If the First Amendment means anything it means that even people whose views we dislike have the right to express them. But that right seems to have been violated flagrantly in the case of the YouTube video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is still in jail several weeks after his anti-Islamic video was castigated by the top officials of the United States, from the President on down.
The justification--a parole violation--seems contrived and tendentious. Suppression of unpopular opinion is always given as a legal excuse in authoritarian regimes; why in America is such a flimsy excuse allowed? Everyone knows now that the Libya killings were a terror attack, not a protest against a video.
Nakoula, may have had his First Amendment rights violated and his arrest without bail may be a terrible precedent to set before the world, suggesting that America's government and courts can be manipulated by foreign protests. He is hardly an admirable person. He apparently has been convicted in the past for online financial fraud and was forbidden to use computers or the Internet without permission. This film, of course, seems (again, we have no corroboration) to have nothing to do with financial matters. At worst, parole-breakers in such a case would be arrested and released pending further legal action. But in this case the man is in jail without bond.
The only possible justification under our Constitution--given the nature of his supposed violation--would be that he privately requested a jail term to protect him. If that is so, it has not been reported. (Thanks again, investigative press.)
The shoe-on-the-other-foot rule shows why this case should be attracting national attention. If someone had made a video attacking Jesus, would anything like the sanctimony of the federal elite and the follow-up legal action been launched? Of course not.
But in the case of the Nakoula video the government actually inquired of YouTube to see if it would shut the video down. To YouTube's credit, it refused. Then Mr. Nakoula was visited by the FBI, as if such a visit isn't more characteristic of something that might happen in Putin's Russia. Then came the federal case against Mr. Nakoula--with all the markings of a witch hunt. Everyone is guilty of something in an authoritarian regime. All you need to do is find the charge to fit the target.
We all know that the video offends Muslims and that it poses problems for American foreign policy. Nakoula may indeed be the "shady character" President Obama described. But there also are explanations of state for past violations of civil liberties--the unwillingness of FDR to help the European Jews during World War II, for example. We certainly need to make it clear to people abroad that in our culture and under our Constitution we cannot stop blasphemy even against the religious sensbilities of a majority of our own people, and that the freedom that protects the unpopular also protects everyone else. Including Muslims.
Early on, several good articles appeared about Nakoula in the L.A. Times and on ABC News, but the great American media as a whole simply are not interested. A few legal experts have raised questions, but there has been scant follow-up. All of which is a shame.
Nakoula supposedly has a hearing coming up three days after the election. So, what? What valid reason is there for his being in jail now?