A new argument for censorship?
17 Sep 2012
BY PADRAIG REIDY

Anti-Islam film: Padraig Reidy asks if this time is different from previous blasphemy rows

Freyja Soelberg | Demotix

 Protesters against anti-islamic film at the US Embassy in London (Demotix)

The controversy over “The Innocence Of Muslims” rumbles on, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calling on supporters to demonstrate throughout Lebanon this week.

Has this particular incident been different from previous blasphemy rows? In some ways, yes. Perhaps the most interesting was Google’s removal of the video from YouTube Egypt and Libya, independent of any court order. This should be of real concern to anyone concerned with freedom on the web. While Google-owned YouTube is not the only video sharing site, its dominance is such that it can severely restrict free speech should it wish.

To be fair to Google, it has refused requests to block the film in other jurisdictions. Australian Communications Minister Paul Conroy’s request that YouTube consider removing the video was met with a flat rejection. But Google has now left itself open to more demands to remove material, having set a precedent, no matter how exceptional the circumstances.  As Jillian C York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has written: “…by placing itself in the role of arbiter, Google is now vulnerable to demands from a variety of parties and will have to explain why it sees censorship as the right solution in some cases but not in others.”

This was also the first large scale controversy of this type since the Arab Spring, and many who had been keen to portray the popular uprisings across the Middle East as Islamist coups are using these events as vindication.

Certainly, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, effectively the ruling party, could have handled this much better. Its call for a mass protest on Friday (subsequently recalled as the situation escalated) was inappropriate, and instead the group should have moved to calm the situation, (listen to this BBC radio debate between me and Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Dr Hany Eldeeb) But President Morsi did at least manage to tread the line between criticising the film while condemning the violence.

But if we look at the attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and the US consulate in Libya, it’s clear that these were launched by groups who would have attacked US interests regardless of the film controversy. There’s a certain amount of truth to the claim that there is more to the protests, riots and attacks than blasphemy alone.

For all that is new, this is a sadly familiar pattern. As with the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy, consciously provocative material created in the west was picked by extremists in the Middle East, and used to stoke up anger and anti-Western feeling.

We may now witness the emergence of a new argument for censorship: the traditional hate speech “incitement test” — that there must be a clear link between “words and deeds” — may come under re-examination. Is there a difference between comment published with the intent to incite violence and comment published with the intentional expectation that violence will result?

Padraig Reidy is News Editor at Index on Censorship

15 responses to “A new argument for censorship?”

  1. […] the Innocence of Muslims debacle last year, Google voluntarily blocked the controversial video from YouTube in Egypt and Libya based […]

  2. […] September 2012, the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims shot to infamy after spending the summer as a mercifully obscure video in one of YouTube’s more […]

  3. […] September 2012, the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims shot to infamy after spending the summer as a mercifully obscure video in one of YouTube’s more […]

  4. […] September 2012, the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims shot to infamy after spending the summer as a mercifully obscure video in one of YouTube’s more […]

  5. […] September 2012, the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims shot to infamy after spending the summer as a mercifully obscure video in one of YouTube’s more […]

  6. […] content should be censored or criminalised, as violence in Egypt, Libya and beyond meant many were tempted to argue for the removal of the video from the […]

  7. […] of the Russian Federation filed a lawsuit with Moscow Tver District Court requesting the film Innocence of Muslims be classified as “extremist”.  On 19 September, despite the fact that the case had not even […]

  8. […] about the Innocence of Muslims controversy, I ask Raab if he thinks there’s a propensity to self-censor on controversial topics. He agrees: […]

  9. […] READ: A NEW ARGUMENT FOR CENSORSHIP? Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook Buzz it up share via Reddit Tweet about […]

  10. […] Should content, which is published knowing that violent reactions will follow, be treated similar to content that explicitly incite violence (such as hate speech)? (a similar question was also discussed by Padraig Reidy) […]

  11. […] should YouTube have removed the clip or suppressed it in certain countries? They did precisely this in Egypt, I believe. I think that this might be the most interesting part of the whole affair. On the one […]

  12. […] Padraig Reidy for Index on Censorship: A new argument for censorship? […]

  13. […] to the film on YouTube were blocked following orders issued by the Supreme Court. The film has triggered anti-US protests across the Muslim world over the past week.Talk about this storyYou can follow any responses to […]

  14. Say no to violence says:

    It comes up with the mention: “This content is not available in your country due to a legal complaint.
    Sorry about that.”

  15. Say no to violence says:

    The video is also blocked in Malaysia – a country where the majority of the population are Muslims.