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YouTube video: Is freedom of speech above religion?

A controversial YouTube video showing the Prophet Muhammed in offensive light was circulated in the internet and it sparked off a wide range of protests in many of the Islamic countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, including India. It was also sighted as one of the reasons for the violent attack on the US embassy at Benghazi, Libya killing the US ambassador posted there. The film has been blocked in several countries including parts of India after YouTube refused to pull down the video from their site.

"Whether you can call it a protest is a matter of debate. It comprised of multiple groups with multiple problems and it was a culmination of all those. There were several groups of people protesting who had little idea of what they stood for but in movements like these it is a good way to make your presence felt," noted sociologist Ashis Nandy told CNN-IBN.

Violent protests were sparked by anti-Islam video. AFP

The protests sparked off by the video was also due to an internal set of grievances arising from countries were governments were failing on most counts, said Financial Times' Mumbai correspondent James Crabtree. He also argued that one should exercise restraint while depicting religious figures who were part of a larger religious identity. But that should not be extended to writers like Salman Rushdie who were only promoting freedom of speech, he added.

However, Amir Raza Hussain, noted theatre personality said, "Freedom of speech should stop when you begin criticising religion. That is because in this part of the world we are more deeply rooted in religion."

Ashish Nandy however emphasised that God was never held above speech in literature and art in the East. He said, "Throughout our history both Hindu and Muslim gods have been questioned in literature. There is no dearth of literature where there is evidence of a dialogue with God."

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