No speech is entirely free
There’s a thin but bright line between provocation and inciting hate. Bacile deliberately steps right over it. “You have people essentially shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. They know what’s going to happen,” notes Religion professor Steve Prothero in USA Today. Bacile not only “knew what was coming,” but actively sought to make it happen. He didn’t just cry ‘Fire!’ – he tossed a firebomb into a crowded theatre.
This was not a film about artistic expression, it’s not even pretending to be low satire. It’s been made with the intention to incite violence. Otherwise, Bacile would not have gone to elaborate lengths to deceive even his actors into participating in this sorry piece of work. Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses in the film said she had no idea the film was about the Prophet Muhammad or Islam. The word Muhammad was dubbed over in post-production. “Now we have people dead because of a movie I was in,” she said. “It makes me sick.” The entire cast and crew have issued a statement saying they were “grossly misled” about a film they thought was called Desert Warrior which put out a casting call for “George (Lead) 40-50, Middle Eastern warrior leader, romantic, charismatic.”
No one even knows whether Sam Bacile really exists, whether he is an Israeli Jew or a Coptic Christian or someone else altogether. Klein told Businessweek that the original plan was to call the film The Innocence of Bin Laden.
“Sam had a crew of people passing out fliers around the dangerous mosques in California, trying to get these folks who love Osama Bin Laden who would come to cheer Osama Bin Laden,” Klein said. “But the movie was going to expose all the stuff that Muhammad really did, like murder and pedophilia and stuff like that.”
At its only theatrical showing in Hollywood, the film flopped badly. Klein said he saw “zero – nada, none, no people – go inside” and it left the filmmaker red-faced. But the evil that men do gets a new life on the Internet. And extremists on the other side have been happy to seize upon it for their own ends. It’s obvious the attack on the consulate was not just some spontaneous protest by infuriated Muslims. As K.P. Nayar writes in The Telegraph “spontaneous popular protesters inflamed by religious passions do not go to demonstrations armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.” Nor do they keep careful tabs on exactly the right moment to use their heavy weaponry for maximum effect – when the ambassador entered the building to supervise its evacuation.
“It’s extremists on both sides playing with each other,” Said Sadek, a professor at the American University in Cairo, tells USA Today, “And the victims are usually the moderates and the majority of people.” Nothing justifies a violent response, however hateful the speech. Hate, however, creates its own vicious circle and it needs both sides to complete it. Sam Bacile may think Islam is a “cancer” that needs to be eradicated. But his film only provides aid and comfort to the very extremists he rails against.
As of now, the film has not been banned in the United States — though YouTube and Google have blocked the trailer from viewers in the Middle East. And in a wired world, banning anything is near impossible. As Thomas Fenton writes in the Global Post: “The digital world is too diffuse, too omnipresent, to be effectively muzzled. Censorship per se is not the answer. But a little common sense, perhaps a bit of restraint and even occasionally a smidgeon of self-censorship by the Western media would not be out of place.”