Of free speech and religion

The manipulative use of a stupid little film continues:

Hezbollah’s leader has made a rare public appearance at a rally in Beirut denouncing an anti-Islam film that has provoked a week of unrest in Muslim countries worldwide.

Hassan Nasrallah does not usually appear in public for fear of assassination. He called for Monday’s protests in Beirut, saying the US must be held accountable for the film because it was produced in America.

Hezbollah’s call seemed aimed at keeping the issue alive by bringing out large crowds.

But it also appeared to be trying to ensure it did not spiral into violence, walking a careful line. Notably, Hezbollah called the protest in its own mainly Shiite stronghold of Dahieh in south Beirut, far from the US Embassy in the mountains north of the capital or other international diplomatic missions.

For the group, anger over the low-budget movie that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad provides a welcome diversion from the crisis in Syria, which has brought heavy criticism on Hezbollah for its support of President Bashar Assad. But stoking riots in Beirut could also bring a backlash in the tensely divided country.

Hmm, what should people in that area be more upset about a movie put together by a few idiots or a dictatorship that doesn’t seem to have a problem with killing thousands of its citizens. Hezbollah is betting that for Lebanese it’s the former and they might be right. That’s why my feelings are similar to Marc Ambinder’s here (via here):

On Twitter, the first instinct of a lot of Americans was retributive justice. But the U.S. government’s sensitivity about the mood of the violent protesters is maddening but necessary. Being aggressive would cause more unnecessary dying.

Those who use the gift of institutionally and legally-protected free speech to exploit and prey upon the vulnerability of certain people to violence ought to be shamed.

At the same time, the people who killed people; protesters, thugs, militants, whomever, are ultimately responsible for their actions. If the U.S. government is going to discourage our own idiots from provoking people, then the governments of Egypt and Libya should act to corral those within their own nations who would storm an embassy on the pretext that a film offends. Well, barely, a film. A piece of anti-Muslim bigotry that was made to make the filmmakers feel good and others feel bad. If, as an American, I feel embarrassed that so many of my fellow Americans are bigots, I would, as an Egyptian or a Libyan, be even more horrified that the majority in my country seemed unable to stop (and barely condemn) the even more deplorable violent religious extremism of a minority.

The Arab Spring is incredibly messy and it is hard to see how American values and sensibilities about religious speech will ever take hold in some countries there. That’s incredibly depressing, but I do know this: The barrels of our own guns won’t help anything either.

I will end on a tweet from a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, David Gomez, whose avatar is @AllThingsHLS: “When innocent people die because of what you say, it’s time to man up. Terry Jones go to Benghazi and defend your film!”

Also, read the Dan Drezner link. This is a good opportunity to see what kind of President Obama is–he should use this as an opportunity to explain why the US should stay involved with the Middle East, explain the current situation (including mistakes he has made), and explain what he is going to do now and why. The problem is, as Drezner notes, there is little upside to his making such a speech while there is a larger downside … in terms of the election.

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