US court orders Google to remove Innocence of Muslims film from YouTube

Muslims demonstate outside Google's London HQ
The Innocence of Muslims is truly the free speech story that keeps on giving. The crude, cheaply made anti-Islam film sparked international outrage when it first appeared on YouTube in September 2012, with even President Obama forced to weigh into the debate after the US Embassy in Cairo issued a tweet “condemning” the video. While ostensibly supporting free speech, the White House did suggest that Google should examine whether the video contravened its own terms of service.

Google eventually blocked the video of its own accord in Libya and Egypt. Meanwhile, in its move to censor the film, Pakistan simply blocked the whole of YouTube.

Now, a US court has ruled that Google should remove the video from YouTube. Not because of blasphemy, but because of copyright. The case against Google and the makers of the film was brought by actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who appears in the film for all of five seconds. Garcia claims that her single line, suggesting that Muhammad was a “child molester” was dubbed, and that she was duped into appearing in the anti-Muslim film, having been told it was a trailer for an adventure movie.

Crucially, she also says that she has a claim to the copyright of the film. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that she may have a claim, and on 19 February ordered Google to remove the film from its YouTube service.

The court further ordered that the ruling be kept secret until 26 February, when the 37-page opinion on the case was issued “to prevent a rush to copy and proliferate the film before Google can comply with the order.”

Google has said it will appeal the order, saying that not only could the copyright claim of a bit-part actor create havoc for filmmakers of the future, but that service providers could now also be swamped with takedown requests from people who regret appearing in works in the public domain.

Interestingly, it also suggests that the simple removal of the video could constitute a tampering with the historical record. That chimes with an argument Index has made before – we seem far more comfortable with the removal of web content than we do with, say, the pulping of books, even though the intent is the same.

As things stand, Google has complied with the order, and the Innocence of Muslims can no longer be found on YouTube.

In yet another twist, Pakistani web freedom campaigner and Index on Censorship award nominee Shahzad Ahmed has used the removal of the video to pressure his government to lift the YouTube ban.

“We think that now the government of Pakistan has been left with no excuse to continue blocking access to YouTube,” he is reported as saying. “But the ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government’s desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition.”

This article was posted on February 27, 2014 at

Twenty five years under the fatwa


Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un. I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qur’an, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, Allah Willing. Meanwhile if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that [Rushdie] is punished for his actions. Rouhollah al-Mousavi al-Khomeini.”

On 14 February 1989, 25 years ago today, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran handed down a death sentence not just on British author Salman Rushdie, but on anyone associated with the publication of his novel the Satanic Verses.

It’s always worth writing down exactly what happened. A medievalist tyrant decided a novelist and his editors and publishers should die, because he was offended by a book he could not claim to have read.

Rushdie went into hiding. Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was murdered. Because he had translated a novel.

The controversy did not begin with Khomeini – he merely attempted to capitalise on it. No, the first countries where the book stoked the ire of Islamists were South Africa and India, both countries whose divide-and-rule laws (the Indians’ law inherited from British colonial law, the South Africans’ in a diabolical league of its own) meant it paid to promote communal grievance.

Khomeini’s fatwa seems, in hindsight, a desperate bid to distract the people of Iran, and the rest of the Muslim world, from the fact that his reign, about to end, had been a disaster. Iranians had hoped their 1979 revolution would deliver them from the oppression of the Peacock Throne. Instead they just found their oppressors had simply grown beards.

The disaster was not entirely of Khomeini’s own making, perhaps. He could not be blamed for having the equally psychopathic Saddam Hussein as a neighbour, but nonetheless, he had sent hundreds of thousands of Iranians to their death, promised martyrdom as they marched into Saddam’s poisoned gas during the Iran-Iraq war that raged for almost the whole of the 1980s.

The Iran Iraq War ended in 1988. Neither side could legitimately claim victory. The Islamic Republic had not swept all before it. And Khomeini needed something new to establish his Shia theocracy as the leader of the Islamic world. He found it in harnessing the mounting anger over Rushdie’s book.

In Britain, this was the moment for political Islam. Young second generation South Asian Islamists exploited their parents’ folk memories of anti-Muslim violence during the torturous period before and after partition in 1947 (the subject of Rushdie’s great work, Midnight’s Children) to mobilise Muslims against Rushdie.

Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain wrote in 2007:

So on February 14 1989, when the Iranian Islamic leader, Imam Khomeini delivered his fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, I was truly elated. It was a very welcome reminder that British Muslims did not have to regard themselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; they were part of a truly global and powerful movement. If we were not treated with respect then we were capable of forcing others to respect us.

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as cuddly hippy musician Cat Stevens, told a television audience at the time that he felt Rushdie deserved to die. Some on the British right were pleased, seeing the death sentence as comeuppance for a man who was a vicious critic of the racist establishment.

Khomeini is dead and Rushdie is a knight of the realm (though some, such as Shirley Williams, considered that elevation in 2007 unwise). But it is perhaps on those grounds only that victory can be claimed for free speech. As Kenan Malik has suggested, writing for Index on Censorship, we live still in the “shadow of the fatwa”.

Religious sensitivity has become an excuse for threats. “Offence” is something to be taken greedily, and then pumped back out with a mixture of aggression and self pity.

And the shadow of that fatwa does not only fall on Islam. Every zealot of every creed will now offer up special pleading for their right to be protected from mockery, debate and challenge with the line “You wouldn’t say that about Islam.” What they mean, always, is “We want you to be scared. We want you to be as scared as Salman Rushdie was when he received that threat. We want you to be so scared that you will never question our literalism, our version of events. Truth is ours and ours alone.”

Rushdie’s friend, the late Christopher Hitchens, wrote that the fatwa represented “an all out confrontation between the ironic and the literal mind: between every kind of commissar and inquisitor and bureaucrat and those who know that, whatever the role of social and political forces, ideas and books have to be formulated by individuals”.

That struggle goes on.


‘The biggest form of blasphemy we commit is to force another to live in fear’


Asianet-Pakistan /

This article was originally published at

Dear Parliamentarians,

I write to you in the hope of assisting you in a rather arduous task being assigned to you by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). If recent reports are to be believed, the Pakistan telecommunication authority has done the unthinkable; in a rare moment of clarity the PTA has requested the parliament to define ‘blasphemy’.

Yes, after the country’s governor was shot 27 times for seeking pardon for a blasphemy accused mother, his murderer garlanded by lawyers and defended by the ex-Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, a 14-year-old young girl and her family driven out of the country, a 70-year-old mentally unstable woman sentenced to 14 years in jails, several hundred burnt houses and dozens of lynched dead bodies later, you’ve finally been approached to determine what exactly classifies as blasphemy.

If you ask me, it’s rather strange that none of the incidents – or call them random acts of insanity – I summarised were able to do what a B-grade filmmaker was able to achieve. But then again, priorities! We are a nation of strange people and reactions; we forgive the unforgivable and punish ourselves for the crimes of others.

Without wasting much time, I’d want to discuss the important issue at hand. Now that you’ve been given the responsibility of defining blasphemy for the nation, given how difficult it is to be specific, and government policies are by their nature vague, I’d say go with enlisting instances of blasphemy for clarity’s sake:

    • One commits blasphemy each time they harm another in the name of religion.


    • One commits blasphemy each time they incite hatred for another in the name of religion.


    • One commits blasphemy each time they justify murder in the name of religion.


    • One commits blasphemy each time they persecute another for their faith or lack of it.


  • One commits blasphemy each time they infringe the right to freedom of expression, opinion or movement of another, in the name of religion.

For the biggest form of blasphemy that we all almost always commit is to force another to live in fear for believing, speaking, thinking and sometimes even existing, as we justify it in the name of our faith or stand silent as we bear witness.

No videos, sketches or hate speeches have hurt Islam more than the reckless army of blood thirsty goons justifying vandalism in the name of religion.

There doesn’t exist a form of disrespect bigger than justifying cold-blooded murder and hate in God’s name. To instill fear and lawlessness in the society and to justify that as an act of faith. End the insanity now, tell the nation that we aren’t all potential blasphemers waiting to be lynched as and when the opportunity arises.

Trust me; it might do a lot more than just unblocking YouTube.


A fellow potential blasphemer

Religion and free speech: it’s complicated

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]While they exist harmoniously on paper, free expression and religion often conflict in practice, and free speech is often trampled in the name of protecting religious sensibilities — whether through self-censorship or legislation that censors.

