I was driving into Washington the other day when a radio clip of Hillary Rodham Clinton got my attention. The secretary of state was emoting hotly, using terms such as “disgusting” and “reprehensible.”
At first, I thought Bill Clinton might have released a candid memoir, but I soon realized that the former first lady was talking about the crude 14-minute “Innocence of Muslims” video that liberals blamed solely for the deadly attacks on U.S. embassies and riots across the Muslim world. Mrs. Clinton also condemned the mobs’ actions, including the murders of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, saying that such violence is never justified.
It was only slightly better than the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remark over the fatwa demanding the death of British author Salman Rushdie in 1988. The Anglican leader said, “We must be more tolerant of Muslim anger.”
In that spirit, the State Department began running ads on Pakistani TV last week distancing the U.S. government from the video. Next, perhaps we’ll be having the filmmaker whipped on camera and distribute the clip all over the Muslim world. But nothing less than a guillotine moment would suffice.
The White House also finally admitted that the Libyan murders were acts of terrorism, not merely a spontaneous reaction to a “hateful” video, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice had insisted over and over on network news programs.
As Americans, we have the First Amendment, thanks be to God and our Founders. It protects the freedoms of religion, assembly, press, speech and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. The video in question is protected speech and also comes under freedom of religion.
Besides, the mobs overseas that burn, pillage and murder would do so here if they could manage it, video or no video. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2009 Fort Hood massacre are irrefutable evidence that they don’t need an excuse. Anything or nothing can set them off.
In France, a magazine’s publication of cartoons mocking Muhammad prompted the government to close French embassies in 20 Muslim countries on Friday. In 2005-06, Danish cartoons of Muhammad triggered murderous riots that killed dozens of people.
The French government asked the magazine to desist but didn’t use force. Likewise, the White House asked its Google/YouTube friends to forget freedom of speech for a minute and pull the plug on the “Innocence of Muslims” video. To its credit, Google refused, except in Libya, Sudan, Indonesia and other Muslim hot spots. I don’t have friends or family facing the mobs, so I’m not going to indulge in First Amendment absolutism. But it leaves a bad taste and sets a dangerous precedent: Threaten and even kill some Americans and you’ll get your way. The lesson instead should be: Kill some Americans and face immediate consequences.
Why did Egypt and Libya not protect our citizens and property until, in the case of Benghazi, it was too late? Why didn’t the United States itself act when we knew our people were in danger? We have what’s left of the 6th Fleet patrolling the Mediterranean. Our direct intervention to protect Americans from Muslim extremists goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson dispatching the Navy in 1801-04 against the Barbary Pirates, who were capturing and enslaving Americans.
Why weren’t Marines stationed at the consulate in Benghazi? One answer I heard a reporter offer was that the Obama administration did not want to give the Libyans the impression that we were stationing troops in their newly liberated country. Never mind that Marines are fixtures — for good reason — on our sovereign soil at consulates and embassies “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
Here’s another question about the video being the singular reason for the violence. In 2008, Bill Maher’s flop movie “Religulous,” which ridicules Christianity, also shined a harsh light on Islam. This did not trigger mobs. Could it be that in the case of “Innocence of Islam,” someone wanted to ignite violence on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and that the presence of grenade launchers and other sophisticated weapons should have tipped off the Obama administration that this was anything but spontaneous?
As usual, the liberal media parroted the administration’s damage control. After initially reporting the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the press turned its laserlike focus on — Mitt Romney. The Republican presidential nominee had criticized the U.S. Embassy’s initial statement that said it “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” Really? Then why didn’t anyone in the government condemn the film called “Paradise: Faith,” a prizewinner at the Venice film festival that features a Catholic woman pleasuring herself with a crucifix? I think we know the answer.
In the face of the administration’s Muslim outreach policy melting down, the media managed to make Mr. Romney’s “gaffe” the big story for days, until they switched to the “47 percent” remarks he made months ago about too many Americans being dependent on government. In the midst of the crisis, President Obama flew off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser, but that story didn’t have “legs.”
The media also repeatedly pointed out that alleged filmmaker “Sam Bacile,” who originally claimed to be an “Israeli-American,” is a “Coptic Christian.”
Maybe that is his origin, but for people concerned about inciting mobs, this was a curious thing to highlight. Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community is being persecuted daily and may be facing what has happened to Iraq’s Christian community — death or exile.
If Coptic Christians come under the murderous ministrations of Muslim extremists in the next few days, will the media blame their own reporting? I think we know the answer to that one, too. They’re just exercising freedom of speech.
Americans should learn important lessons from the way the Muslim mob violence has been handled and reported officially.
One of those lessons is that propaganda comes in many forms. Another is that the First Amendment is not just for safe speech.
Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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