On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, Egyptian authorities issued warrants for the arrest of Egyptian Coptic Christians and a United States pastor, due to their alleged involvement regarding the production of an anti-Islamic video. The video has sparked retaliation from Islamic groups, including the recent attack at the United States Consulate in Libya last week. The accused are being charged with “insulting the Islamic Religion, insulting the prophet and inciting sectarian strife.”
The film that has brought about this controversy is entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” where Muhammad is portrayed as a womanizer, child molester, and a thug among other things. The possible result of a conviction includes the death penalty according to the public prosecutor. The prosecutor further requested that the Copts and the Pastor be handed over to Egypt. The United States government has condemned the film, but obviously could not take any action against these individuals for freely expressing their beliefs, regardless of how insulting they may be to those of the Islamic faith.
Morris Sadek, among those named responsible for the film, said that he has promoted the film to “highlight discrimination toward Copts in Egypt.” Christians in Egypt have “long complained about discrimination in the workplace and laws such as those that make it harder to build a church than a mosque.” (Cited to NBC source below) In the past, Egypt has treated those who speak up or insult Islam very aggressively.
Granted, the video is completely disrespectful to those of Islamic faith, but the fact that these individuals could possibly face the death penalty for creating such a film is completely extreme and ridiculous. Growing up in this country, we are obviously very privileged to have certain freedoms such as freedom of expression and religion, so it is hard to fathom, or even understand, what it would be like to have these freedoms taken away from us. However, throughout the world and as illustrated in this case with Egypt, expressing one’s own views and opinions can have grave consequences. This recent issue, is not the only time Egypt has been involved in this freedom of expression discussion, as Egypt has also in the past shut down “internet and phone services to stop protesters from expressing their political opinions.” (http://www.waccglobal.org/component/content/article/2523:egypt-crisis-respect-freedom-of-expression-says-wacc.html). Clearly, this demonstrates the ongoing problem within Egypt, as this is not just an isolated instance of restriction of expression. Regardless of one’s opinion regarding any particular issue, they should have the ability to express these views without facing the possibility of death as a result of their expression. Because this is such a large problem, groups such as Amnesty International have worked to help citizens of Egypt to enjoy some of these freedoms. (See http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt)
This issue regarding freedom of expression has come to forefront in Egypt since news of the issuance of arrest warrants for these filmmakers broke, and I ask you to consider the questions presented below.
Questions to Consider:
(1) What do you believe is the appropriate punishment, if any, for these 7 Coptic Christians for creating this anti-Islamic film?
(2) What can be done from a global perspective to ensure freedom of expression to citizens of those countries who lack such freedom?
I have the same problem as Peter here. Growing up in the U.S., in New York nonetheless, it’s difficult to fathom getting arrested for an artistic expression. My answer to Peter’s first question is thus, nothing. Like Peter, I do not agree with anything about this film, but it does not warrant arrest. In the present day, if a movie offends say the Catholic Church, the Vatican will issue a statement (e.g. Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code), but there are no arrests. The thought of such law seems ‘extreme and outrageous,’ but such is everyday life in many middle-eastern countries where religion is law. Unfortunately, addressing question two, there is nothing really that can be done to ensure the freedom of expression of those in countries without something resembling the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is not up to us or any other nation to impose such regulations on other countries. However, should a country like Egypt try and extradite a U.S. citizen for expressing his views artistically, the U.S. should obviously step in and put that request to bed quickly. Situations such as this anti-Islam video sit on a fine line between protecting the freedom of expression, and the desire to prevent violent protests around the world. As much as we want to say stop inciting protests(!), we cannot. The personal views of some will always offend the beliefs of others; and since violence has been and is the way many around the world express their beliefs, a consistent degree of violence in the world is inevitable (much to the demise of beauty pageant contestants everywhere). We can only do our best to try and limit the damage.
I think it goes without saying that these Coptic Christians, at least in an ideal world, should face no punishment. A country like Egypt, starving for change after suffering through generations of repressive government, seems to have no interest in providing essential freedoms to their people–particularly a minority group.
Although it is the behavior of a fraction of a percentage of members of the muslim faith, the behavior of these few further perpetuates a stereotype of violence and intolerance.
To punish someone with the death penalty for making a film is an idea completely foreign to my own understanding. The First Amendment protects free speech in the United States. This incident serves as a strong reminder that not all nations have these same freedoms. While it is hard for me to fathom that these people face the possibility of the death penalty, in Egypt it seems to be a real possibility. When this movie was made it insulted many Muslims. While it is not surprising that many would be angered considering its content, is violence the answer? This whole incident highlights the fact that the idea of freedom of expression has a long way to go before it gains global acceptance. The best that can be done to encourage the spreading of this idea is for the United States and other like-minded nations to continue to preach the good that comes from a society where people are able to express themselves freely.