reached at email@example.com._