The highly prized freedom of speech came with the cost of an American Ambassador’s life. On Monday night, Muslim radicals attacked the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of the State Department staff. Subsequent investigation of the incident has uncovered that the coordinated attack was launched to coincide with the rioting at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. The Egyptian protest was spurred by a highly anti-Islamic film trailer posted on YouTube.
In light of the violent protests against the video in the Middle East, Google made the decision to temporarily restrict access to the clip for users in Libya and Egypt. The Afghanistan government also blocked access to YouTube for a period of time. The video that has sparked this international firestorm is a low-budget, extremely critical film that depicts prophet Muhammad as a fraud. Although no one here in the United States would deny the filmmaker’s right to stating his opinions, the highly intolerant tone has met with criticism.
As of this morning, the anti-American furor continues to spread to Tunisia and Yemen. Protesters are throwing rocks, climbing the walls of the U.S. Embassy, and burning American flags. Although the video might have been the initial catalyst for the Egyptian protest, the continued violence may be more closely tied to the September 11 anniversary.
The ramifications of such a highly charged controversy are far reaching. Even Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who has always supported freedom of expression on the Internet, has backtracked a little on that opinion. Yesterday, she commented that the United States “deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
Where can we safely draw the line between free expression and tolerance of the beliefs of others? More importantly, who would be the arbiter of that line? Would we continue to let individual users sensor themselves? Should service providers like Google amend their user policy in light of this incident? Only time can tell.