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By Courtney Burge, MIA 2013

Most of the protests in the Middle East have ceased in the last week, but that does not mean that there are not any residual feelings of hatred for the producer, or that these feelings of hatred have even lessened. Part of my job here in Qatar is to tutor freshmen and sophomores in writing and English. Many of these students’ writing prompts have been to express their own beliefs about the nature of the film and what, if any, punishment should be given to the producer. The responses from these still teenagers have been very eye-opening.

Controversy

To begin with, many of the students – mostly Gulf Arabs – assume that the producer is an American. Doubts about whether the man even has American citizenship have been floating around Western media, but for the most part have eluded local media here. But regardless of whether the man is an American or just an émigré living in America, one belief remains the same – he ought to be severely punished.

Every response I have read has included an apology, jail time, and a monetary fine.

Mosque and State

I do my best to withhold my own beliefs about the topic until the students and I are outside of class, so we can focus on either editing papers into coherent thoughts or arguing fundamental beliefs. The Qataris and other Gulf Arab students do not understand the concept of separation of church and state.

Here, there is no separation of mosque and state; the Emir rules through sharia law. If feelings are hurt in Qatar, or if someone’s actions cause another to “lose face,” the punishment can be as severe as seven years in prison. The more Westernized Arab students, especially those who have done a study abroad stint in College Station, understand that the First Amendment protects virtually all speech – one exception being speech that causes physical harm to another.

Amending the First Amendment?

So my question is, how should the United States treat this case? If the man is not an American, to what extent is he protected by American law? If he is an American, how should the United States proceed? His amateur film offended a great number of people in the world, putting our citizens overseas at risk of being injured, or in Ambassador Chris Stevens’ case, killed.

Should the United States Supreme Court devote serious consideration to amending the interpretation of the amendment or should our government simply continue to what it has been doing: denounce the film but promise liberty… for all?

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