The current standard for restricting speech — or punishing it after it has in fact caused violence — was laid out in the 1969 case Brandenburg vs. Ohio. Under the narrower guidelines, only speech that has the intent and the likelihood of inciting imminent violence or lawbreaking can be limited.

Likelihood is the easiest test. In Afghanistan, where I have lived for most of the past decade, frustrations at an abusive government and at the apparent role of international forces in propping it up have been growing for years. But those frustrations are often vented in religious, not political, terms, because religion is a more socially acceptable, and safer, rationale for public outcry…

In Afghanistan, and in all of the Arab nations in transition, an extremist fringe is brawling for power with a more pluralistic majority. Radicals pounce on any pretext to play on religious feeling. I could pick out the signs of manipulation in Afghanistan — riots that started on university campuses where radicalized Pakistani students abound, simultaneous outbreaks in far-flung places, the sudden appearance of weapons. By providing extremists in Libya and elsewhere such an opportunity, the makers of “Innocence of Muslims” were playing into their hands.

As for imminence, the timeline of similar events after recent burnings of religious materials indicates that reactions typically come within two weeks. Nakoula’s video was deliberately publicized just before the sensitive date of Sept. 11, and could be expected to spark violence on that anniversary.