History offers many examples of religious freedom being repressed too. Both free expression and religious freedom need protection from those who would meddle with them. And they are not necessarily incompatible.

Over 200 years ago, the United States’ founding fathers grouped together freedom of worship and freedom of speech. The US Constitution’s First Amendment, adopted in 1791, made sure that the Congress couldn’t pass laws establishing religions or prohibiting their free exercise, or abridging freedom of speech, press and assembly.

More recently, both religion and free expression were offered protection by The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) drafted in 1949. It outlines the ways in which both free expression and religious freedom should be protected in Articles 18 and 19. Article 18 protects an individual’s right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” and the freedom to change religion or beliefs. Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Why is it, then, that for centuries — from the Spanish Inquisition to the Satanic Verses — free speech and religion have been cast as opponents? Index on Censorship has explored, and will continue to explore, this crucial question.


Muslims gathered in Malaysia's capital to protest against the controversial Innocence of Muslims film

Muslims gathered in Malaysia’s capital to protest against the controversial Innocence of Muslims film (Demotix)

Sporadically explosive conflicts arrise when words or images offensive to believers spark a violent response, the most recent example being the reaction to the controversial Innocence of Muslims film. Index has stated before that the majority of states restrain by law distinct and direct incitements to violence; however, causing offence doesn’t constitute an incitement to violence, much less a good excuse to react with violence. Yet violent protests sparked by the YouTube film led many countries to push for the video to be taken down. As the controversy unfolded, digital platforms took centre stage in an age-old debate on where the line is drawn on free speech.

The kind of connectivity provided by the web means a video uploaded in California can lead to riots in Cairo. Real-time transmission, real-time unrest. It presents a serious challenge for hosts of user-generated content like YouTube and Facebook.

Before the web, British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie’s “blasphemous” 1988 novel — The Satanic Verses — sparked protests and earned its author a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who called upon Muslims to assassinate the novelist, his publishers, and anyone else associated with the book. The Japanese translator of the Satanic Verses was killed, and Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher was shot and wounded, leading some to think twice about publishing works potentially “offensive to Islam”.

These fears were renewed after the 2005 decision of Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which were protested about in riots worldwide, largely initiated as a result of agitation by Danish clerics.

The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel about the life of Muhammad’s wife Aisha was due to be published by Random House in the US in 2008, but it was pulled when an academic warned the publishers of a possible violent backlash to the novel. After the UK-based publisher Gibson Square decided to take on the novel, Islamic extremists attempted to firebomb the home of the company’s chief executive. More recently, ex-Muslim and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook Alom Shaha wrote that initially, staff at Biteback publishing had reservations about releasing his book in the UK. Upon being presented with the book, one staff member’s reaction was, “we can’t publish this, we’ll get firebombed”.

Article continues below[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Join the Index mailing list and get an exclusive gift” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

summer magazine 2016

Index on Censorship’s summer magazine 2016

We’ll send you our weekly emails and periodic updates on our events. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.

You’ll also get access to an exclusive collection of articles from our landmark 250th issue of Index on Censorship magazine exploring journalists under fire and under pressure. Your downloadable PDF will include reports from Lindsey Hilsum, Laura Silvia Battaglia and Hazza Al-Adnan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Protecting religious sensitivities at price of free expression

Many countries have legislation designed to quell religious tensions and any ensuing violence.

India, for example, has a Penal Code with provisions to protect “religious feelings”, making “acts” or “words” that could disturb religious sensitivities punishable by law. However, while such laws exist to address prevent sectarian violence their vagueness means that they can also be used by groups to shut down free expression. This opens up a question, which is when do states have the right to censor for public order reasons even if the actual piece of writing, art or public display is not a direct incitement to violence.

Indian artist and Index award winner was forced to leave his native India in the 1990s after being threatened for his work

Indian artist and Index award winner was forced to leave his native India in the 1990s after being threatened for his work

In the 1990s, Indian artist and Index award winner MF Husain was the subject of a violent intimidation campaign after painting Hindu gods and goddesses naked. He received death threats and had his work vandalised. Hundreds of complaints were brought against the artist, leading to his prosecution under sections 295 and 153A of India’s Penal Code, which outlaw insulting religions, as well as promoting animosity between religious groups. Locally these laws are justified as an effort to control sectarian violence. While the cases against Husain were eventually thrown out, the spectre of new legal battles combined with violent threats and harassment pushed Husain to flee his home country. He never returned, and died in exile last year.

