A small group of individuals in the United States filmed a primitive and hateful video depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This was posted to YouTube and translated into Arabic. No one paid much attention to it until an angry mob of protesters stormed the US embassy in Libya, killing the ambassador and three other staff.
Anti-American and anti-Western sentiments are strong in the Middle East, and will continue to be so. It is important to note that the US government did not condone, let alone even know about the video until the riot. Obama condemned the murders, but also the video for insulting holy Islamic values. This is certainly not the only such inflammatory item on the internet. Any attempt to police the internet will prove futile; a site, once up, will remain up forever. It can be archived and re-posted within a matter of seconds once taken down by the authorities.
It was not the government of the United States which produced the video. It was the work of a lone and primitive individual. But the retaliations were against the United States. Hardline Islamists are not rational individuals who listen to reason. They will use absolutely any excuse to justify engaging in acts of terrorism against the West. I would not be surprised if one of these factions blames this on the Zionists.
Now, in Canada, a Hindu advocacy group is planning on holding a public screening of the film. Ron Bannerjee, director of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy, argues that holding such a screening is necessary to show “the value of tolerance to Muslims and the Islamic community and teaches them, in Canada,, we do have tolerance and diversity and they are simply going to have to tolerate diverse viewpoints and opinions without rioting and without going berserk.”
Mr. Bannerjee has held similar anti-Muslim events over the years. While he does raise a legitimate concern, there is no question that allowing the public showing would stoke divisions and cause resentment among the Muslim community. Protesters around the world may decide to target Canadians and embassies. And the results may be even worse than the attacks against the US, as the advocacy group declared its intention to do so beforehand, and non-interference by the government may be seen as condoning the activity.
Nahlah Ayed argued on The National (Sept. 13) that many of the protesters likely had not even seen the movie, but were reacting to the calls of a religious leader or cleric.
As much as it pains me to postulate an argument in favour of censorship of free speech, the safety and security of Canadians is paramount. The video does not further the public discourse in any manner. The intention of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy is to stoke resentment. And resentment it will stoke. While, in a normal society, the ability to criticize, question, and provoke should exist, the threat of violence from hardline Islamists prevents our ability to do so. At the time of publication, protests against the US or outside the US embassy have been held in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Gaza, Jordan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, and Iraq.
For this reason, I would hope that the relevant authorities intervene to ban the event from taking place. The Canadian Hindu Advocacy and other such groups will certainly argue their freedom of speech has been violated. Would this withstand a Charter challenge? It may be justified under the section 1 “Reasonable Limits” clause. Applying the test the Supreme Court used in R. v. Oakes,  1 S.C.R. 103, it may be difficult to prove that such a ban would be the most minimal impairment upon free speech.
As a society, this is a debate we need to have. To what extent will we sacrifice free speech, and to what extent should we?