Talking trash


Here’s the first thing you need to know about “The Innocence of Muslims,” the film that has prompted murder, riots and unrest by and amongst Muslims in myriad nations: It is without question one of the most sophomoric, poorly-made, and deliberately insulting pieces of video ever produced. It is the work of imbeciles, and it likely wouldn’t receive a passing grade in a ninth-grader’s movie production class.

Here’s the second thing you need to know about it: It’s in all likelihood protected speech in this country under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The idea that a government wouldn’t restrict this kind of speech is both literally and figuratively a foreign concept to many living in Middle East nations, particularly those dominated by Islamic laws, leaders and parties. 

The recent response to the absurdly amateurish anti-Islam film, whereby United States diplomats were killed at American installations stormed across the globe, proves that point emphatically and tragically. Protesters took to the streets in many countries, crazed by the film which depicted the prophet Mohammed in any number of ways blasphemous to Muslims – heck, just showing his image would be offensive to many who practice Islam, but showing him as a bumbling, fornicating fool certainly raises the stakes. The riots have caused both death and physical destruction, centered in the Middle East but spread as far away as Australia.

Some leaders in countries affected, including Egypt, did little initially to deflect the criticism against the U.S. for the film, choosing instead to ride the popular wave of anti-Western sentiment. Only after some rather stern responses from our nation did foreign leaders, including newly-minted President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, condemn the violence and attempt to steer the hatred even slightly away from the American government.

There’s good evidence that the Libyan assault was a pre-planned affair, linked to the anniversary of 9/11, but that the other flashmobs across the globe resulted from the worldwide posting of the video on the Internet. In many nations, despite variations in speech protection and standards of decency, the film continues to be available via Google and other sources.

The protesting young man on the street in Cairo, fired up by Islamist radicals, may or may not have seen the monstrosity of a film, but assuredly is being told any number of convenient lies associated with this episode. The United States is itself responsible for the film, perhaps; or the United States is an awful, demonic place because it allows such a film to be created and distributed.

The former is a falsehood, the latter a matter of opinion, and one that is central to the ability of civilized society to continue to flourish in a time of pyrotechnic terror from either Islamist or other incendiary groups.

In one corner stands those, both in America and elsewhere, who support the notion that speech, even heinous and disgusting speech, is and should be broadly protected. Even the expression of vulgar, ugly, stereotype-laden stuff, unless it is directly linked to conduct beyond mere utterance, is typically, and often sadly, tolerated. The other corner is occupied by those extremists who would snuff a life without a second’s thought in retaliation to speech that mocks their religious beliefs.

One of the many strengths of the United States, in our opinion, is how far we bend over backwards to keep free speech alive and well, and not punishable by violent retribution. This notwithstanding the efforts by idiots, such as the makers of “The Innocence of Muslims,” to stretch the constitutional protections to the greatest tension that our rubber-banded freedom can take.

Our standard for protection domestically is about as broad as it gets in the world, and by no means does everyone in America agree. When Nazis marched in the Village of Skokie, Illinois several decades ago, there were those in the Jewish world who contended that such a public expression of vileness deserves no quarter whatsoever. Similar thoughts have most certainly been expressed about groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are notorious for picketing military funerals and Jewish events, among others, with anti-gay and anti-Semitic messages.

“The Innocence of Muslims” may have had similarly disturbing origins, as it turns out. The byzantine story of its production reportedly involves a former softcore filmmaker, a Coptic Christian who pleaded no contest to bank fraud, and at least one individual identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as associated with hate organizations. You just couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

The price in allowing this kind of garbage is high, as we’ve seen in the last week. But if we start pulling the lasso tighter around the neck of free speech because hateful Americans and radical foreigners seek retribution, then it’s impossible to say who or what falls next in the procession of limitations.