Thursday, November 8, 2012

Youssef, Nakoula, or Bacile? Man of Many Names Goes to Jail

Who is that Masked Man?
Mark Basseley Youssef, also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and best known as Sam Bacile, has been sentenced to a year in jail after admitting that he violated his probation in a 2010 bank fraud case. Whoever he really is, he achieved notoriety when his film The Innocence of Muslims sparked protests in a number of Muslim countries and was initially blamed for the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, although it has since become clear that this last event was a planned terrorist attack.  I am glad to see that the U.S. attorney’s office did not pursue probation violation charges directly related to the making of the film, because it is important to keep Youssef’s legal transgressions separate from the issue of his freedom of speech. Some of the actors in the film are complaining that he deceived them and damaged their careers when he lied to them about the nature of the project and dubbed their lines with new dialogue. However, I think it is more appropriate that these actors sue the filmmaker for damages they believe they have suffered than that Youssef’s dealings with them be included in the probation violation charges.
Anthea Butler
During the controversy over the film, I was shocked to see some Americans arguing that Youssef/Nakoula/Bacile should be prosecuted for the film itself. One of the most conspicuous, if confused, calls for his imprisonment came from University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Anthea Butler, who wrote that “if there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!” Apparently not, because Butler went on to compare the film with the controversial Last Temptation of Christ, saying that “the difference is that Bacile indirectly and inadvertently inflamed people half a world away.” In this view, the act is made criminal by the response to it. Do you face imprisonment for your statements? That depends on how people respond to them. Not only does that contradict the idea that an offense should be objective in nature and should lie in the act itself, it turns censorship into retroactive justice, punishing people for actions that were not violations of the law at the time they committed them.
For my part, I support the multi-named fellow’s right to say whatever he pleases about Islam or anything else, but not to commit bank fraud or violate his probation.

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