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Libya, Egypt riots: Can anti-Islam speech be shut down?

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Tuesday's deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that ended with the death of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has drawn widespread attention to an anti-Islam film that enraged rioters on the scene. As the Monitor's Dan Murphy notes, the situation is reminiscent of the riots over the Muhammad cartoons published in 2005 by Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper. He writes:

In some ways, it was the beginning of an era of manufactured outrage, with a group of fringe hate-mongers in the West developing a symbiotic relationship with radical clerics across the East. The Westerners deliberately cause offense by describing Islam as a fundamentally violent religion, and all too often mobs in Muslim-majority states oblige by engaging in violence.

He correctly notes that the film's authors "cannot be blamed for the violence … that blame goes to the perpetrators." Still, some may argue that the best way to end this vicious cycle of hateful message-and-response is to stifle the message. But – putting aside the question of whether this is the best course of action – is it even a legal option? Can the US government act to stop the circulation of offensive material like this? Can someone else?


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