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Attacks On US Free Speech: US Responds – Analysis

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The killing of three consulate officials and US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the burnt down US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the burning of the US flag by protestors at the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, have created the mixture of anger, fear, and politics.

Some analysts have suggested that at least some of the instigators were al Qaeda and that the attacks were staged and not random reactions to the film, “The Innocence of Muslims” which discredits and disgraces the Prophet Muhammad. Viewing footage of the protests in Cairo, it is more likely that they are disgruntled Muslim Egyptians than terrorists.

As of now, the US is investigating the Libyan killings for extremist involvement.

Excerpts from Cairo Embassy Statements as released on September 11, 2012:

“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 September 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.”

“The Ambassador and staff of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemn the burning a copy of the Koran that occurred several days ago in the state of Florida by a small group of individuals who represent no one but themselves. Since the founding of our nation, the United States has upheld the principles of tolerance and respect for religious freedom. Millions of Muslim-Americans practice their faith freely throughout the United States and enjoy the full rights guaranteed to them by our laws and constitution. Public condemnation of this event has come from a variety of organizations representing the diverse religious traditions that flourish in the United States.”

Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News that the official US “apology” to the protestors is “disgraceful”—an “embarrassment.” Freedom of speech is “our sacred right” and the message to the protestors should be, “Go to Hell.”

According to Reuters, the first statement above was released on Facebook after the movie release but before the Cairo attack took place. This goes against what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others that claim the first statement was released in haste after the attacks.

It appears that such statements may have been released to prevent an incident but had the opposite effect on the Egyptian Muslims. Regardless, to many Americans, the words appear as a statement of fear and not reconciliation.

President Barack Obama and his Administration received harsh criticism for his initial soft response. He originally gave a diplomatic statement:

“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives…”

One could argue that the President was never soft but his language has increasingly adjusted to American outrage at the incidents: “We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats,” Obama said. “I’ve also directed my Administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

Mounting pressure in the United States is mixed with anger and fear in response to the attacks which are regarded as attacks against free speech. Some have come up with ways the American people and the government can reply to the Islamic world:

One blogger suggested that those supporting free speech in the West should flood the international channels of anti-Muhammad as well as pro-Mohammad information—to continually bombard and “saturate” the Muslim world with free thoughts and speech regarding the Prophet. Such provocative and proactive idea would be a form of punishment and it would force US and Western commitments on all forms of freedom instead of apology or condemnation of individuals for using their rights [however foolish or indecent].

In response to the brutal violence by jihadists, institutions that support free speech could just flood the Muslim airwaves with the very film they protest. They might attack with even more satire in anger to the murder of Americans.

The good question to ask is: “Should words alone, or films, good or bad, beloved or grotesque, great or small, result in the loss of human life? And what if that individual, as in this case, has nothing at all to do with the speech or film in question?”

Of all the people to target, Ambassador Stevens, if anything, was an ally to the Muslim people. And of all places—Libya—where the rebels had just received a decisive support from the US and NATO forces ousting Qaddafi’s regime.

An interpretation from a secular point of view:

First, Muslims do not advocate the secular freedoms of the American people (which often leads to senseless, satirical, debauchery).

Second, that Muslims wish to send a message of censorship. Nothing insulting or negative will be tolerated against the Prophet Muhammad.

Third, the results of any Western transgressions against the Prophet will be met with long hatred, death and violence.

Fourth, the burning and replacing of the US flag with a paraded Islamic banner demonstrates the need for some Muslims to stress the Islamic conversion or devastation of America.

*Note: “Muslim” is used because these represent the inaccurate or incomplete thoughts from many in the Western world towards these specific groups. They are having a difficult time in rightly separating the extremists from the followers of the Prophet Muhammad—who did not support killing women, children, elderly, and the innocent.

Another thing that is hard to separate is that although mobs in two separate countries revolved around the movie, “The Innocence of Muslims,” one involved killing and the other was an angry set of religious protestors.

The killings in Libya are clearly not justified by the Prophet Muhammad. Even in the most literal and extreme examples of religious law. It is only the one(s) “directly” responsible for an insult that can receive any punishment. And even then, punishment is very subjective and only under specific conditions with a trial is it justified by Muslim law.

Any images or illustrations of the Prophet are blasphemous—how much more so the depiction of the Prophet as a sexual predator?

The men carrying out these attacks are not all extremists, even if they are angered by a film made in America. To label them all “jihadists” is false. There are two different national groups that make up the bulk of rioters and countless viewpoints in-between.

The burning of the flag and the protests of Egypt may have turned uglier if security was not as high but the crowd appeared far more about getting a message across than about militancy.

On the other hand, the Libyan assassins involved in that mob are not the warriors of Islam—killing innocent men who are not involved with the alleged crime itself. Instead of stoking fires of fear and weakening their enemy, those self-appointed international judges may in earn harsh lashing from liberty’s corner.

Expect further clashes, insults and violence between the secular and the Islamic worlds.

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Brett Daniel Shehadey

Brett Daniel Shehadey is a writer, commentator and holds an M.A. in Strategic Intelligence from AMU and a B.S. in Political Science from UCLA.

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