The following was taken from Jspace.com. The article was written by Jspace Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Rob Lattin, who also blogs about Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for Foreign Policy Blogs.
The Jerusalem District court last Thursday rejected MK Taleb al-Sanaa, of the United Arab List party, and others’ petition calling for a temporary injunction blocking Israeli web access to the anti-Islam film, “The Innocence of Muslims.” The film, which has been marred by controversy over its portrayal of Islam, sparked riots around the world leading to the death of the US Ambassador to Libya.
The petition claimed that the video violates Israeli law because it incites violence and insults Islam. The request was also geared towards Google, which owns YouTube, which the petitioners said was the search engine most likely to be used by viewers. Google defended free speech and its inability to truly block full access to the video, no matter the measures it took.Following the petition’s rejection Sanaa stated, “Freedom of expression is not expression without limits, and it’s not that whoever doesn’t want to hear it won’t pay attention. The fact is that people were actively hurt by this. It can’t be that because [the courts] are not Muslim [they] won’t worry about the feelings of Muslims.”
Sanaa’s comments raise two important thoughts on accountability about two totally unrelated issues, neither of which have easy answers: first, search engine accountability, and second, the evident hypocrisy of the rest of the Middle East in relation to media accountability.
“Freedom of expression is not expression without limits;” Sanaa has a point. This author doesn’t want his future children being able to have such easy access to grotesque hate mongering like “The Innocence of Muslims.” It can be useful for educational purposes, like in a college classroom, but its availability should have limits (think the Hogwarts’ “restricted area!”); it is hateful and incites violence.
But as Google’s attorney Hagit Blaiberg argued in court, Google isn’t the publisher of the video; it is only a search engine. It doesn’t regulate what is published, nor did it create the video. The creator is the publisher and all legal action should be directed towards him. As it stands, this is how US and Israeli law work, which makes it virtually impossible to stop the spread and consumption of something once it is put online, regardless of morality and damage.
This lack of law creates a world where Google and YouTube are unaccountable for videos posted. Something feels inherently wrong with this construct, or lack thereof. Freedom of speech and expression are vital to a thriving democracy, and this author isn’t advocating for full Internet censorship. However, it feels like a similar situation to unregulated capitalism, of which over time we have seen the harmful effects and its inevitable crash. There has to be some slight rule of law and regulation, otherwise the system is taken advantage of at the total detriment and insult of others.
While Sanaa’s point that freedom of expression should have limits is correct, I challenge him to alter and direct his sentiments to include the rest of the Middle Eastern states in regards to their own media. Anti-Semitism and anti-western propaganda is rampant in the Middle East. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion can be found on sale at train stations and fruit stands throughout the region. Television—which in most Middle Eastern states is heavily censored by the government—is constantly airing openly anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western media.
Check out this video from Egyptian TV where a candid camera host try’s to get a rouse out of her guests by telling them they are actually on Israeli TV. The thought process behind this gag is it will enrage the unknowing participants, and judging by the outcome it seems to have worked. There is also this great article written by an Iranian Press TV columnist titled, “The Rape of Greece By Zionist Bankers.” These kinds of television programs and newspaper articles are just a small sample of what is being produced every day in the rest of the Middle East mainstream media. There is no question that these are just as insulting and violence inciting as “The Innocent Muslims,” right? In theory, Jews and westerners could get mad enough to riot and storm embassies. Whether they do or not is really irrelevant.
Sanaa’s attempt to take on the Internet giant is in theory noble. But based on the region’s history of tolerance, even encouragement, for anti-Semitic and Western media, I can only view Sanaa’s stance as hypocritical and devoid of sincere humanistic principle. Sure, Sanaa is an Israeli and doesn’t represent or operate in Iranian, Syrian, Saudi, or Egyptian society. But then again those countries have no problem calling on America and Israel to be accountable for things they deem offensive.
In all likelihood, both search engine and Middle Eastern media accountability will go unsolved for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, it’s important to take part in and keep the debate going.