Tom Herrenberg – Denouncing Divinity
NCILLA IURIS (anci.ch) 2015: 1 – Article
regard to ‘freedom‘. In these cases, ‘freedom‘ means the absence of physical violence, or of
the threat of physical violence, by foreign government officials (for example, Ayatollah Kho-
meini’s edict calling for the death of the novelist Salman Rushdie) or by non-state actors (for
example, demonstrators attacking Western embassies in the Middle East). In the second set of
cases mentioned above (The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons, and Innocence of Muslims) no
law had been broken. Nonetheless, the blasphemous utterances included in these publica-
tions are often responded to by politicians. This proves to be an uneasy task, for they have to
mediate between the value of free speech in general, and the particular expression that is
related to severe public disorder.
This article aims to elaborate on this political dimension and the contrast between the
legal instruments and political discourse by taking several reactions by political leaders to
Innocence of Muslims as the starting point for discussion. The article proceeds as follows. Part
II briefly describes some relevant events concerning the Innocence of Muslims video. Part III
focuses on the response of the highest official of the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon, to Innocence of Muslims. This Part will compare Ban Ki-moon’s outlook on free
speech to a key human rig hts instrument: the Inte rnational Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. This Part also discusses statements made by Hillary Clinton and Navi Pillay, in which
they spoke about the intentions of the creator of Innocence of Muslims in making his video.
Part IV centers around a statement that was issued by several organizations, including the
European Union, as a response to Innocence of Muslims and which proclaims the value of
‘respect‘. A short conclusion will be presented in Part V.
II. Innocence of Muslims: the Video and the Turmoil
Innocence of Muslims is the title commonly attributed to a video, considered by many Mus-
lims to be blasphemous, that was posted on video-sharing website YouTube. The video was
produced by Mark Basseley Youssef (also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula), an Egyp-
tian-born Coptic Christian living in America, and was posted on YouTube by his son.4 It was
initially reported that the cost of making the video – $5,000,000 – was funded by 100 Jewish
donors.5 Later, it transpired that the cost was no more than $80,000, ‘apparently raised
through Nakoula’s second ex-wife’s Egyptian family and donations from other Copts.‘6
Roughly speaking, the video consists of two parts. The first part pictures an angry mob of
Muslims rioting in the streets of modern-day Egypt. In the opening scenes, Muslims plunder
what appears to be a pharmacy, burn houses and kill a woman wearing a crucifix. Security
forces are depicted observing the mayhem but unwilling to intervene. In the second part the
video shifts to the past and focuses on the prophet Muhammad and a group of looters sur-
rounding him. Scenes likely to be offensive to many Muslims are those in which Muhammad
is talking to a donkey, womanizing, and advocating slavery. Moreover, he is called ‘a mur-
derous thug‘ and is in gen eral pictured as a vicious warlord. Many , if not all of the references
to the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic religion were, to the dismay of the actors, added
in post-production by means of overdubbing.7 In a statement to CNN, the actors said: ‘We
4 ‘From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret’, The New York Times, 26 November 2012.
5 ‘Anger Over a Film Fuels Anti-American Attacks in Libya and Egypt’, The New York Times, 12 September
6 ‘From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret’, The New York Times, 26 November 2012.
7 ‘Man Behind Anti-Islam Video Gets Prison Term’, The New York Times, 8 November 2012.