A mob of protestors attacked the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, yesterday. They were protesting an internet film about Islam that insults the prophet Mohammed.
The embassy issued a statement online:
“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.”
From the descriptions of the film I have read, it is clearly based on ignorance and possibly hatred. But since freedom of speech is a right promised in the US constitution, I was shocked by the subservient tone of the embassy statement.
The White House distanced itself from the embassy statement, saying the wording had not been approved before release and did not reflect the view of the US government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement was only slightly better than the embassy’s:
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. 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.”
With such a serious situation, the White House should have made a complete declaration of its own which included more emphasis on free speech. My suggestion:
The United States is deeply disturbed by the protests at our embassy in Cairo. We understand that Muslims would be offended by a film posted on the internet. This film does not represent the views of the US government, nor the views of many Americans. Our Constitution promises all residents the freedom to practice their religion, but also protects freedom of speech for everyone. Allowing expression of unpopular viewpoints can be challenging, but is an extremely important aspect of true freedom. Violence will not produce agreement among opposing views and is not acceptable in our country. Nor can we permit violence against our embassies, especially when the protest seeks to infringe on one of our cherished freedoms.
Mohamed al-Zawahiri (brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) said a peaceful protest joined by different Islamic groups had been called for, and that he was surprised at how many protestors participated. He added, “I just want to say, how would the Americans feel if films insulting leading Christian figures like the pope or historical figures like Abraham Lincoln were produced?”*
He does not understand the American culture he protests against. He apparently thinks the worst offense to American Christians would be insults to religious leaders, mere men. But Christians have had to put up with books alleging that Jesus (who Christians believe is the very son of God) had sexual relations with Mary Magdelene, American-born cults that say Jesus did not really die as stated in the Bible, works of “art” that show a cross (on which Jesus was killed) in a vessel filled with urine.
As a Christian, I am amused or offended or angered by such assaults to my faith. But the same freedom of speech that allows me to speak publicly about my faith also allows others to speak against Christianity and/or in favor of other religions.
Last year Egyptians protested to gain more freedom. But without understanding the importance of allowing the expression of various beliefs (through freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to practice one’s religion) Egypt will never experience true freedom.
As I finish this post, CNN is reporting that the American Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three staffers were killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. The State Department had not confirmed the deaths as of 6:00 am EDT. Protests in Benghazi, Libya, have been more violent than protests in Cairo. It’s not clear if attacks in the two countries were coordinated or if the violence in Libya is related to the anti-Islamic internet video.