By Bruce Gorton
17 September, 2012
One of the things that struck me following the story of the protests around ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ – was that the protesters didn’t quite understand freedom.
The movie trailer itself is awful – it demonstrates the core truth that the American rightwing more often than not is just not funny, because being funny requires having some empathy.
Empathy isn’t the strong suit of a bunch of people who seem to figure that providing healthcare for the poor is tantamount to sending rich people to the gulag.
And of course the hiring practices used to make the movie were suspect, with the actors claiming they were lied to about the script and that the anti-Islam stuff was dubbed in by the film makers.
The film makers meanwhile are quite sketchy themselves. One of the film-makers is suspected to be a bank fraudster, and the movie may have violated his parole.
If he goes back to prison, it won’t be because of the content of the movie but the means he had to resort to, to make it.
That he had to resort to such means really should tell anybody who is seriously offended by the messages of the movies something; this was not the expression of popular sentiment in the US.
So should it be sparking riots? No. The thing about freedom is that you have the right to do things other people may disagree with.
That you have the right to do it, doesn’t mean you are right to do it, but it does mean there isn’t a terrible lot the state can do about it.
And the state should not be allowed to do anything about it in this case. We see this by the example set by Egypt – shortly after the movie trailer came out an Egyptian Copt was arrested on the ‘crime’ of atheism.
Now I ask you, even if the guy was an atheist, should the fact that he disagreed with the religion of his neighbours mean he should be arrested? I say no, not simply because I am atheist, but because there is only one freedom that stands at the heart of all the others.
That most fundamental freedom is the right to disagree. Blasphemy laws by their nature take that right away – and it isn’t just for us atheists that this is a cause for concern.
Sooner or later you always get the case of the fourteen year old Christian girl with down’s syndrome being accused of burning pages of the Koran by a local cleric.
Sooner or later you always have a journalist being deported to face a possible death penalty for tweeting “blasphemy”.
And sooner or later, you get some politicians using that something being offensive is enough to ban it, to arrest people over protest cartoons, because you see politicians almost always seem to believe themselves to be like gods.
The flipside of freedom is that some awful things get made – like that movie – and that means that when such awful things get made there is no real recourse to the law on the basis of them being awful. Rioting against America, achieves nothing.
Rioting simply made the film-makers’ point for him, it was the most stirring endorsement of what was a terrible movie by terrible people possible. This is the Streisand effect – the greater the response to something like that, the greater the interest in it.
We talk of concerts sparking riots with admiration, and to heap that kind of admiration on that dreck? It almost looks like the rioters approve the message of that hate-filled mess they set out to confirm it so thoroughly.
The better response would have been to have created a counter-movie, after all with so many people clearly feeling passionate about it; such a movie wouldn’t have to lie to get actors.
But it is clear those protesters don’t understand freedom. Malaysia is so alienated from the concept of freedom that it accused YouTube of insensitivity – as if YouTube commissioned the trailer.
YouTube doesn’t work that way – what goes on YouTube is mostly made by YouTube subscribers. It offers a venue for relatively free expression, and that means there is some seriously offensive stuff on there. That stuff does not reflect the views of YouTube.
I cannot hold YouTube accountable for all of the creationist and conspiracy theory nonsense it has on it, because that is not YouTube; that is whoever is uploading creationist and conspiracy theory nonsense.
And the same goes for America - America doesn't commission this stuff, it doesn't approve this stuff, it simply is a venue where this stuff can be made.
And it is disturbing that Islamic states are so far removed from freedom, that they cannot quite process this concept. It is disturbing that the assumption of state censorship is so ingrained, that a movie made by a California conman can result in people attacking US embassies.