Film Depicting Prophet Mohammed That Sparked 2012 Riots Can Go Back Online
A federal court ruled Google can post a video that caused anti-U.S. riots in 2012. Whether the tech giant does remains to be seen.
A low-budget 2012 film depicting the Prophet Mohammed that spawned a wave of Mideast violence — and may have contributed to the death of a U.S. ambassador — can go back online one year after a court ordered the video, which fueled anti-American violence around the world, be taken down.
On Monday, a panel of federal judges in San Francisco overturned a copyright claim by an actress who played a bit role in “Innocence of Muslims,” and said Google could restore the video online. Google, which owns YouTube, did not answer questions on whether it would do so, and as of late Monday afternoon, hadn’t posted the full film online. Snippets of the film can be found on smaller video-sharing sites around the Web.
The 11-judge appeals panel ruled that found an earlier court-imposed restriction on Google hosting the video amounted to a violation of free speech. The decision comes as a debate heats up over whether newspapers, magazines, or television shows should feel free to satirize Islam even if doing so offends some Muslims. Free speech advocates have argued in recent weeks that Americans should be able to post whatever content they want, no matter who it offends or how the offended parties respond.
This debate follows an incident earlier this month when two gunmen — one with sympathies to the Islamic State — were killed after they open fired on a deliberately-provocative contest featuring cartoons of Mohammed in suburban Dallas. In January, men with ties to the Islamic State shot up the offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, killing 12 people and outraging France.
Monday’s ruling serves as a reminder of just how easily Western depictions of Mohammed can lead to violence. The 13-minute film’s production quality rivaled a bad community play and was released into relative obscurity. But its message — that Mohammed had a number of deviant sexual desires, among other insults — was offensive enough to lead to riots in Egypt, Pakistan, and Benghazi, Libya, where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed during an attack on the American consulate there.
The role the video may have played in the violence is at the center of the ongoing political debate over the Benghazi assault. U.S. officials initially said the attack was an impromptu act of violence sparked by popular rage over the film in many Muslims countries; Republican critics have long said the attack was planned and carried out by well-organized militants and wasn’t connected to the film. Subsequent reports offered a mix of motivations for the attack, including the video.
The film’s initial release prompted officials within President Barack Obama’s administration to privately ask Google to take it down, a request the online giant rejected. Obama called the film “crude and disgusting” during a September 2012 speech at the United Nations in an effort to distance the United States from the video, made by Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian living in the United States.
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