SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 23, 2012

Column: It's easy to misunderstand what's free speech

There’s nothing in the First Amendment that says we have to like Mark Basseley Youssef. Or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Or Sam Bacile. Or Nicola Bacily.

Those names all appear to apply to the same person, the man behind production of the controversial, crudely done video that has angered Muslims worldwide.

But the 45 words of the First Amendment do require that we protect Youssef’s rights, under whatever name, to express views and hold opinions that others find offensive without fear of being silenced or targeted by the government.

And with much of the world operating under a very different concept — and often under different laws — regarding the scope of free-speech protection, we need to keep in mind that what happens here to unpopular speakers can easily be misunderstood elsewhere by the unknowing, or distorted by the dictatorial.

In Youssef’s case, the novice filmmaker is also a convicted criminal, having pleaded “no contest” in 2010 to a credit card fraud charge involving the use of fake names.

He was sentenced to 21 months in prison, but was released on parole in June 2011 with conditions barring him from accessing the Internet without approval and from using any name other than his legal name.

The video, “Innocence of Muslims,” portrays Islam’s revered Prophet Muhammad as a religious fraud and sexual deviant. Youssef was arrested last month and charged with lying to federal investigators who, in the wake of fatal rioting overseas, were looking into production of the video. Prosecutors claim that Youssef applied for a passport under one name, applied for a driver’s license under another name and used a third name in connection with the video.

On Oct. 10, Youssef denied violating his probation conditions. He’s being held without bail because officials fear he’ll flee the U.S., in part to hide from Muslim extremists who have vowed to kill him for his blasphemy.

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