A shadowy person or persons posted to YouTube recently a video. It was a ten-minute trailer for a cheap, feature length movie called “The Innocence of Muslims.”
There is nothing of any value in those few minutes, and, I suspect, in the entire film. Yet this clip is at the center of the protests in Cairo and Benghazi that surrounded the deaths of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans.
Protests over the video have spread to Sudan and Yemen, including demonstrations outside other western embassies with no connection to either the content or the producers of “Innocence.” U.S. officials at home and abroad have condemned the hate espoused by the film, and that criticism has in turn incited a back-and-forth between the Romney and Obama campaigns. Subsequent findings have led authorities to believe the attack in Libya was a premeditated assault by an Al-Qaeda affiliate, using the protests as cover.
I am not concerned with the people and circumstances behind “Innocence”, with the partisan divisions over our response to the protests and attacks, or even with the opportunistic exploitation of this situation by our enemies abroad. What concerns me is the incoherent rage over something as worthless as an online video.
Islam is a religion of peace. For all the fear-mongering of neo-conservatives like Allen West and Michelle Bachmann, there is no threat of an Islamic caliphate emerging in Dearborn, Michigan; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; or the great state of Oklahoma.
With that said, there is an undeniable threat to free expression posed by the imams and sheiks abroad who incite murderous rage in the name of faith. Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed inspired similar protests in 2005. In 2010, imbecile preacher Terry Jones’ threats to burn a Koran on the anniversary of September 11 were enough to start deadly riots in Afghanistan. Just a few weeks ago in Pakistan, a local Muslim cleric attempted to frame a mentally impaired Christian girl for the grave and capital offense of burning pages from the Koran.
Members of all religions are guilty of calling for inhumanity in defense of inanimate objects and spiritual ideals. But the inescapable truth of today is that leaders of only one of those religions are capable of producing mass chaos on three continents.
The vast majority of the Islamic community abhors both the inciters and the incited of such senseless violence. I don’t blame the faith; I blame those who claim to speak in its name. No combination of cardboard, paper and twine is worth anyone’s life. No level of offense to any words or art justifies even the suggestion of violence. Blasphemy is a human right.
Tonight, go home and watch something that truly offends you, something that goes against every identity and value you hold dear. Freedom can be as ugly and spiteful as the most depraved mind can imagine. Yet without true freedom of thought and expression, our capacity for progress, both as individuals and as a whole, is forever limited.