Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pro Free Speech

The issue of free speech is a prickly one.
I recall last year, I wrote several blogs about Pastor Fred Phelps, who trolls military funerals shouting obscenities at the deceased and their mourners.
Now, it's the YouTube video that supposedly sparked violence across the Middle East for its blasphemous portrayal of the prophet Mohammed as a thief, rapist, and murderer.
Shortly after the first wave of attacks, including that of the Libyan consulate where Ambassador Stevens was killed, Obama condemned the attacks, as did Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. However, they both expressed disgust at the video and its contents, making it clear that they do not support the film, or its message.

The whirlwind, however, continues. From there, media outlets from Pakistan to Jordan to UAE have called for the death of the film maker, Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal have called Obama's apology a slap in the face of free speech, citing it as weakness and even as an indirect way of condoning the terrorists' activities.

In my mind, what Obama and his cabinet did in that first wave is called diplomacy. You state your stance, firmly and without hesitation, making it very clear that violence against your diplomats is wholly unacceptable.
In that same vein, you affirm that attacking US embassies will do the terrorists little good. The US government has to distance itself from the video and its creator in order to make clear to the budding new Middle Eastern regimes that it's not just a heap of anti-Islamists.
We can't afford more enemies in that region and condemning a video for being heinously bigoted costs less in lives and in dollars than sending in a fleet of troops to prove a point.
Where Obama's cabinet tripped up is when it sent out an “implicit censorship request” to Google, asking that the video be taken down.
Let people watch it. The ones who watch it and like it are the ones who were bigots in the first place. A movie that poorly made won't win many converts.
And if you're going to award Pastor Fred Phelps free speech allowances to slander the names of fallen soldiers, Nakoula has the right to make crappy, racist movies in the LA county boonies.
But again, just because both Nakoula and Pastor Phelps have that right doesn't mean that we have to support them.
I think this is where some people themselves trip up.

Free speech is a right but that doesn't mean you have to love what everyone says. I too think that the video is a ridiculously radical and extremist stab at the Muslim religion. I would openly admit that to any number of people – such is my right as well.
Free speech means what it says. There is no sub-clause on having the full support of the government in all your ludicrous affirmations.
Our relationship with the entire Middle East has been strained long before the camera started rolling on the Innocence of Muslims set.
As per our constitution (or the parts that are still recognized as law), the government can't stop loonies like Nakoula from getting in the way of diplomatic proceedings, but that doesn't mean that they can let loonies like him completely strike diplomacy from the table.
What was Obama supposed to say? I strongly condemn the attacks and oh, by the way, love the video! Woo hoo free speech! That's absurd.
Every American that feels the same way about this video, that it's bigoted and extremist, should voice that opinion just as loud. It’s not a knock against our national pride – it's a powerful stance against extremism, on both sides.
By condemning the attacks and the video's contents, you place yourself in the center, i.e. the only place diplomacy works.
They are obviously not on the same scale and that should not go unsaid. The death of a great diplomat like Ambassador Stevens is a loss, not just for us, but for those Libyans who wanted progress and a way forward.
But by silently accepting this video as a representation of the American/Islam paradigm, you put diplomatic work through a salad shooter.

Standing strong against terrorist activities and condemning extremist bigotry are not mutually exclusive. We can do both and still be American.
So, practice your free speech knowing that with it comes the ability to disagree with someone else's. Enjoy.

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