If there are political powers in the Middle East for whom protests against the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims, have provided a useful distraction, nowhere is this more likely the case than for a resistance movement locked in the uncomfortable position of supporting the brutal military regime next door.
On Al Manar television yesterday, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said to his followers: “Tomorrow, and in the coming days you should bear your responsibility in the Arab world the world as a whole. They should see the rage in your faces and feel it in your screams.”
The Daily Star reports: During his speech Sunday, Nasrallah also echoed calls by MP Walid Jumblatt last week for the global criminalization of insults against religions similar to those adopted in West against anti-Semitism.
He said the solution to prevent the recurrence of such incidents is to “work on issuing an international law throughout global institutions that criminalizes any insult against the celestial religions or at least to the prophets of the religions.”
Nasrallah also urged Muslim communities in the U.S. to “bear a historic responsibility” and rally for such a law to be issued in Congress.
He also urged the Lebanese government to work at the Arab League level to lobby for such a law.
“Lebanon, which carries the message of co-existence, can play a role in this … by calling for an emergency meeting of the Arab League and call for the convening of an Islamic summit and adopt ideas [such as criminalizing religious insults].”
Shortly following Nasrallah’s speech, Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour urged the head of the Arab League to convene an emergency session to discuss the issue, according to Al-Manar.
Nasrallah said he had delayed announcing the call for protests because of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon.
“We delayed the protest because of the exceptional days that have passed with the head of the Catholic Church’s visit to Lebanon and fearing that [the protest] could be used for other purposes,” Nasrallah said.
Hate speech is indeed against the law in most Western countries, but as Frederick Schauer has noted in “The Exceptional First Amendment“:
[T]he vast majority of non-American laws prohibiting the incitement to racial hatred would be unconstitutional in the United States, as would be the overwhelming proportion of actual legal actions brought under those laws. Jean Le Pen could not be sanctioned in the United States, as he was in France, for accusing Jews of exaggerating the Holocaust, nor could Brigitte Bardot be fined in the United States, as she was in France, for crusading against Islam and urging the deportation of those of Arab ethnicity. Ernst Zundel and James Keegstra can be charged with crimes in Canada for denying the Holocaust, but not in the United States.
The U.S. Constitution is not a sacred document — even if many Americans regard it as such — so it can certainly be argued that there is oftentimes a kind of literalist fundamentalism at work when legal principles end up resting on determinations of their constitutionality. Nevertheless, there are cultural and pragmatic reasons why it is preferable that social norms not be determined by laws.
Islamophobes are not able to wield their influence in America and beyond its shores simply because they are able to exploit the protections provided by the First Amendment. They do so because a hostile anti-Islam and anti-Arab sentiment has grown unchecked across this country throughout the last decade.
Bigotry has spread not only through the efforts of hatemongers like Pamela Geller and Pastor Terry Jones but because fear of Islam has seeped into American consciousness in subtler ways. Even while television networks and others who shape public opinion have been activists in challenging racism, sexism, and homophobia, they have rarely had the courage to forcefully challenge Islamophobia. And that lack of courage both reflects and reinforces a simple fact: fear and hatred of Muslims has become the socially accepted bigotry of this era. That fact will not be changed by abandoning the First Amendment but by the painstaking efforts of those who make it clear that hatred which can legally be expressed is nevertheless socially unacceptable.