On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, riots broke out in Egypt and Libya. These riots culminated in the storming of two U.S. embassies by protesters, leading to the deaths of five Americans. Since then there have been demonstrations in over 20 other Islamic countries.
What was the cause of this explosive backlash? Surprisingly, only a trailer for a low-budget amateur film ironically titled “The Innocence of Muslims.” The film portrays the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, child molester, and murderer.
Many Americans may be confused by these attacks. After all, it was a film produced by private American citizens which the American government has in no way supported. However, the government’s lack of censorship is being seen by many as a tacit endorsement. Leila Fadel, NPR’s Cairo bureau chief, reports that even the Egyptian government has called for legal action to be taken against the producers of the film.
While this may sound absurd to many Americans, the production of such a video would likely lead to jail time in many countries around the world, even western democracies like the United Kingdom or France. Both countries (and many others) have laws which restrict hate speech, speech which is inflammatory or insulting and targets a group based on disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. A recent example of hate speech laws in effect was the temporary jailing of a 17-year-old British boy after he harassed Olympic diver Tom Daley via Twitter.
President Obama condemned the video during a speech at the 2012 United Nations General Assembly. According to Obama the video wasn’t banned because of the Constitution’s guaranteed right to practice free speech.
“As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so,” he said.
Hate speech is still considered protected speech under the First Amendment aside from the usual exceptions, such as defamation, incitement to riot, and fighting words.
This has caused some backlash on college campuses across the country, many of which have begun instituting anti-harassment or safe-space codes banning hate speech.
SPSCC has not gone quite so far yet but has implemented a Safe Zone program that provides students with help who experience criminal or noncriminal acts of bias according to Eileen Yoshina, director of diversity and equity.
“Students may hear a slur used that is offensive to them, and that’s not necessarily a crime if it’s not directed at them in a threatening manner,” said Yoshina.
First Amendment events put on by non college groups are limited to areas outside of buildings 31, 32, and 33 and also outside of buildings 27, 28, and when construction is complete, Building 22. Any other places on campus are not open for non college groups to express their freedom of speech and they must talk to SPSCC security 48 hours in advance to the event.
They also must submit a list of information pertaining to the purpose of the event, the number of people involved and primary contact information for the representative may it be a person or organization.