A mob of Salafists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to “protest” a “blasphemous” Internet video made by some yahoos in Florida who decided to put the Prophet Mohamed on trial. The Salafists scaled the embassy walls, took down the American flag, set it on fire, and replaced it with their black flag.
Even though no one was (apparently) hurt, attacking an embassy is technically an act of war. Yet our embassy responded in part with the following statement: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Look: free speech doesn't mean anything unless offensive speech is protected. Say what you will about blasphemy, but it isn't a crime in the United States. It can't be.
It doesn't matter how offensive the Internet video in question may be. The U.S. Embassy, by suggesting its attackers had a “point,” just made itself look like it's staffed with cringing apologists.
You know what the Salafists want? They want the United States government to throw every American in jail who insults their religion. Obviously that's not going to happen, so let's not pretend that they're just overreacting to a reasonable grievance and that there's room for common ground. They aren't and there isn't.
Salafists find just about everything offensive, not only “blasphemous” videos made by Islam-haters in Florida, but even mainstream Islam as practiced in Egypt. The only way to make such people happy is by shutting off the entire Internet. And that's just for starters.
Our diplomats in Cairo need to stop making excuses for violent reactionaries and figure out what changes they need to make to secure their buildings and their employees. If that isn't possible, and if the Egyptian authorities can't keep our embassy safe, then it's time for our two countries to re-evaluate our relationship.
UPDATE: It's getting less press, but our consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi was also attacked, this time by a militia. And this time a U.S. official was killed.
We aren't going to cancel our First Amendment because fanatics on the other side of the planet get bent out of shape over what happens in free countries. And they won't stop getting bent out of shape. So we should brace for a lot more of this sort of thing in the future.
UPDATE: The Obama administration doesn't care for the U.S. Embassy's response to the attack on itself any more than I do. An administration official told Politico, "The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government."
The problem with diplomats is that sometimes they're too diplomatic. They're also dishonest. Earlier today the embassy tweeted that it stood by its initial reaction, but that tweet has since been deleted.
Click over to the Politico story and look at the photograph of "protestors" atop the embassy walls. They're flying the flag of Al Qaeda. It's not just an Islamist flag. It's the Al Qaeda flag. If Egypt's new government think it's a good idea to have a modus vivendi with such people, interesting times are ahead for all of us.