Supporters of the Obama administration have taken to asking, as though someone made it up, “When did the administration apologize?” for the 14-minute video trailer for an amateurish film critical of Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, which was posted on YouTube this summer.
In fact, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued an official condemnation of the film, apparently a short time before said embassy was attacked by Muslim terrorists on Sept. 11.
Or do we now consider it normal for a United States embassy to condemn YouTube trailers for obscure films made by Coptic Christians who have lived their entire lives under Muslim repression, stating the U.S. government “… condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims. … We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others”?
They were practically blubbering. And they sure weren’t speaking for this taxpayer. Given the kind of burn-her-at-the-stake tyranny every known messianic religion has imposed pretty much whenever it had the chance, I think hurt feelings is about the least they can expect from their former victims.
Nor do I remember this or any other branch of the U.S. State Department ever condemning gifted M.I.T. Professor Tom Lehrer for singing, 60 years ago,
“Get in line in that processional, Step into that small confessional,
“There, the guy who’s got religion’ll Tell you if your sin’s original. …
“So get down upon your knees, Fiddle with your rosaries,
“Bow your head with great respect, And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!”
Does anyone remember Catholics rioting, storming consular walls, committing murder and buggery over “The Vatican Rag”?
In public, I mean.
Whether or not they constitute “apologies,” attempts to distance the administration from this silly film — and thus to turn their backs on the First Amendment — continue. “The U.S. State Department is airing a message on television channels in Pakistan with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disavowing an anti-Islamic film that triggered riots,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported Friday.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad produced the ad from public comments by Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, and the State Department spent about $70,000 to buy commercial time to show it, department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
The 30-second U.S. announcement, subtitled in Urdu, shows President Obama saying the U.S. rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” Secretary Clinton is shown saying, “The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”
While, oddly enough, the protesters and even some governments of Islamic nations are hard at work validating the film’s depiction of their culture as violent, intolerant, and infantile, if not insane.
Thirty people have died in protests over an obscure, low-budget film that hardly anyone has seen.
And Pakistan and Bangladesh this week blocked YouTube to prevent people watching even the 14-minute excerpt.
Because if they saw it, they might realize it’s not exactly Ready for Prime Time?
Efforts to dial back the violence and protect American facilities and citizens abroad make sense, I suppose. As it appears some rabble-rousing Islamic TV stations have falsely represented the film as an official product of the U.S. government, setting the record straight is fine.
But the administration seems to be missing a chance, here, to turn this into a “teaching moment” about free expression in a modern, pluralistic state.
It’s incumbent on any official spokesman for America to reiterate that we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and that, far from regretting or condemning the limits on government censorship imposed by the First Amendment, we’re proud of those freedoms, and believe the tolerance of different thoughts and views (even those that some may find offensive) is a large part of what has enabled us to become one of the freest and not coincidentally one of the most prosperous nations on earth.
You’re not exactly encouraging free inquiry and creative thought at your universities when you jail professors for theorizing that, before he received his religious revelation, the prophet Muhammad (a guy who has been dead for 1,300 years) may have shaved his armpits.
(“Dr. Younus Shaikh, while teaching at a medical college, might have wisely avoided any discussion of the personal hygiene of the Prophet Mohammed,” the New York Times reported from Islamabad on May 14, 2001. “But the topic came up during a physiology class. And the doctor, who considers himself a scholar, talked briefly about seventh-century Arabia and its practices regarding circumcision and the removal of underarm hair. Some students found his remarks deeply offensive. ‘Only out of respect, because he was our teacher, did we not beat him to death on the spot,’ said Syed Bilal, 17. Instead, they informed a group of powerful mullahs, who in turn filed a criminal complaint. Lest the matter be treated with insufficient urgency, these clerics dispatched a mob to the medical school and the police station, threatening to burn them down.”)
A tolerant and peaceful religion, or the world’s largest lunatic asylum?
In Los Angeles Thursday, a judge quite properly denied a request to force YouTube to yank the trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which was produced by a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt.
What was the motivation for this film?
The opening scene shows Muslims ransacking a Christian medical clinic. “Set the place on fire! We’ll burn out these forsaken Christians!” cries one Muslim character.
The scene, “although crude, resonates with some Egyptian Christians, who have suffered years of persecution and attacks by Islamic militants,” reports Southern California Public Radio station KPCC.
“Whoever made this film is such an outlier in their community that it’s completely unrepresentative,” notes Eliot Dickinson, an associate professor of political science at Western Oregon University who has written a book on U.S. Copts. “But what it does is, it taps into this frustration of always being persecuted back in Egypt and let’s not downplay that. To be a Copt in Egypt now is a very, very difficult life because, especially after the Arab Spring, it’s open season.”
Khalil al-Ananim an expert in Islamist movements, told The Associated Press in Cairo last week it will take a generation or more for Mideast nations to fully develop democracies that respect “individual rights and Muslim values,” two phrases still not often found juxtaposed.
“The Arab world is on the verge of choosing between joining the modern world and political development, or to remain as in the last few centuries,” he said.
Although he could have said “the last few millennia.”
Immigrant Nakoula Basseley Nakoula spent his money not plotting violent revenge on his former persecutors in Egypt, but making a movie. What American would deny him the right to tell his people’s story of oppression — not matter how awkwardly — by whatever peaceful means he could find?
It’s not America that needs to change its ideas about freedom of thought, speech, and expression.
All we have to do is remember to stand up for them.