The Law and Economics of 'Innocence of Muslims'
I'll admit it: I have not watched "Innocence of Muslims," the anti-Islam film that has been blamed for causing ruckus around the world. Why? Well, I have more important things to do, one of them involves an amateur cooking competition with my friends.
Personally, in terms of importance, such movie sits in the category of "absolutely not important that even staring at the wall for 2 hours would still be better." The problem is, not everyone shares the same view. But before we discuss why Muslims are against the film, we should first study why some people are still trying to make a movie like this.
From economics perspective, the reason might be very simple: because with such a minimum cost, the movie can maximize the damages caused to the world, which I assume will also maximize the makers' own pleasure or benefit.
Why are the costs so low? Based on the comments of those who have seen it, "Innocence of Muslims" was a low-budget movie (bad editing, amateur actors, etc). And it is unlikely that the filmmaker - who, according to Wikipedia, resides in California - will face legal penalty in the United States.
The first reason might be the protection of free speech, though this is debatable. The second reason might be the fact that the United States does not want to show any weaknesses toward the demand of the Muslim worlds, including the terror they received in Libya which caused the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans.
On the first reason, the protection of free speech is indeed complicated. People may argue the movie is a hate speech. But what would be the correct standard? I mean, I've seen a lot of movies and jokes harassing Jesus in such a really bad way and yet, I have not heard any case in the United States sanctioning the makers. Should we measure hate speech from objective or subjective requirements?
The second reason is even more problematic. The movie undoubtedly triggers heavy protests from Muslim communities around the world. And within the protesters, some of them may use the event to promote their own idea of violence and war. Perfect timing indeed.
If the United States penalizes the filmmaker, it can be assumed by terrorists and war mongers that the United States is bowing down to their threat and thus, in the future, it would be easier for them to demand things from the United States as long as they kill certain US citizens.
In other words, the United States would also have difficulties in punishing the stupid filmmaker based on political reasons. I borrow this analysis from Prof. Eugene Volokh, a law professor from UCLA, and I agree with the basic premise.
If the filmmaker realizes the above facts (and I assume he was not stupid enough to bring the video online without thinking the consequences), it would be rational for him to actually publish the video since his own personal benefits outweigh his costs.
Unfortunately, this is inefficient and bad to the overall welfare of the society. Currently, triggering protests from the Muslim world using cheap tactics (such as this movie) has a success rate of almost 100 percent - if not 100 percent. And it is most likely that the protest can turn into a riot.
This is completely different if the movie is directed to, say, Christians. As I've said above, there are so many jokes and movies depicting Jesus in such a bad way that I am certain if you change the character into Muhammad, the makers will not live long enough to see another day. Heck, we even have a Jesus parody in Twitter.
Why do Muslims and Christians have such a different approach in handling these kind of issues? Could it be that it has something to do with education and living standards?
But as long as most Muslims continue to retaliate, I believe the cycle would never end. The supply of people similar to the above filmmaker might be endless and they will definitely take the advantages they currently have, i.e. free speech protection and political reasons.
The most efficient solution is of course ignoring these buffoons. After all an ant can't cause harm to a blue whale. The problem is, it will take a long time to reach that stage (if ever).
I can only hope the majority of Muslims will follow the Prophet basic rule in dealing with bad mouthing: Just ignore those people. Good for your health, good for your image, and less trouble for all of us. We still have many urgent matters which are more important than a stupid movie.