On September 11, 2012, Islamists attacked Americans in a U.S. foreign embassy and consulate and murdered four of those Americans in Libya. Evidence indicates that our government failed to take common-sense security measures to protect these Americans. Then our government issued numerous official statements that were as much condemnations of a YouTube video denigrating Islamists as condemnations of the murders by Islamists. Moreover, our President, Secretary of State, and UN Ambassador claimed, in essence, that one man’s freedom of religion requires that all other men respect the content of that religion, and that therefore freedom of speech should not include the freedom to denigrate a religion. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called a private U.S. citizen to ask him to refrain from expressing his opinion of the YouTube video. Our government’s main actions since the murders have been to detain the maker of the video and to work to forbid future speech against Islam.
In short, the Obama Administration’s response to the murders has been like that of a small-town mayor in a country occupied by the enemy. Not surprisingly, violent anti-American protests have spread throughout the world and continue to grow.
In the aftermath of the murders, the Obama Administration has harped on a curious theme: The murders were about the video, not U.S. policy. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made this claim repeatedly on September 14; UN Ambassador Susan Rice reiterated that claim on September 16.
Why is the Administration even raising the issue, which Carney introduced without having been asked about it, that the murders were not about U.S. policy? Carney and Rice evidently are claiming that the murderers hate the video, not our policies, and that we should be reassured by this fact. But why is it reassuring that murderers don’t hate our policies? That is, why do we want murderers to like our policies, or to like us?
The Administration seems desperate to save, at all costs, its main premise regarding foreign policy: Bush failed because he was domineering over the world; we will succeed because we are conciliatory, and those who hated America under Bush will like America under us.
By saying it’s the video, not our policies, the Administration seems to be crying, “It’s not our fault!” and “Don’t worry, the murderers want to kill us over trifles, not anything important, and they still like us!”
But the problem is indeed the Administration’s fault. If the murders of Americans in Libya were about a video, then they were more fundamentally about U.S. policy, a policy so capitulating to evil that our enemies believe—correctly—that they can get away with murder whenever they feel like it, and thereby force once-free Americans to ‘respect’ the murderers’ religious and political ideas.
Ambassador Rice also said, “It’s a hateful video that had nothing to do with the United States and which we find disgusting and reprehensible.”
But the video has everything to do with the United States. The video was made by individuals in the United States and posted on a Web site of a major American company. Many Americans, including this writer, are atheists who think that Islam is absurd; many of us are defenders of individual rights, who think that Islamism—the attempt to institute Islamic government—is evil. More fundamentally, the United States is the world’s greatest protector of freedom of speech, which includes the right to produce and post such a video.
By saying that the video has nothing to do with America, the Administration is leaving open only two possibilities: some Americans will continue to denigrate Islam, making the Administration seem like lying weaklings who will keep having to apologize to our enemies, or the Administration will abolish free speech in America.
Others have noted the commonplace of American political Leftists denigrating Christians. (See here and here.) Of course, and rightly so, the Administration has never objected to these denigrations. As my friend Peter McAllister noted, “We can rack this double standard up to the fact that the only thing the Left understands and respects is force.” In that sense, the Left is like the Islamists. Therein lies the solution to the problem.
Contrary to the statements of the Obama Administration, here is what a rational President might say. “Freedom of religion does not mean giving religion special treatment above the law. In the United States, as in any free nation, religion has no standing under the law; a religious belief entails no legal penalties and no legal privileges. Individuals are free to believe, advocate, or denigrate any religion or no religion, as they are free to praise or denigrate any philosophical idea, work of art, or anything else.”
(Conservatives contribute their own confusion to the legal treatment of religion when they seek special legal exemptions for religious organizations. For example, if it is wrong to force churches to pay for abortions under ObamaCare, it is because it is wrong to force some individuals to pay for a service to others.)
Like Eqypt, Libya is a foreign-policy mess. Decades ago, we should have conquered Libya and seized its ill-gotten oil assets. We never should have left revolution in the hands of dubious revolutionaries. What we should do now—and of course what we won’t do—is declare a long-overdue, all-out war on Iran and Syria (at least), and say to the citizens of Egypt and Libya, “This is what we do to enemies of the United States. This is what we will do to the latest murderers and any individual or government that collaborates with them.”