On September 9, 2012, Egyptian demonstrators in Cairo scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy and pulled down the American flag, threatening the lives of those inside to protest a film they claimed was insulting to the prophet Mohammad. Reacting to this attack on our sovereignty and the lives of our citizens, the administration acted in the most un-American way imaginable, sending out this preposterous message:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.
The producer of this pointlessly inflammatory video was well within his rights to mock or slander any religion he chose however he pleased. So the statement irresponsibly perpetuated a false notion about how free speech works around here. Neither The Embassy of the United States in Cairo nor the president of United States has the power to apologize for your views on faith.
That’s, of course, only the most obvious problem. And the gratuitous groveling we do to allay the sensitivities of violence-prone Muslims (because who else are we attempting to placate?) has become a cringe-worthy aspect of American policy long before Barack Obama ever showed up. When the Bush administration, in the middle of the Danish carton controversy, claimed that “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief,” it was equally wrong. As far as the state goes, they’re all “acceptable.” (Then again, you’ll only find yourself on an assassination list for one of the above.)
After the horrific and deadly terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, France, it’s worth remembering again that there is no conciliatory rhetoric or kowtowing that will stop attacks on our liberal values. They won’t stop even if we give in, which is something we’ve done. It’s something we do quite often.
When a pastor in Florida announced plans to burn a few copies of the Koran, the president didn’t head to TV and condemn those who were trying to inhibit free speech, but rather he pleaded with the pastor who was “proposing to do is completely contrary to our values … this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.” (Thanks for the reminder, @Popehat)
When the French government was going to temporarily shut down 20 embassies and schools in various theocracies to safeguard their citizens abroad from potential violence, the American administration offered this gibberish: “We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the prophet Muhammad, and obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this.” Was the United States government aware that Charlie Hebdo had been mocking all religious denominations, and that images mocking Jews and Catholics were likely just as offensive? The threat of violence is the only conceivable reason government has to become a critic of satire.
And even when the administration does try its hand at some perfunctory equivalence, they botch it. Most people remember Obama’s infamous pleading at United Nations, that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” But what he went on to say yo the world was probably even more dangerous:
But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
Why would the president conflate the destruction of a church – an act of violence – with a non-violent act of free speech? Why would he compare criticism of ideology with the irrational movement in the Muslim world of denying history?
Why would the president, in condemning the Paris attacks, curiously leave out an important fact?
Perhaps he is only being diligent, rather than jumping to conclusions regarding Islamic terrorism. But then again, history says probably not.
Of course, it’s not this (or any other) administration’s fault that a major faction of one of the world’s major religions still believes that hurt feelings alone is justification enough to go out and massacre people. What the state’s squishy position does is fly in the face of the incontrovertible evidence that this one group has a near-monopoly on most of the world’s religious violence. Some people deserve more mockery than others. An uncomfortable fact that drives of us to type ludicrous things like:
People kill in the name of all religions—incl Islam, Christianity, Judaism. They don’t represent entire community. They are EXTREMISTS.
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) January 7, 2015
Funny how we don’t have to worry about our lives after mocking the Pope, though, isn’t it?
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