Virtual Voices
Sri Lankan Muslims protest by burning effigies of President Obama and U.S. flags.
Associated Press/Photo by Chamila Karunarathne
Sri Lankan Muslims protest by burning effigies of President Obama and U.S. flags.

Our burning embassies and our president

Pakistan

There have been riots and burnings from England to Indonesia. Islamist radicals murdered our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. All this, we are told, to punish America for allowing an obscure video on YouTube that depicts Muhammad in a way that Muslims find offensive.

In response, President Obama grimly pronounced that he “condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.” Condemn is a word that is common in diplomatic responses following atrocities and means nothing to the monsters who perpetrate them.

At a State Department meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to great lengths to stress how appalled she is with the video: “To us—to me personally—this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.” She wants the rioters and murders to know that she sympathizes with them.

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Secretary Clinton tried to explain our freedom of speech, but she called it “a tradition,” reducing one of our highest political principles to a kind of national habit, like baseball and Fourth of July cookouts. Specifically she said, “Our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and in our law. We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be. There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression.” In other words, the rioters and murderers may have a point, but Clinton will leave that discussion for another time.

But our leaders are not addressing people for whom a firm and morally wise lecture will serve as a sufficient correction. They are dealing with mobs and, behind them, cold-blooded, calculating terrorists who spend human life the way you and I spend scrap paper. Our president’s statement to the world should have included something like this:

“I have not seen the video and do not intend to. Its content is irrelevant to the response of the American government to the murderous events in Benghazi and the riotous assaults on our embassies in several countries.

“In America, we have freedom of speech. It is essential to the political system that allows us to live in the dignity of free men and women. There are other things we value, such as our various religious beliefs, including beliefs held by those who are rioting outside our embassies. But freedom of speech is an important means we have of protecting those other precious goods. American Muslims are not rioting because they understand the value of free speech.

“If you assault our embassies and murder our officials because people who offend you are free in our country, you are no friend of ours … and that is a dangerous place to be.”

The president would then have to support those words with painful consequences for countries that tolerate these protests. Instead, he bought $70,000 in Pakistani television ads denouncing the video. What happened to defending the Constitution?

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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