Roger Ebert writes: Set aside for a moment all of the controversy. Do me the favor of reading the actual words of the statement released by our Egyptian Embassy six hours before it was attacked by radicals, and before a similar attack in Libya that took four innocent lives. Here it is:
“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. Today, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. 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.”
What exactly, is wrong with those words? Which ones do you disagree with? Let me set the stage for the statement. A “trailer” of dubious origin, for a film that has not been seen, was released some time ago on YouTube and widely overlooked. Then the “trailer” was translated into Arabic, and predictably stirred up outrage. As outrage spread in the Middle East, a press official for the Embassy wrote and released the statement without higher approval.
I agree with every word of this statement. Which parts would you disagree with? Why?
Sentence One: One-quarter of the earth’s population is Muslim, including many Americans. Yes, their feelings can be hurt by a crude attack on the Prophet. I would go so far as to suggest those who made the trailer hoped to hurt their feelings. Why else, when their original effort failed to attract attention, did they pay to have it translated into Arabic, so it could be understood in nations where the box office appeal of the so-called film would be non-existent? The only purpose must have been to hurt feelings.
Children are experts at having and causing hurt feelings. They do nasty things and make each other cry. And then adults or older children have to step in and teach them about empathy and consideration for others and the need we all have to live in harmony.
When government officials or commentators scold those who disparage Muslims, they end up sounding like school teachers admonishing troublesome children, saying, don’t be so nasty to the Muslims. You’re being insensitive. And look what you did. Now you made them cry.
Not only is this utterly condescending to Muslims, but it also totally mischaracterizes the nature of acts of provocation such as the creation and promotion of the Innocence of Muslims.
This is not a film intended to hurt the feelings of Muslims. It is designed to provoke outrage and then capitalize on that outrage. It is provocation intended to trigger an over-reaction so that scorn can then be poured on those who are so easily provoked. This goes way beyond the intention to hurt feelings.
Islamophobes are not social blunderers who go around hurting Muslims feelings. They are social engineers attempting to show why Muslims must be kept in their place and are not fit to be treated as equals. Their goal is to breed contempt for Muslims in just the same way that the Nazis turned their venom on Jews.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a California Coptic Christian with a long criminal record may be at the center of the current furor, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that as an ideological objective, keeping Muslims in their place is central to one cause more than any other: Zionism. Inside the villa in the jungle no one is in any doubt about whose comforts must be protected and who must be treated like a wild animal.
Woodward’s analysis of the film-makers’ intent is far superior to Ebert’s.
Nevertheless, any time this kind of thing comes up, one must remember to object — perhaps strenuously — to characterizations like “those who ABUSE the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Abuse? The right of free speech isn’t given only to those with good intentions.
I absolutely agree. Those with good intentions rarely cause offense and are hardly in need of free speech protection. Where I think this debate goes astray is by being framed as a struggle between those who appreciate the value of free speech and those who supposedly don’t.
Holocaust deniers, antisemites, racists, homophobes and every variety of bigot enjoy free speech protection in the United States, yet the existence of such rights does not then translate into access to popular platforms. They can state their messages but find it much more difficult to make themselves heard. The restrictions they face do not derive from the constitution but from social constraints that generally place them outside the arena of what is widely deemed socially acceptable. Islamophobia, on the other hand, finds much easier access into public discourse in the current era.