Tag Archives: Christopher Stevens

Innocence of Americans: E- Reactions to the Assassination of Christopher Stevens

One month later: an analysis of reactions to Ambassador Steven’s death, and the “Innocence of Muslims” movie on English-language Islamist forums.

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ambassador stevens libya death america

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The assassinations of United States Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three security attaches last month has caused me to read the discussions related to these topics on reputed English-language Islamist forums.

I should begin by explaining that forums I chose, Ummah.com and IslamicAwakening.com, are reputable for their tendency to be rather conservative. While they label themselves as moderate forums for all Muslims, certain sectors of these communities (particularly those that discuss political issues) tend to stray from the norm in their ideology. Pictures or videos posted containing women with uncovered heads are often labelled with a warning for men. In fact, in one thread a user’s account was disabled for failing to warn others of an uncovered women in a video. These forums are advertised as message boards for those interested in Islam, which means that article topics vary from threads on cooking, parenting, or Quranic interpretation, to threads such as ‘America is one sick place’, with over 500 replies. In this thread users post articles that exemplify their argument that America is sick, citing cases of paedophilia, drug use, and debauchery.Levine and Brachman have alluded to the fact that the Islamic extremist forum movement has been popularized due to gamification; meaning that users now post more radical or violent statements in order to improve their rankings amongst their peers. According to them, the violent rhetoric that one views on these forums may not necessarily be sincere. It may simply be a subconscious effort by a user to increase their popularity within the forum.

When one spends time reading the day-to-day discussions that take place, you realize that maybe it wouldn’t be completely insane to label the forum as normal. I use the term ‘normal’, in the sense that, like everyone else with internet connections, users utilize these forums as a method of escape, and a tool through which one can vent their frustrations. Yet while some choose to vent their emotions through passive-aggressive comments on YouTube, turning to games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, or posting attention-seeking statuses on Facebook, these individuals choose to focus their frustrations through a different lens; mainly, on which tends to empathise with Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliated organisations. Since the assassination of United States Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens I have spent time perusing a few of the more popular English language forums, hoping to draw conclusions not only about the types of individuals who frequent these forums, but also to see if I could draw any conclusions on how users interpreted the events on September 11, 2012.

First, let me emphasise that users on these forums are not terrorists. Reading the discussions on these blogs should not be viewed as similar to reading the internal notes from Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. They should, more appropriately be labelled as potential constituents and adherents to Islamist extremist ideology, and the undercurrent voice of a minority population of Muslims within the West. The individuals on these forums have varying levels of interest and faith invested in the movement and are essentially fence-sitters; while some may truly believe in the validity of the ideology, or pretend to with their virtual peers, they have not yet responded to the ‘call to arms’ and joined the mujahideen. Levels of devotion to the cause vary. Some may post every few days, yet some post multiple times every day, with the forum essentially becoming their social life. Some individuals involved heighten their responsibility and time commitment by volunteering their skills to create or edit videos, translate videos or text from Arabic to English (or other languages), or by creating original material for their peers’ enjoyment. These proactive individuals have been labelled ‘middle managers’, by Neumann, Evans, and Pantucci, and ‘jihobbyists’ by Jarret Brachman. Despite this increase in commitment, however, they are no different from their peers who devote less time. Though they are willing to donate time and energy, they have yet to make the ultimate sacrifice (these are their words, not mine).

I have spent the past month reading threads related to the death of J. Christopher Stevens and the “Innocence of Muslims” video, in order to understand the general consensus from users on the events, and, if the reaction to these occurences can indicate any broader trends within their community. My survey of these forums has left me with the following observations on the consensus opinion of forum users:

1. J. Christopher Stevens was not an innocent victim.

Leaders from around the world have spoken up against the murder of Christopher Stevens, and many Libyans have stepped forward to condemn the actions, claiming that he was well-received amongst the Libyan population. The opinion of that Steven’s death was unnecessary, and aimed at the wrong individual, does not match the opinion of a particular population of those on IslamicAwakening.com and Ummah.com. One of the first respondents to the thread that broke the news of the death stated that:

he is not a diplomat, a diplomat engages in diplomacy he does not assist rebels in overthrowing an on/off partner in the War on Terror nor does he try to commandeer the revolution or take part in OEF-TS doing so makes him a combatant not a diplomat

