Violent protests continued Monday in the wake of an online film trailer considered insulting to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Dozens of Afghan police officers were injured in clashes, at least one person died and several buildings were torched in northwest Pakistan and Hizballah called for a major demonstration in Lebanon.
Google has announced that it will not pull the video, "The Innocence of Muslims," from YouTube, despite a White House request to see if the video violated any policies against hate speech. The video is "clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube," a statement said.
The White House involvement triggered criticism from free speech advocates.
"I am actually kind of distressed by this," Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Politico. "Even though there are all these great quotes from inside the White House saying they support free speech....by calling YouTube from the White House, they were sending a message no matter how much they say we don't want them to take it down, when the White House calls and asks you to review it, it sends a message and has a certain chilling effect."
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy noted this isn't the first time the Obama administration wavered in its commitment to the First Amendment. It has worked with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation on blasphemy resolutions, even hosting an event this year called a "High Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance." It included a resolution that does not "criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence."
McCarthy called that a smokescreen because soliciting violence "is already criminal and has always been exempted from First Amendment protection. There is no need for more law about that … The First Amendment permits us to criticize in a way that may provoke hostility — it would be unconstitutional to suppress that regardless of whether the law purporting to do so was civil, as opposed to criminal."
Rather, the policy allows public pressure to suppress controversial speech, "effectively saying it is perfectly appropriate to employ extra-legal forms of intimidation to suppress speech that 'we abhor,'" McCarthy wrote.
In this case, the administration "endorses extortionate 'peer pressure' and 'shaming,' but condemns constitutionally protected speech."
That's all too often a Western response, echoed Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a Daily Beast column Monday. Pointing to the 1989 fatwa against author Salman Rushdie and her own experiences as a critic of Islam, Hirsi Ali described "the utterly incoherent tendency to simultaneously defend free speech—and to condemn its results."
Those waging violent protests value religious icons more than life, she wrote. But sounding an optimistic note, she predicted the eventual marginalization and defeat of radical Islamist fury after newly empowered governments fail to deliver on a better life for their people.
"We must be patient," Hirsi Ali wrote. "America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by helping find and develop an alternative. At the heart of that alternative are the ideals of the rule of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression. For these values there can and should be no apologies, no groveling, no hesitation."