On the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, protests and riots claimed the lives of four US citizens in Libya. It was initially blamed on a low-budget film allegedly made in the U.S. by an Israeli-born Jew that insulted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Let’s all take a moment to breathe, because we all know people are still angry and in shock about these events.
There is no part of this topic that isn’t still raw and touchy, and what I’m going to discuss is no different.
Whether the attack was premeditated (as the running speculation suggests) or honestly triggered by anger towards the film as was originally thought, it raises the question of the First Amendment rights guaranteed by our Constitution, and the fate of those associated with the film.
Should the alleged creator and director of the film, known only as “Sam Bacile,” be held accountable on any level for the attack that left four Americans, one of which was U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, dead?
The answer to that question depends on the answers to several other questions: is Bacile a real person, or is “he” actually the pseudonym for a group of people? Did Bacile create the film with the intention of educating others or purposefully enraging a group of extremists? Most importantly, no matter why Bacile created the film, did he knowingly do so with the belief that the anger it generated would lead to violence and possibly murder?
If Bacile created the film with the desire to incite violence, or at least knowing that it would likely lead to violence, then he deserves to face some sort of justice.
In the 1919 Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Holmes wrote, “The question in every case is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”
The 1969 Supreme Court ruling of Brandenburg v. Ohio evolved this restriction of First Amendment rights to mean “that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
Did the video incite or produce lawless action?
An alleged consultant for the film, Steve Klein, told the AP on Sept. 12 that Bacile is actually a group of non-Jewish, non-Israeli Americans who have lived in various parts of the Middle East. He also said that he told “Bacile” that he was going to “be the next Theo van Gogh.” Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered in 2004 by an Islamic extremist for making a film perceived to be insulting to Islam. Klein also told the AP that they “went into this knowing this was probably going to happen.”
Assuming that Klein’s story is true, then a group of Americans who disagreed with Islam came together to make a film, knowing that it would likely incite violence by Muslim extremists, and hid behind a fake pseudonym and backstory to protect themselves.
According to the New York Times, there were unarmed demonstrators standing outside the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, protesting the film before armed assailants mixed with them and stormed the consulate.
This indicates that, while the fatal attack could likely have been carefully planned ahead of time, there is ample room to suppose that outrage over the video could have played a role with some of the attackers.
And, while those who made the film have every right to express their opinions, they do not have the right to knowingly endanger the lives of innocent people thousands of miles away.
The fault of the fatal attack in Libya is most certainly on the extremists who, for whatever reason, chose to attack the consulate and kill. They are not absolved of blame, and should be swiftly brought to justice for their actions.
They may not have been the only people responsible, however, and those who provoked the attack should at least be investigated for their level of involvement, not for what they said or how they feel, but for why they may have said it.