<User from IA>

To many of these users (or, at least the ones who wish to discuss their opinions with their virtual companions), the right of a foreign embassy to be protected by domestic law enforcement does not parallel Islamic law. As an American diplomat, Christopher Stevens was involved in controversial, polarizing issues, such as legal rights, and militaristic issues:

I have to agree, America’s ambassadors cannot be classified as “emissaries” within the Muslim world according to Shariah, they are military commanders, espionage chief officers, and propagators of corruption. All of this can be documented. US ambassadors sign off on both espionage and military operations in host Muslim countries, including Libya. And in Pakistan the US embassy sponsored a gay rights event in open defiance of the Islamic culture there.

<User from ummah.com>

The problem is that some of us consider this ‘ambassador’ to be an innocent person, far removed from anything that the usa does or promotes. he is also innocent of whatever the usa does to muslim countries worldwide. and that he was there to ensure peace and stability. nothing could be further from the truth. in fact the people who are chosen to be the representatives of america -specially in the muslim countries-are the worst of creation. the diplomats are there to ensure that america’s will be done.this guy was there to ensure american domination in libia and to ensure subjugation of the muslims. just because you call yourself an ambassador doesn’t make you one.

<User from IA>

Ambassador Steven’s legal endorsements and interactions with military officials apparently validate the actions of those killed him; as an ambassador of American ideals, he was deemed an enemy to Islam by those who killed him. The statement above also highlights forum users’ belief that:

2. The American government; and, by extension, its citizens are hypocrites.

Forum users strongly believe that America’s lack of action regarding Sam Bacile’s film, “Innocence of Muslims” is deceitful and reprehensible. While the First Amendment does protect citizens from legal action against certain political or religious views, users cite Tarek Mehanna and Mohamed Mohamud as examples of individuals being jailed for hate speech that goes above and beyond what the law protects. Many forum users claim that, as the United States government has censored extremist Muslims, the video should be censored. Given the violent and aggressive content of the film, it should be taken off YouTube, Bacile should be arrested, and that Islamic law justifies his murder:

Freedom of speech’ excuse by the US government seems to be viewed as hypocritical, ‘The truth is that they have arrested and imprisoned many Muslims for what they call ‘hate speech’ and yet this film was not seen to have crossed any boundaries.’

<User from IA>

If the US are concerned about casualties and security, perhaps they should censor this kind of ‘uncivilised speech’ and put the culprits behind bars for two decades, the way they put Tarek Mehenna and others behind bars for exactly the same crime, but of a reverse polarity.

<User from IA>

Not only is America’s lack of action against Bacile seen as a hypocrisy, but, on a broader scale, their condemnations of violence and destruction against embassies is viewed as ludicrous to many forum users. They cite America’s War on Terror, and the many innocent lives destroyed as a result of the military actions that have been undertaken since 2001, as instances of persecution against Muslims:

Do you think what you i.e the west do is an acceptable excuse in the name Democracy? Were the war crimes of Blair and Bush forgotten that fast?..

<User from IA>

OK, but it is a bit rich for America to expect to be treated fairly when it has been on a rape and murder spree for the last decade. If they want people to respect international conventions, then they should apologise for all they have done and then lead by example.

<User from IA>

3. American Muslims and ‘Westernized’ Muslims, are ‘sickening’

It seems that these forums either a). attract those with extremist viewpoints b.) radicalise all members into adopting extremist ideology, or c) more moderate members choose not to post on threads that appear to be more extreme. I am of the opinion that the final conclusion is the most accurate; expressions of moderation such as this:

Such killing is totally wrong without doubt and I do not say it because I love americans, but because of many reasons. First of all you do not kill a messenger or an ambassador. Secondly, if he was accepted to the country as an ambassador by muslims (it does not matter whether they were fasiqs or not), so it is enough that he was given a protection by some muslims, and you should not kill an ambassador because a jew living in US insulted the profet, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.

