by Walter Brasch
The terrorists who attacked the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, claimed the attacks were retaliation for the publication on You Tube of an anti-Muslim film. That YouTube video was a 14-minute trailer for a one-hour film, “Innocence of Muslims,” that was not only a vicious bigoted attack against Islam but also of no artistic merit.
One of the extremist political parties in Egypt plucked the trailer from obscurity and used it as part of a newscast, inflaming the people of Egypt, who mounted a demonstration against the U.S. embassy. Within a week, the trailer had more than 10 million hits on YouTube.
An attack upon the consulate in Benghazi that followed the one in Cairo led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador, a member of his staff, two Navy SEALS assigned to the mission, and 10 Libyan guards who defended the consulate.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly condemned the attacks. Mohammed Magarief, president of the Libyan National Assembly, apologized to the United States for the attack, and vowed to bring the killers to justice.
The man who gave the order that led to the execution of Osama bin Laden sent in Marines and the FBI and vowed to work with Libya to “bring justice” to the killers.
Several persons accused of the murders have been arrested.
The attacks on American sovereign soil may have been planned and then carried out by a small group of terrorists to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11; the video was merely an excuse for the attack.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens was highly respected by the people and new governments in the Middle East. He and the U.S. helped promote the Arab Spring that had led to the overthrow of dictators and the creation of governments that could lead to more freedom for the people. Large spontaneous demonstrations by Libyans showed the world they were furious at the content of the video, but that they also despised the attack and continued to support the United States.
Dozens of smaller demonstrations began appearing within a day throughout the MidEast; many were merely moments of opportunity for thugs and terrorists to cause damage by invoking their disgust of the film; some were attacks to secure or maintain perceived leadership in the region.
Nevertheless, no matter what the reason for the rioting, the people were legitimately mad at the depiction of the prophet Mohammad and the no-star film that reeked with the slimy viciousness of hate.
The people, not the terrorists, in comments to the media, said they were reacting because President Obama did not take action against the film makers. They believed he should have at least ordered the arrests of those responsible for making the film.
For a culture that existed for millennia in having leaders who would have taken such an action, it was not an unreasonable demand. A part of their culture is the integration of religion and government, just as it was a part of English culture and that of colonial America at one time. As much as some fundamentals in the U.S. may wish it were still a part of American culture, it is not. The First Amendment not only establishes a separation of church and state, but guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press; allows people the right to redress the government for their grievances, and to peacefully assemble to protest.
President Obama said that the United States rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.” He emphasized, “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.” Hillary Clinton was just as forceful: “Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Long before the attack in Libya, as rioters had begun to mass in Cairo, the embassy tweeted “Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages [by rioters] will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech and criticizing bigotry.” It was a message that defined the ideals of a nation that had created the First Amendment. But, in a “shoot first and aim later” blunder while events were still unfolding and the U.S. was responding to the attacks, Mitt Romney, without the facts and the timeline of events, fired an angry polemic, politicizing the murder of American diplomats. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” he said. Romney, whose own religion has been viciously attacked by members of his own party, probably should have done what the President and Secretary of State did-condemn violence and religious bigotry. And then shut up.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton could not allow government action against the filmmakers, as the protestors wanted. The Founding Fathers demanded freedom of speech, the press, and religion to allow all views to be heard, even if it meant protecting even the vilest messages of hate, as long as they did not advocate violence or the overthrow of government. It is a fundamental part of what they wove into the fabric that became the United States of America.
[Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist and former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and a specialist in First Amendment issues. He is the author of 17 books; the latest is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]