The Limits of Expression

Posted at 09/28/2012 10:17 AM

What are the limits of free expression? When are crazies required to shut up? These questions come to mind following the controversy around “The Innocence of Muslims”, the video on the Prophet Mohammed.

The film has incited riots and deaths worldwide. A fatwa or Muslim religious edict has been issued for the execution of its producers, protagonists and promoters.

Our Government has condemned the video and the University of the Philippines banned its showing on campus. An enraged UP law professor, Harry Roque, defied the ban claiming freedom of expression. He became visibly less indignant when intimated by “Binladin” Sharief, the reported head of the Men of Islam, Harry now possibly qualifies to be in the fatwa hit list.

Salman Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa for his book “The Satanic Verses” in 1988. He went into hiding until the edict was lifted ten years later. Roque might consider doing likewise.

Democratic constitutions protect the right of free speech however hateful or inane. The exceptions are when the statements are a clear and present danger to the community. Thus, one cannot shout “Fire” in a crowded theater nor speak even in jest about carrying a bomb into a commercial airplane. The “Innocence of Muslims” surely falls into this category. A Muslim group has filed a petition with the Philippine Supreme Court to ban it from YouTube. Somebody better tell them if the Court has no power over dollar accounts, it has even less over the cyberworld.

In an unrelated matter, freedom of expression took a different twist. Manny Pangilinan recently announced with some fanfare he was withdrawing financial support for Ateneo because of its stand on mining and, parenthetically, the RH Bill.