<User from Ummah>

Are refuted with responses like this:

That lot is whom Sheikh Anwar Awlaki described as Rand Muslims – Muslims for the sake of the kuffar. Same lot who cried foul when Nidal Hasan killed american soldiers.

<User from IA>

The user who found the attacks wrong and unjustified was quickly told off, and was told off with one of the most offensive terms user on these forums. A RAND Muslim is a term first popularized by Anwar al-Awlaki, used to describe a Muslim who has been moderated by western politics. Many of the users posting on political threads use terminology such as ‘RAND Muslim’, ‘house negro’, ‘Quilliam‘ and ‘Uncle Tom’ as insults for users who appear to sympathize with the murder of J Christopher Stevens, or believe that “The Innocence of Muslims” cannot or should not be censored. Such terminology, which stirs up images of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement, reminds us of how closely certain users on these forums mirror their struggle to that of African Americans in the 1960s; as a matter of fact, there are many users whose avatar features popular figures within the Black Power movement. A second response to the moderate users post states:

I wish these people would die. I don’t know if I’ve felt that way about Muslims before. I don’t know if this feeling will go away.

<User from ummah.com>

This user became so angry and upset that he was willing to wish a fellow forum user dead. It appears that there is a great deal of animosity and very little respect for American Muslims, who apparently are more moderate than other western Muslims. Along with negative statements about America, and proclamations that J. Christopher Stevens was a worthy target, many users direct resentment towards American Muslims, who apparently did not react as angrily as forum users would have wished. A picture of American Muslims, standing outside of the White House and holding a prayer session in honor of the late ambassador was posted, and the consensus was general disgust. Many individuals questioned where the American Muslim voice was:

Insha Allah, the [non-Muslim] americans will now turn against him. By the way. Where are all these American muslims. Have they gone into hiding? Bunch of cowards.

<User from IA>

So, while there does appear to be a minority voice of moderation within these threads, they appear to avoid some of the more contentious topics (such as ones involving controversial current events), and, when they do post, appear to avoid getting into in-fighting with those who insult them.

4. The assassination of J. Christopher Stevens and the release of “Innocence of Muslims” may be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’, for some Muslims.

Multiple users have approved of the riots, protests, and the assassination of J. Christopher Stevens as a strategic success for the global Islamic community. By strongly reacting to anti-Muslim sentiments, they are propagating the message that the global Muslim community will not tolerate such acts of aggression towards their Prophet:

Remember this year Quraan was desecrated by the US soldiers in afghanistan. Had the muslimeen over there not protested the way they did, had they remained peaceful – that would in no way have brought more converts to islam, it might have resulted in more such incidents. And the enemy is not getting aided by any means. It only shows muslims are getting stronger and more courageous.

<User from IA>

By rejecting the video’s sentiment that Islam is an intolerable, unsophisticated, and inhumane religion, they hope that the global Muslim community will grow stronger, and perhaps become a louder voice than those who are not Muslim:

I have read/heard somewhere that when the Sahabah would be attacking the enemy of Islam in their forts and the enemy would start cursing the Prophet Muhammad…the Sahabah would rejoice that victory is near. Why? Because anyone who insults the Prophet…cannot live in peace and harmony. So they would become more encouraged to fight and kill the enemy…And they charged at the enemy slicing them up and leaving no trace of those filthy creatures. A few years ago they made cartoons and look at where they stand. The black flag flies across the screens in the world. Allah u Akbar. Indeed the victory of Allah is near! May We live to see it and be a part of it and not just people on the sidelines!

