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Screen Scene: Social Media, religious zealots and free speech create a volatile cocktail

Speech comes with responsibility. Early on in life, most of us are taught by means of gentle persuasion or violent response that words, like deeds, have consequence. A polite admonition or a punch in the nose can be clear consequence of the power of words.

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian from California, is part of a group called the National American Coptic Assembly (NACA). The group is decidedly anti-Islamic, and apparently Sadek decided to make a video.

According to The Guardian, a left-leaning news organization, Sadek is responsible for the YouTube video that provoked the violent attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Originally, a fellow named Sam Bacile, an alleged Israeli-American real estate developer, took credit for the highly amateurish YouTube clip. As the story unfolded though, it appears that Sam Bacile is a pseudo name. Furthermore, in an article published in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg quotes Steve Klein, a man who claims to have been involved in the video’s production. Klein is quoted as stating that the film is not Israeli, and that Morris Sadek is not Jewish.

So what does this all mean?

Words, rumor and innuendo spread like wildfire, especially when those words create havoc, murder and an international diplomatic nightmare. But, one indisputable truth remains.

A crude video production titled “The Innocence of Muslims” originated in the United States. The film portrayed Mohammad as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser. Clearly a womanizing-child-abusing-gay-man is at the least a colorful fictional character, but unfortunately the target audiences of die-hard Muslims aren’t particularly well-suited for humor, irony or tolerance. The 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan are sad proof.

J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, is dead. Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty, former Navy SEALS from the San Diego area, died trying to protect their colleagues. A fourth American, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, died too.

Now, the conundrum: Did angry and irrational religious zealots murder these men or did Morris Sadek, the latest incarnation of the man who produced the film that provoked the mob? Who is responsible for the murder of those Americans?

Obviously the mob was the sword. They did the murdering. But could it be argued that Sadek was the hand wielding that sword?

Yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater ... is just plain wrong

For years it has been an accepted truth that one must not yell “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater. In a case that had nothing to do with theater, the Espionage Act of 1917, it was successfully argued that the abridgment of free speech was on occasion permissible when free speech presented a “clear and present danger.” Shouting “FIRE!” in a movie theater became the prime example of the exception to First Amendment rights.

Yelling “FIRE!” or more precisely, knowing to not yell “FIRE!” would seem to be a simple function of common sense, but common sense is often as rare as Buddhas in Afghanistan.

We live at a time when the power of words is growing exponentially. The unbounded growth of Social Media and the worldwide platform of the World Wide Web know few limits. Huge soap boxes and masses of irrational people are a volatile combination.

With all due respect to my religious friends, religion is by definition, irrational. Any institution, large or small, that places faith before fact and reason is an easy mark and subject to manipulation. Faith is key to all religion and therefore, easy prey to those with the will to incite and an eye for mischief. Some religions are more primed for abuse than others, and it can’t be denied that the fringe of Moslem religions is especially and rabidly intolerant.

But again, are other world religions, at least partially responsible for fueling Moslem zealotry?

These are questions that really have no answer. The truth shifts with the perspective of the viewer. These questions do make for good dinner conversation and great debates, but when people die, the debate becomes more horrifying and less interesting.

We are all children at the end of the day, dangerous children with adult tools at our disposal. So, when a cyber-bully drives a gay teen to suicide or a would-be filmmaker incites a mob to violence, and when there is direct cause and effect, should there be a gentle admonition or a punch in the nose in response to the provoker’s provocation?

Societies in general and journalist in particular have a lot to consider, especially now that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection is now, effectively, a journalist.

We are all journalists, and we must strive to choose our words carefully.

The theater is very real, and the threat of fire can be just as dangerous as the real thing.

Kurt Niece writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., who will be soon relocating to Lakewood, Ohio. He is the author of "The Breath of Rapture" and an artist who sells his work on his website.