by Jennifer Mandelblatt
Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben put it best when he said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And though this article will not discuss the red-suited hero, this piece of advice must be considered in analyzing and practicing the fundamental right of being an American: Freedom of Speech.
Recent events have proven that the amendment drafted by our Founding Fathers seems to have lost its original purpose of protecting individual expression. Today, it more commonly serves as an excuse for crude remarks and offensive messages.
The recent uprise in Libya, which resulted in the death of an American ambassador and three staff members, is suspected to have been a result of an American-made Youtube video that characterized the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a “villainous, homosexual, and child-molesting buffoon,” according to “Libya Attach Brings Challenges for U.S.” on nytimes.com.
Whether or not a straight line can be drawn from the video to the crime, the atrocity of the viral “movie” cannot be ignored. Freedom of speech cannot be used as a backbone for hate, and freedom of religion cannot be interpreted as the freedom to judge the religion of others.
According to psbresearch.com, Penn Schoen Berland conducted a 2012 American Values Survey that examined the ideals of 2,006 Americans over the age of 18. The research concluded that 67 percent of Americans said that Freedom of Speech contributes to America having stronger values than other places in the world, and 61 percent said Freedom of Religion has the same effect.
But if these key attributes of American culture make our country so great, why is that they produce so much harm? It is true that America is fairly unique in regards to the extent of freedom of expression granted to its citizens. To avoid being narrow-minded, however, we must understand the perspective of people who do not have such rights. In many countries, all work that is published for the public eye must be approved by the government. Pressing a single button on a personal computer to share personal thoughts is a foreign concept. So when a reckless American posts a video of overwhelming hate, people in these foreign nations view it as the official stance of the United States Government, and a declaration of war on their values.
No, this does not mean that the United States government should censor that which is published in ink or on the internet, but as a whole, Americans must respect that words are very powerful weapons. The sting of an ill spoken word transcends through generations and is therefore, not to be used carelessly—especially on a forum as permanent and accessible as the internet.
It may have been sticks and stones that broke down the door to the American Embassy in Libya, but it was ultimately the words of a hateful video that brought the flags down to half staff.