<User from IA>

Along with believing that riots are an important precedent, some have expressed that the current environment may bring more Muslims to the global community, and swing their loyalties away from the western world. As previously detailed, the fence-sitting members of forums have a great deal of animosity towards Muslims with westernized sentiments, yet some users have faith that the current climate might cause some individuals to reevaluate their views on the West:

i was talking to someone tonight andwe agreed that this is the straw that will most probably break the camels back.i may be wrong as i am a mere human but dont know why my heart feels something big is near.anyway Allah knows the best.

<User from ummah.com>

[Rioters] should target parliament – the shrines to democracy next.

^ Don’t read too much into that post. It was just a suggestion; a dig at democracy and parliament. Of course we commend what the brothers are doing in smashing these shrines.

<User from IA>

As can be seen, the rhetoric and subject matter appears to be quite anti-American, including the direction of negative energy against fellow Muslims situated in Western countries. Of course, one could say that violent rhetoric is common in online platforms, that virtual communication allows individuals to be more aggressive than they could be if they were communicating face-to-face. Users on a variety of platforms have no problem becoming aggressive with each other. The internal aggression directed at peers shows the polarized nature of these forums. For those that are intent on the validity of the assassination of Stevens and the targeting of Bacile, one must wonder if and when users will feel that words within a forum are not enough. For most followers of extremist ideology, the ability to vent their frustration through discussions and remain politically active within the democratic system will allow them to feel as if their voice is valued. As one active user on the forum suggested:

I find it difficult to have sympathy for an American diplomat. However, what makes us better than the US is the fact that we lay down our lives for our values, whereas they lay down their values for their lives. If we also start laying down our values, the difference between us and them wouldn’t be much.

<User from IA>

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Photo Credit: Secretary of Defense

Author’s note: Usernames were withheld for sake of privacy; membership is needed to access certain parts of the aforementioned forums.  If anyone is intent on validating my sources, feel free to email me at [email protected]

A Muslim’s Reaction To ‘Innocence of Muslims’: ‘Well, So Fucking What?’

Islam is constantly attacked. Muslims must learn to ignore productions similar to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and retort with peaceful protests and demonstrations. The attitude should be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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Mo Farah Daily Mail Innocence of Muslims

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This piece is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

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After reading about the film Innocence of Muslims, and as a Muslim myself, my only reaction to the very film itself was ‘well, so fucking what‘. I didn’t even want to give this film any thought and energy. After the protests and the violent reaction of Muslims it may seem strange that you would hear such a comment from a Muslim, but I am increasingly bored of slander and offensive remarks against the Prophet and my religion.

The Danish cartoons and the various films attacking Islam did not impact negatively on my beliefs, so, over time, my reaction to it all became ‘well so fucking what? I’m not going to stop believing and respecting my Prophet’. Yes, many did make me consider certain points raised about my religion and I reacted to this intellectually. And this is how all Muslims should react, offended or not, because this is not the first time – nor will it be the last – that anyone has mocked the Prophet. You can protest, seek an apology and get it, then just leave it at that.

I believe that Gray is wholly right about freedom of speech. I take the position that although I may not agree with what the other person is saying, I would defend each individual’s right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech should be defended, but within appropriate boundaries. Going as far as denying the Holocaust is fine, and having your own interpretation of how one views the Prophet of Islam, but when we feel anti-Semitism kicking in, and racist comments which incite and encourage hatred and violence against Muslims or any other group of people then it is only right to step in and make a stand.

The Danish cartoons, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, and other productions, images and literature that are viewed as ‘attacking’ Islam has ironically only served to incite violent reactions from the Muslims communities; they did not incite violence from non-Muslims towards Muslims in any shape or form. Yes, many laughed, agreed and disagreed and that was it. There was no ‘we should kill all Muslims cos this guy said their Prophet is a paedophile.’ And this is it, anything that might be deemed reactionary to Muslims beliefs, is viewed by Muslims as an attack. Let’s get out of this victim mentality!

