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September 29, 2012

Violence over film goes much deeper than blasphemy


In some parts of the Muslim world, blasphemy is grounds for a death sentence and any medium expressing it is banned. Look at the case of Salmon Rushdie, whose execution was ordered in 1989 and his book “The Satanic Verses’’ banned in much of the Muslim world.

Likewise, a Pakistani official has offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who executes the makers of the “Innocence of Muslims.’’

The U.S. involvement in the “Arab Spring’’ uprisings last year may have been laid-back and overtly non-aggressive, but to many fundamentalists and nationalists we were meddling. And Obama has vowed to continue to push for democratic reforms where peoples demand them.

The violent attacks in Libya and protests in Egypt and elsewhere after the anti-Islam video surfaced are more than just a reaction to the blasphemy coming from the U.S. A seething resentment was brewing and continues to percolate regarding our Middle East policies and arming of Israel.

Most Muslims are deeply offended by statements that insult Islam and its prophet Muhammad. And such speech is legally banned as blasphemy in many Islamic nations.

And many Muslims just can’t understand why the U.S. government can’t and won’t ban the video and force YouTube to remove it from the Internet. Our First Amendment free-speech protections are alien to many Muslim cultures, which see shielding Islam from blasphemy as more sacred than freedom of expression.

Even many Americans have wondered if the video warrants free-speech protection if it were posted with the intent of inciting violence and deaths.

Our most-famous test case involves the hypothetical person who falsely yells “fire’’ in a crowded theater, resulting in a panic, stampede and injuries. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his opinion in Schenk v. United States, held that such an action would not be protected because there was no fire.

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