YouTube, Religious Tolerance, and Internet Freedom

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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.

Michelle Stinson Ross

Michelle Stinson Ross

Content & Outreach Goddess at AuthorityLabs
Michelle Stinson Ross is a digital marketing industry recognized authority on the outreach power of social media. She has worked as a community manager and... Read Full Bio
Michelle Stinson Ross
Michelle Stinson Ross
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  • Ima Fraid

    I’m resentful that these radical Muslim militants have claimed for themselves the right to kill anyone who offends them.

    Death if you offend me!

    What kind of “peaceful” religeon tolerates this violence in its name?

  • Mike

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

  • josos

    if there would be riot going on in western countries every time someone in Arab countries burn the flag of some western country or makes fun of westerners, we would be in deep deep…! Luckily only Arabs are allowed to offend like that.

  • Alan

    The roots of these violent protest lies deep within the religious teaching and goes beyond the essence of the religion. The primary problem is there are cultures out there that condone violent responses to action that offend them. This is not limited to the Arab world or Muslim religion., but the 2 have added to the problem as their shear numbers. Imagine that if only (I don’t know the actual numbers) 1 in 100 Muslims is a “fanatical” extreme believer and that only 1 in 100 of those is prone to violent responses. Now consider there are over 1 billion Muslims in the world. That creates over 100,000 people prone to violent response. Not far off from the demonstrations we’ve seen around the world.

    Now consider the primary well rooted teaching of Judaism, Christianity, Buddism, Hinduism, etc. were the preservation of all human life (not that just of members of the same faith) is paramount.

    Now remember back a few years when the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released. Many Christian groups were offended. What did they do? Did they threaten to kill the actors in the movie, it’s director or the producers? Of course note. They wrote letters to newspapers, staged protests at movie theaters and got their voices heard.

    And when an extremist from these other religious groups acts out in a violent manner to defend their personal believe (ie shooting & killing doctors who perform abortions – it has happened) our society doesn’t condone their actions nor does it try to appease the group their affiliated with.

    So why is the world now trying to appease the Muslim community? Yes were offended by the movie, but we don’t live in the middle ages or even the American wild west of the 19th century where a wrong glaze could get you in a dual for your life.

    It’s time for all religious groups to yes respect each other and that comes with tolerance and the ability to openly discuss differences in believes and the ability respond to things that offend us with intelligence and intellectual responses and not violent responses.