However I also take the position that it is wrong to use words that are purely done to offend religions and its followers (and this applies to Muslim as well, especially those who think it is okay to call Jews apes and pigs for example). In my opinion, in the context of ‘Innocence of Muslims’, the ‘offense’ caused is a matter of semantics, intention behind the words, and how the receiving party chooses to interpret and react. Yes, Muslims are offended and they have every right to be, but ultimately Muslims should not feel that their beliefs or the reverence of the Prophet should be impacted negatively by a production mocking and insulting the Prophet.

As Muslims we need to understand first and foremost, that as offensive any remark is, everyone is entitled to hold an opinion and to voice this opinion. It is a vital element of the democracy they choose to live in.

Easier said than done but considering the Muslim community’s history of violent reaction against Rushdie, Danish cartoons, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the like, I know it is difficult to imagine that the Muslim community’s reaction would be anything but one of violence.

The killing of an innocent US Ambassador who had no links to the film has not only perpetuated the cycle of more hatred against Muslims, but has also given this awful film the publicity it does not deserve. Religious figures such as Jesus are mocked all the time, but we don’t necessarily see Christians rise up and take violent action against innocent individuals. Nor am I suggesting that that Muslims should passively endure slander and mockery. I encourage peaceful protests because as much as any person has the right to attack Islam, Muslims have every right to (peacefully) oppose it too.

From experience I have found that once slander and mockery such as the one we see in the film is allowed out in the open and out of peoples’ system it just tends to phase out. So in future, the Muslim reaction to such productions should also be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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More on the subject:

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

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Photo credit: Bearded Genius via The Samosa

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

The protests and rioting in the Middle East are not, as is argued, a result of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Instead, they demonstrate the lack of legitimate authority in the region following the Arab Spring.

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peacful islam innocence of muslims

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Continuing protests and rioting in front of Western embassies in the Middle East are not a testament to the ability of Muslims to be exceptionally touchy to religious insult, but an underscoring of the formula Charles Tilly opens with in his The Politics of Collective Violence:

(x + y) occasionally to the power of z = collective violence
[where x = young men; y = lack of supervision and z = a stimulant]

To say that the deaths of American embassy workers in Libya is because of exceptional Muslim touchiness to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’, is to say that the riots in London two years ago were a series of cogent protests to a police state.

In the case of ongoing violence in the Middle East, while media sources dwell upon the ‘z’ element – here the perceived honour infraction dealt by a film that received most of its publicity from Salafist media sources and must now be the worst most watched film ever after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as apparently the sole cause of unrest, this element of the formula is optional and of uncertain statistical significance. What is surely more interesting to the scenario is the crucial ‘y’ factor.

What do Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have in common? Exactly. Lebanon, Afghanistan and Sudan are more chronic sufferers of what ails these four Arab Spring nations. Supervision, authority and a perception that violent actions will have consequences for the young man in his subjective opinion (apologies if this appears sexist, but the under 30 and male thing is ubiquitous) are the cures to prevent rioting on a regular basis. To what extent these elements are present in the new executives of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia is becoming apparent. To what extent they have ever been present in the others is also telling.

We should also look at the ‘x’ factor. Why these young men have so much pent up frustration and time on their hands is a psychosocial-economic study for another day. Men in Cairo are becoming an issue as disenfranchisement rises and the dismal prospects for their economic future unravel. That sexual molestation is on the rise (and take it from an ex-Cairo-ex-pat, that it could rise from the situation before is a horrific prospect in itself) is also an indicator of young men thinking that they can get away with going with any urge that reveals itself to them. These young men are ripe for collective violence. The point is that this rioting would happen at the hands of male youths of any religion – or lack thereof – given the opportunity and some kind of stimulant.

This kind of violence – due to its stimulant factor, granted – like we saw at Bagram in February with the stimulant of the Quran desecrations always leads to Western commentators singling out the Islamic: why are Musilms so easily offended? Which is to be willfully blind to the universality of this tendency as a human trait that we can see everywhere. So keen is the West to ‘other’ the Muslim, that it is forgotten that the seminal work explaining this formula for violence was not developed looking at the violent characteristics of brown people of a different religion, but of Americans – of cowboys.

