Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a man who allegedly was involved in making The Innocence of Muslims — the video that the Obama Administration says sparked riots in in the Middle East — has been picked up by police in California.
The stated reason for the pick-up is that Nakoula, who has served time in prison on fraud and identity theft charges, may have violated the terms of his probation. Those conditions barred him from owning or using devices with access to the Web without prior approval. Although Nakoula apparently is not under arrest, as he left his home he was accompanied by a large number of uniformed deputies. In pictures taken of the event, he is wearing a floppy hat and has his face wrapped in a towel; he says he fears for his safety and that of his family.
I’m not defending a convicted fraudster who may have violated the terms of his probation, but I am concerned about the First Amendment. Consider the message sent by this incident: An inflammatory video is posted on the internet; Muslims in Egypt and Libya storm our diplomatic outposts and, in Benghazi, kill the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans; members of the Obama Administration repeatedly express their disgust about the video; the Egyptian government says the creator of the video should be charged with a crime . . . and then the man is picked up for questioning about a potential parole violation. Is that sequence of events really conveying the message we want to send to radical Muslims who, before The Innocence of Muslims was created, found many other reasons to engage in angry anti-American protests?
There’s a reason why the First Amendment is the first amendment. Freedom of speech is the core freedom we enjoy, from the newspaper reporter to the internet blogger to the person who may harshly criticize our government without fear. I don’t think we should be suggesting, by our actions, that we will cooperate with foreign governments in cracking down on whatever speech Muslims might conceivably find offensive. Instead, I’d like to see the Obama Administration engage in a vigorous, public defense of our free speech rights. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the other governments in the Middle East, need to understand that we stand by our First Amendment rights and aren’t going to meekly submit to intimidation or demands that those rights be restricted.