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Letters: Fanning a flame with speech

September 22, 2012
  • Supporters of a Pakistani religious party chant slogans during a demonstration in Karachi as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Supporters of a Pakistani religious party chant slogans during a demonstration… (Fareed Khan / Associated…)

Re "Free speech or incitement?," Opinion, Sept. 18

Sarah Chayes falsely equates shouting "fire" in a crowded theater with producing and distributing a film that "satirically" criticizes a religion. Free speech is supposed to be challenging, provoking and, at times, distasteful. For example, some Americans have for years tried (in vain) to secure a constitutional amendment making it a crime to desecrate the country's flag. Most clear-thinking politicians would have nothing to do with this. If I went to a patriotic rally and burned the American flag, it would anger many people, possibly to the point of violence. But so what? On the other hand, falsely yelling "fire" in a theater is completely different.

The real issue here is that there is a confrontation of values that is bound to result in violence. We must accept that. Americans and other free nations cannot and should not tolerate infringement on free political speech. We must not tolerate societies that treat women as second-class citizens or persecute members of a minority religion. Too many Americans have fought and died for these freedoms.

The issue is not that an individual created some stupid little film; the real issue is whether we are going to stand up for freedom.

Gary Paul Levinson

Aliso Viejo

The man who called the Wall Street Journal identified himself as an Israeli American. That caller was actually an Egyptian Coptic Christian. As an Egyptian, the caller would be cognizant of Arab and Muslim antipathy toward Israelis. The video makers intentionally used that antipathy to stoke hatred.

This stoking of a hate issue is important. Should the 1st Amendment protect speech whose purpose is to provoke a violent response? Consider a situation in which one person taunts a person until he reacts with violence. Should the taunter's speech be protected? In that sense, the taunter's provocative speech may be considered the equivalent of throwing the first punch.

People who start fights belong in jail.

Arch Miller

Arcadia

As I recall from law school, the government has broader powers to regulate the time, place and manner of speech than it does the content of speech. So,

although the government might properly stop a broadcast of the film within earshot of an Islamist rally for fear of imminent violence, I think it would offend our elegant history of allowing the expression of all points of view — even the most vile — if the government were to demand removal of this video from a public forum because its ugly content has the potential to incite irrational behavior half a world away.

Sid Smolen

Laguna Niguel

Who would decide imminence or likelihood of violence because of speech? A judge? A panel of experts? Speech with a hint of danger will be silenced, and one of the crowning glories of our civilization will be irreparably harmed.

The film was a pretext, not a cause. The Middle East is not a crowded theater, and the protesters were not in fear of their lives.

The violence is a tragedy. The way forward is education, not censorship.

William Blum

Studio City

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