Pushing the buttons

As an American and a former member of the Fourth Estate, I fully support both the theory and practice of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, as a decent human being, I do not support using these freedoms as an excuse or a means to offend, oppress or endanger other people.

Which brings us to the matter of recent media depictions of the prophet Mohammed that have set the Muslim world ablaze. In particular is a crummy, low-budget film called “Innocence of Muslims” that was written and directed, apparently, by an Egyptian who hired his cast under false pretenses and edited their performances in post production. But since it was made in America, protests have erupted in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and many other predominantly Muslim countries specifically targeting American embassies, some of which have resulted in the death of American diplomats. Some Muslims say President Obama should apologize to them for the actions of this Coptic Christian Egyptian man who has insulted their faith. I am completely dumbfounded by this issue for three reasons.

First, how is it that America–its people, its government, its diplomatic corps–is in any way to blame for the existence or message of this film, except insofar as the laws of this country protect the freedom of speech that makes the production of a film like “Innocence of Muslims” possible?

Second, what right do Muslims have to kill anyone simply for “insulting” their faith? As Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times, “an insult—even one as stupid and ugly as the anti-Islam video on YouTube that started all of this—does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill diplomats. That is not how a proper self-governing people behave. There is no excuse for it. It is shameful.” All the major religious figures–Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, the Dalai Lama, and so on–have all been dissected, mocked, caricatured and “insulted” by somebody somewhere, yet their followers do not go to war over it. Recently I have read articles suggesting that Jesus might have been married, or possibly gay, yet no attacks or demonstrations of any kind have resulted from the publication of this information. What makes Islam so special that nobody can say a word against it or its prophet without inciting the wrath of the faithful?

And finally, with all this said, I still have to ask: Knowing how Muslims feel about their prophet and what they will do to defend his name, why do Western media continue distributing words and images that they know are unequivocally insulting to Islam and/or Mohammed? What purpose is served by jamming a thumb in the eye of one-quarter of the planet’s population whose beliefs we do not share? Is this something we (meaning non-Muslims) should do just because, according to our laws and traditions, we can?

I say no. To quote Friedman again, “There is no excuse for it. It is shameful.”




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