Editorial: Freedom of speech in the Middle East

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Tuesday’s tragic killing of the American ambassador to Libya and violent protests in Egypt, possibly over an offensive video made in California that ridiculed the Muslim prophet Muhammad, is a reminder that deep cultural differences between the United States and some in the Muslim world remain, even as nations move toward democracy.

Initial reports were that Islamic militants fired rockets, set the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on fire and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens over a video made by a self-identified Israel-born Jew who is a real estate developer.

But the Obama administration later said the attack may have been planned, with the video used as an excuse to drum up a mob to surround the attackers, who used mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Earlier Tuesday, there were also protests, some violent, at the American embassy in Egypt by an angry mob, which seemed to have a more solid link to the video.

The 13-minute clip “depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling idiot, born out of wedlock and making up verses to the Islamic holy book to suit his purposes and desires. The film also shows him as having intimate relations with women and suggests that he was gay,” according to a description of it in The Washington Post.

The Rev. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose threat to burn the Quran was followed by deadly riots in Afghanistan, helped promote the video.

It would be easy to paint citizens of Muslim countries with a broad brush and say that they don’t yet value the same free speech rights as Americans do. Before we wrap ourselves in self-congratulatory superiority, we must not forget own homegrown extremists, the people who have bombed federal buildings and abortion clinics.

President Barack Obama is correct that the attack did not come from the government of Libya or the Libyan people. Libyans appreciated Stevens’ efforts as a liaison with the rebels who overthrew the Gaddafi regime. Tweets from Libya showed a crowd of Libyans gathered in Algeria Square with signs saying “We Are Sorry” in English and Arabic.

Still, Tuesday’s events suggest that our values do not always line up, even with those who want democracy in the Muslim world.

That was clear when a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, called for the United States to prosecute those behind the video and for the government to apologize.

That’s nonsense. In the United States, we defend the right of people to say what they want, even if it the speech offends us and even if the speech comes out of an idiot’s mouth. That’s not going to change because of the dastardly attack in Libya.

Romney out of line

Meanwhile, it was shameful to see Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attempt to politicize the tragedy in Libya.

In the hours before the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, the American embassy in Cairo denounced the video, trying to head off trouble.

Romney, apparently thinking that the statement was issued after the attacks, condemned Obama and said the statement was “akin to apology.”

Even after the timing of the Cairo statement became clear, Romney doubled down, saying that, “I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values."

The embassy did no such thing, and the video itself certainly doesn’t represent American values. Romney’s twisting of an attempt to cool tempers calls into question whether he’s ready for the international stage.

The State Journal-Register