Speech, Religion, and Politics: Where is the Red Line?
By Piper Bayard*
My intelligence operative writing partner, Jay Holmes*, is not at liberty to issue a statement on the current “insult to islam” situation, but thanks to Freedom of Speech, I am under no such restrictions.
The Muhammed Movie Trailer has stirred up quite a lot of passions in America and around the world. That’s because religion, like politics, is visceral and rational discussions of either are rare. Blame is flying in a chaotic whirlwind with nowhere stable to land. Let’s take a moment to calm our roiling viscera and look at some facts.
America has no established religion. America has Freedom of Speech. That’s what allows people of many religions to co-exist. Differing religions that produce violent conflict in other parts of the world co-exist peacefully here because Americans chose at the nation’s founding to value Freedom of Speech above the individual ability to do violence in the face of offense. It is part of the Social Contract, and it is based on the notion that human life and peace are more important and productive than any verbal insults.
Currently, Muslims are attacking our US embassies and consulates around the world because an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in America made a parody film of Muhammad and posted it on YouTube. The violence claimed the lives of four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, image from US Dept. of State
Some Americans place the blame for those deaths squarely on the filmmaker and his backers. “He should have known Muslims would riot and kill people.” I would disagree for two primary reasons.
The Supreme Court has always had the right to regulate the time and place of speech. However, that is generally applied where speech is calculated to incite violence by Americans toward other Americans. A film parodying Muhammad that is rife with intentional religious insults is far more similar to the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptists, and the Westboro Baptist message of death to America and our soldiers has been deemed protected under the First Amendment.
The Westboro Baptists are every bit as offensive to Americans, to soldiers, and to actual Christians as the parody film of Muhammad is to Muslims. As a general rule though, Americans can count on each other to not riot and kill people, even in the face of grave and sacred insult. That is Freedom of Speech in practice. To hold the filmmaker responsible is to hold Muslims to a lower standard of civility and behavior than the average American.
This condones the idea that Muslims cannot reasonably be trusted to behave in a mature and civilized fashion. If I were a Muslim, I would be insulted by that notion. Also, by the same reasoning, shouldn’t the grieving soldiers’ families be excused if they decide to kill some Westboro Baptists? Is that the law we want in our land?
Speaking of the filmmaker, I’ve heard numerous theories about who was backing him. Was the Coptic Cigar just a Coptic Cigar? Were right-wing Republicans intending to highlight Obama’s weakness in foreign policy? Was this a plot by Israel? Was it sponsored by Iran as a way of inciting Muslims to violence to mask other, more insidious agendas on the part of that Shi’ite country?
Let’s look at Israel first. Israel certainly has plenty of schemes to go around, as do all countries, but this wouldn’t be a very smart plot for Israel. It had nothing to gain by simultaneously pissing off the entire Muslim world around it above and beyond what its mere existence already does. This chaos is a much more fruitful opportunity for so many other players.
So let’s turn to Libya. The vast majority of the Libyan people want America in their country. They are highly educated for the region with a literacy rate of over 70%, which is better than that of many American cities. With increased education comes awareness of the rest of the world and the ability to conceive of and participate in a nation rather than just a tribe. In other words, Libya has a chance at molding itself into nation of peace and prosperity.
Image from BuzzFeed: 15 Photos of Libyans Apologizing to Americans
There are many factions in Libya, some of them foreigners from other Middle Eastern countries, who want to see the new Libya fail. Those countries and organizations are always on the watch for some excuse to stir up hatred against the US and break our diplomatic ties.
Unorganized, spontaneous mobs in the Middle East generally throw rocks or shoot up the place a bit. They do not have mortars and rockets and do not perform organized attacks on US embassies and consulates. The nature of the attack on our US consulate in Benghazi would indicate that a foreign predatory country or organization like Al-Qaeda is behind it, and that Libya is as much a victim of that attack as the US is.
On Sunday, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told Jake Tapper on ABC’s “This Week” that the Libyan protest was completely spontaneous and a copycat of Egyptian protests. However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), former FBI agent and House Intelligence Committee Chair, tactfully pointed out that there were too many coincidences to conclude the Benghazi attack hadn’t been planned in advance. Arizona Sen. John McCain, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added that, “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration.” I can only say that Rice will play this however the White House tells her to, and that this is the same UN that put Gadhafi in charge of Human Rights.
Iran, Yemen, and Egypt are another story. Unlike Libya, those countries are capitalizing on this moment.
Protests in Iran, image from news.kuwaittimes.net
The Iranian government is using this poorly-made parody film to incite Shi’ites around the world to violence, something their mullahs do at the drop of a Koran. Iran has openly declared in the past that it wants to turn all Muslim nations into its satellite states. It’s hardly a stretch to see Iran behind the attack in Libya, either as a well-laid plot or simply an opportunistic taking.
Another gem is Yemen. The Yemeni government didn’t simply fail to protect the US embassy. Yemeni security police were seen encouraging the few hundred protestors to pass through their check points to get to the embassy. These were the same police who were supposed to be protecting the embassy. In fact, in some cases, they even joined the protestors.
These Yemeni security forces are still controlled by ex-Yemeni President Ali Saleh’s family. The Saleh faction wants Al-Qaeda defeated, but it also wants to generate anti-Western hysteria to help stall any democratic reforms in Yemen. It’s worth noting that over two million people did not protest in Sana’a in spite of the efforts of the Saleh-controlled security police.
Then there is Egypt. The Egyptian government, run by the duly elected Muslim Brotherhood, was too busy cashing our billions in aid money and begging Europe for more to bother to use its massive security forces to fulfill its diplomatic obligation to protect our embassy on their soil. In between panhandling in Europe and chumming with the wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is verbally condemning the violence. However, he is also threatening America, saying that the Islamic prophet is “the red line.”
Egypt is demanding that America ignore her own laws and values of Freedom of Speech and punish the filmmaker who made this parody film. Questions hang in the air . . .
Will President Obama make it clear that America is a country that stands behind its Constitution and the Freedom of Speech guaranteed in it, even when people are insulted by that speech? Or will Obama compromise our First Amendment to appease the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and punish the filmmaker for his legal activities? Will America continue to aid and do business with countries that refuse to honor their duty to protect our embassies?
Where is America’s “red line”? I wish I knew.
In the meantime, I appreciate this rational appeal from Syed Mahmood, “A Muslim’s Reaction to Muhammad Movie Trailer.”
All the best to all of you for remaining rational in the face of visceral reactions.
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Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney with a university degree or two. She currently pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels with Holmes when she isn’t shooting, SCUBA diving, or chauffeuring her children.
‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.
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