Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced that she finds the anti-Muslim movie trailer that sparked violent and even murderous attacks on American embassies across the Middle East to be “disgusting and reprehensible” and that the United States government had nothing to do with it. I’d add that the trailer is idiotic and hilariously amateurish, but film criticism isn’t part of our chief diplomat’s job description.
It is of course true that the United States government has nothing to do with the film, and that’s an important point to make. Most Middle Easterners have spent their entire lives in an environment where the state owns and controls most or all of the media. State-run TV and newspapers are normal for them. Some honestly may not understand that we do things differently here.
Clinton also should have explained the First Amendment. We don’t punish blasphemy in the United States. Our government isn’t allowed to punish citizens for disrespecting a religion, a political party, the president, or anything or anyone else. This is not going to change. It’s certainly not going to change because violent reactionaries on the other side of the planet don’t like it.
And I have to say it’s a little unseemly for our government to officially take a position on a YouTube video, even one that sparked an international crisis. It’s even more unseemly that our government is taking the same position on that film as the people who just killed our ambassador in Benghazi.
The Bin Ladenists of the Middle East have reasons to hate just about everything on YouTube and American television; not only “blasphemous” videos like the one that inspired the current rage of the week, but also everything from South Park and Breaking Bad to Shalom in the Home and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
I don’t mean to pick on the Democrats here. President George W. Bush did the same thing in 2006. When Danish embassies were attacked in Beirut and Damascus over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, the Republican president condemned the cartoons.
Violent mobs and terrorist organizations are not going to calm down just because Bush and Clinton go on TV and tell them they have a point. All that does is encourage them. As Matt Welch pointed out in Tablet, “Mohammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, reportedly explained: The U.S. government’s statement condemning the producers of the video that insults the Prophet was not enough. Neither prophylactic apologies nor self-censorship, it turns out, seem to mollify religious fanatics.”
This should have been obvious by now even if al-Zawahiri hadn't said anything. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemned the film before it was attacked and repeated the condemnation afterward. Violent protests spread across the region the very next day. The Obama administration distanced itself from the embassy’s hostage-like response while it was under siege, but Clinton just went on TV and did it again. The result won't be any better this time than it was last time.
The West will not, cannot, change its laws to accommodate anybody’s emotions, especially not people on the other side of the planet who replace our flag with the Al-Qaeda flag and murder our diplomats.The Internet will always be offensive and our First Amendment will not be repealed. The longer it takes for Middle Easterners to understand this and adjust, the more people are going to die.