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With worldwide protests targeting American interests in the Middle East and North Africa, provoked, professedly, by a condemnable anti-Muslim video, I feel it is important to differentiate between a creative body of work and one masquerading under the guise of art.

I believe that a great book cannot be written, a reflective movie made, a thought-provoking video created, a beautiful picture painted or any other illuminative creative process attempted without taking into account the mind, emotions, feelings and reactions of the people that the art is expressing for and about. It has to be more than a preoccupation with a personal agenda. Artistic expression is not merely a subjective experience.
Creativity must own the responsibility to advance a truth.

Compelling instances of great creativity occur when the search for the truth forms the body of the composition. The tension and demands of the pursuit often drive such artists into obsession that some would term, “madness” or “eccentricity.” Think Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway and, in recent times, Steve Jobs. The truth that they expressed had the genius of madness.

But very few artists are creative geniuses. Most lay claim to a small measure of talent; a great many strive for the discipline of rigor and routine and some are passionate about the pursuit.

The video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” fails to qualify as artistic expression under any definition of the term. There was little thought, truth or temperance in the work. It was an exercise in dissimulation—the goal being notoriety. The innocuous title was apparently to draw more unsuspecting Muslim viewers.

Sam Bacile’s anti-Islam film perpetrated a great deceit and its objective was to cultivate distress.

So, if it was not art, was he merely exercising his fundamental right to free speech? In the United States the First Amendment enshrines and protects freedom of thought and expression. Except when it employs falsehoods to harm others, or speeches that incite lawlessness. The video was offensive and did cause numerous deaths.

We must understand that our freedom to express freely is a privilege and comes at a price.
The price of responsibility.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....