This violence, therefore, says everything about the status of authority where it occurs. Therein lies the means for peace, not in teaching Muslims a lesson about free speech, nor in teaching American film-makers about Islam, but in concentrating authority in a legitimate state apparatus. In this way, no TV Islamist could sow such unrest. Though it should be made clear that not even the instigators were authorities at the scene of the violence – in fact some Islamists present at some of the riots did try to prevent violence, but by then the ‘x’ + ‘y’ factor was cemented and nobody was in control.

The reaction to the recent unrest shows Western commentators for what they are: totally obsessed with Islam; but the unrest itself shows something very sad indeed about legitimate authority and statehood following the Arab Spring.

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Photo credit: agoolapulapu

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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carlsberg dont do freedom of speech

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This is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims: ‘Well So Fucking What?

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In 2006 Karl Rove, the Bush-era White House Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered a speech denoting the achievements of American conservatives. He argued that the most important distinction between conservatives and liberals was the former’s desire for revenge:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

For Rove, any attempt to comprehend the reasons for 9/11 was illogical and unnecessary: America had been attacked and the only possible response was war. It was unthinkable for the Republican to consider why terrorism had struck American shores in such a destructive and horrific fashion. By responding with the invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, the West acted to further catalyse anti-Western sentiment, grievances, and ultimately terrorism. In short, the response distinctly lacked any semblance of pragmatism.

Peter Kelly’s recent piece considering the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ shares this quality. The inference that protesters should be taking offence over the poor quality of the film rather than its content is as laughable as it is perverse, but the all the more serious issue is the representation that his arguments represent pragmatism: they do not.

Kelly argues that the statements made by Morsi and Karzai are “beyond wrong, they are dangerous”. Seemingly therefore, no national leader should take into account domestic political considerations and constraints when responding to an issue. Is this a pragmatist speaking?

The statements by both Morsi and Karzai are intended to allay further protests. Each leader’s respective country has recently undergone drastic and strenuous political changes, both leaders suffer from challenges to their leadership, and both preside over populations that have proven to be easily fired up. Is it more pragmatic to deliver a message in the hope that it will minimize further protests and casualties (likely targeting foreigners), or to persevere with a message that would only work to antagonize, irrespective of its (neo-liberal) ideological ‘correctness’?

Kelly goes on to denounce claims that the US embassy in Cairo’s statement was pragmatic, yet he fails to locate the statement within the broader timeline of the protests. The statement in question was made before both the murder of Christopher Stevens and members of his staff in Libya, as well as the storming of the US embassy in Cairo. It was not a response to the violence but an attempt to allay violence and protests given the effects of previous similar productions attacking Islam. One would hope that should Kelly inhabit the role of UK ambassador at some point during his career he would take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of his staff, even if by doing so his ideological message is weakened. When there is a threat to diplomatic personnel it is irresponsible and illogical to put politics before life. The US embassy’s statement was entirely pragmatic in that it attempted to ensure the safety of its staff. Would a pragmatist not have taken such a route?

The all the more deplorable position presented however, is that of a Manichean framework through which to view this issue. In much the same way that the Bush administration and al Qaeda promoted an “Us versus Them” vision of the post-9/11 world, Kelly asserts that either we “bend over and give over our rights” or we tell Islamists to fuck off. Such a binary only serves to consolidate the hand of those that hold values antithetical to the modern universalist values of freedom of speech, of equality, of political freedoms. The combating of such ideologues does not occur by presenting the wider population with the choice of ‘you’re either with us or against us’. If we tell the Muslim world to ‘do one’ every time we have a cultural conflict, well, is the result not obvious?

In The Art of War, the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Rove/Kelly vision argues against knowing your enemy and reacting on the basis of ideological foundation. A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism, working to spread modern universalist values by taking into account, and working against, the factors that aid and abet it. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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Photo credit: sjgibss80

‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

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.

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censorship offends me

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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.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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