What started as an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, has led to a series of violent protests against the United States that has spread across the Muslim world with alarming speed. The attack on the consulate killed four Americans, one of which was Chris Stevens,U.S. Ambassador to Libya. Supposedly, the source of the protest is a trailer for a film titled “The Innocence of Muslims,” a privately produced, low-budget production which criticizes Mohammed and Islam. The trailer has been available on YouTube since July, but only gained widespread attention in the wake of the consulate attack. While the film itself may be distasteful, the ensuing attacks and violent protests are unreasonable, disproportionate, and need to be strongly condemned. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has been tepid in its response. First, instead of standing up for free speech and denouncing the violence, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement “condemning continuous efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” It has since been established that the Embassy acted on its own without the approval of the State Department.
However, for well over a week, the administration insisted that the attack was simply a spontaneous act of an enraged mob. While calling for an end to the violence, Obama himself appeared to normalize the protests and bloodshed by referring to it as the “natural” result of the “outrage over the video.” While administration officials have paid some lip service to free speech, the focus has been on condemning the trailer and filmmaker. For instance, the administration pressured Google to remove the film from YouTube, which it refused to do. According to Anne Gearan of the Washington Post, the administration even purchased TV ads in Pakistan in which Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounce and apologize for the film.
Bret Stephens points out in the Wall Street Journal that the administration did not bend over backwards to condemn the Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon,” which was highly offensive to Mormons. Clinton even attended the play. But then again, Mormons were not torching Broadway in protest.
While “The Innocence of Muslims” is certainly offensive, the real tragedy is not that some people were offended, but that many innocent people have been killed and injured because of the intentionally violent response. Despite the administration’s refusal to admit it until recently, the consulate attack appeared from the beginning to have been a carefully plotted terrorist assault to mark the anniversary of 9/11, having nothing to do with the film.
Yet despite the intentionality of the violence, the tendency has been to blame free expression or ideas instead of the choice of some Muslims to respond violently. According to Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, the governments of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan have all called for the U.S. to ban speech that is critical of Islam.
However, as Jeremy Havardi of The Commentator pointed out, removing responsibility from Islamic rioters “effectively views them as savages from which little better can be expected. Such a view panders to the Islamist grievance culture rather than demanding that Muslims, like everyone else, behave better.”
Freedom of speech and peaceful protest are not only legal rights in the U.S. Constitution, they are intrinsic human rights. Instead of renouncing and apologizing for these basic freedoms, the United States needs to stand against Islamic extremists seeking to silence their foes through violence and intimidation.
Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.