Across the world restrictions on free expression are imposed using laws designed to protect religious sensitivities.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notorious for being abused to silence and persecute the country’s religious minorities. Although the country’s Penal Code has always had a section on religious offence, clauses added in the 1980s set a high price for blasphemy or membership of the Ahmadi sect of Islam — an Islamic reformist movement. These laws, including a possible death sentence for insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, have been slammed by civil society inside and outside of Pakistan.

A report issued in September by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, says that blasphemy laws should be repealed. Controls on free speech in order to protect religious sensibility seem to run parallel to controls on religion.

Globally, restrictions on religious expression have increased according to a report released last month by the Pew Research Center. In 2010, the study found that 75 per cent of the world’s population lived in countries where restrictions placed on religious practice were rated as either “high” or “very high”. The study found that the greatest restrictions on religion take place in the world’s most heavily populated countries — India, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, and Russia stood out on the list.

Outrage and incitement to religious hatred

In 1977 Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse successfully brought charges against the publishers of a magazine that printed a graphic sexual poem about Jesus Christ

In 1977 Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse successfully brought charges against the publishers of a magazine that printed a graphic sexual poem about Jesus Christ

In 2007, the UK introduced the offence of “incitement to religious hatred”, which some feared was merely a replacement for the scrapped blasphemy law, made more wide-ranging by covering not just Christianity but all religions. The last conviction under that law was the infamous 1977 Gay News case, where Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse brought a successful private prosecution against the publishers of Gay News magazine for publishing a poem describing a Roman soldier’s fantasy of sex with Jesus Christ.

In the UK, one of the most pernicious means by which restrictions on free speech have grown tighter has been through the use of incitement laws, both incitement to hatred and incitement to violence and murder. In some cases, as in the outlawing of incitement to religious hatred through the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, the law is being used to censor genuine debate. In other cases, incitement law is being used to shut down protest, as in the convictions of Muslim protestors Mizanur Rahman and Umran Javed for inciting racial hatred and ‘soliciting murder’ during a rally in London against the publications of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. Over the past decade, the government has used the law both to expand the notion of ‘hatred’ and broaden the meaning of ‘incitement’. Much of what is deemed ‘hatred’ today is in fact the giving of offence. And should’t the giving of offence be viewed as a normal and acceptable part of plural society?

In 2009, Ireland created for the first time a specific blasphemy offence. This law states a person is guilty of blasphemy if

“he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

This wording was later used as a template for attempts to introduce the idea of “defamation of religion” as an offence at the United Nations. The attempt to introduce this concept failed, but the UN Human Rights Council did pass a resolution condemning “intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against, persons based on religion or belief”.

On the other hand, according to Frank La Rue, quoted by Journalism & Intolerance said: “blasphemy is a horrible cultural phenomenon but, again, should not be censored or limited by criminal law. I would like to oppose blasphemy in general by being respectful, but that’s something you build in the culture and the traditions and the habits of the people, but not something you put in the criminal code. Then it becomes censorship.”

Crushing religious freedom

Other European countries have had their own free speech versus religion battle when a push towards bans on the veil or niqab began, infringing on choices of Muslim women. France’s controversial ban on the niqab went into effect last year. Offenders must pay a 150 € fine or take French citizenship classes. There have been similar discussions in the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. Such bans are not restricted to Europe — in 2010 Syria banned face veils from university campuses. From 1998 – 2010, Turkey banned headscarves from university campuses. In fact, Turkey has a much wider ban on headscarves in public buildings, a ban the government faces difficulties overturning though it would like to. Just as troubling — countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have strict dress codes for women that visitors must comply with as well.

Both enforced secularism and enforced religiosity constitute a form of censorship; the key word being “enforced” as opposed to “free”. Whether it is tackling enforced religion, religious offence, hatred and incitement to violence, or enforced secularism, only a constructive approach to free speech can genuinely guarantee freedom of conscience and belief, whether in one god, many or none.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1493908381135-56de588f-391f-0″ taxonomies=”78, 4880″][/vc_column][/vc_row]