This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.
The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.
How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.
Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.
How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.
But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?
This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.
Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.
I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:
It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?
Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.
Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”
Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.
Photo credit: jbcurio
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