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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Editorial: Rights for me, but not for thee

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  • Sometimes you have to wonder if the cultural canyon between the West and the Arab world is impossible to bridge. Sometimes you have to wonder if the political divides in this country — which have taken on a shrill irrationality in some quarters — are beyond repair as well.
    Across the Muslim world, violent, anti-American protests raged last week — in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. — leaving several dead and many more injured in their wake. Among the fatalities were U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats, all of whom had dedicated their careers to trying to close those gaps in understanding and yet fell victim not just to their unforgivable attackers but arguably to those Americans who had so infuriated them.
    It is a peculiar phenomenon of this technological era that a cartoonish, 14-minute trailer of a full-length movie that may not even exist, reportedly made by a Coptic Christian with a criminal past and the support of others with some questionable histories of their own, could go global via the Internet, be erroneously perceived as having the stamp of approval of the U.S. government, and spark such vehement and hostile reactions across many nations. (That’s a simple version, as it appears some of these mobs were egged on by those with agendas unrelated to the film, which they exploited as an excuse for their actions.) Google, the owner of YouTube, on Friday announced that it would not be taking the video — which to put it mildly portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad in a very unflattering light — off the Web but would block access to it in Libya and Egypt.
    Given their history and traditions — they’ve known no other way — many Arabs simply cannot fathom how anyone could get away with speaking such blasphemy without punishment. That such speech could even be constitutionally protected ... well, what’s wrong with those people? On this side of the world, given our history and traditions — we’ve known no other way — we simply cannot grasp how anyone could be driven to murder by something so ultimately harmless as a disagreeable illustration or utterance, especially against innocents who demonstrably were not responsible. What’s wrong with those people?
    We cherish our “rights” in the United States, which may be unparalleled on this planet, and yet too many of us take them for granted or invoke them irresponsibly. The misunderstandings regarding those rights — that they are absolute, that they come without consequences — are rampant. Nowhere is that more so than in two rights embedded within the First Amendment — the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.
    It is a terrible indictment of this age that the truth in the exercise of one’s freedom of speech has become irrelevant to many, as is the potential for harm that it might cause. Those behind this video may not have pulled any triggers themselves, but it’s not as if they were clueless as to what reactions it might provoke. It’s one thing to put yourself at risk with what you say and do, quite another to knowingly put others in peril, in this case other U.S. citizens. Those guilty of such will forgive the accusation that what they’ve done here is the equivalent of yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, watching 10 people crushed to death in the resulting stampede, and then washing their hands of any culpability for it. Some of those who’ve admitted to involvement with this video have even indicated that they’re proud of themselves. They have free speech, dammit! Sorry, not sure it works that way.
    Page 2 of 2 - Free speech, including the latitude to ridicule religion, is fine with a lot of Americans as long as it’s directed at someone else’s. When their beliefs are the target, it’s a different ballgame. In fact we talk a much better game about freedom of religion than we play. I should be free to practice mine, but you ... not so much. Some have no problem with the video at the center of this, since it’s directed at Muslims. One does wonder if a certain prominent politician (his party’s nominee for president, no less) would voice such a spirited public defense of free speech rights — er, “American values,” as if those were reflected in a film solely intended to offend and inflame — if they were aimed critically against, oh, the Mormon faith.
    Is he entitled to his opinion? Sure. And others are free to disagree, to suggest he and his handlers should have known better, to note that one definition of leadership is keeping your head about you while all others are losing theirs. There are lots of issues in this election season, but this campaign just had one of its most revealing moments, thus far.
    This is a scary age. Innocents die for the sins consciously committed by others, who regret nothing. Those who fancy themselves leaders, political and religious alike, stir up the mobs even more, sometimes for the most selfish of reasons. Earth is crammed full of fanatics and defenders of the indefensible. We don’t speak the same language, don’t understand one another, and don’t want to try. It’s easier just to hate, to revel in our ignorance. The world is losing its mind, and this nation may not be far behind. Can we expect anyone to save us from our foolish selves besides the face staring back in the mirror?
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.

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