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A Pretext to Murder in Libya

Don’t blame a YouTube movie for ‘inciting’ the mob that killed the U.S. ambassador. Blame the killers.

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A vehicle and the surrounding area are engulfed in flames inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)

People used to talk a lot about the world before and after Sept. 11. As in, back before the deadly attacks on that morning in 2001, we operated under a set of naive assumptions about national security, Islamic radicalism, and worst-case scenarios on American soil. And afterward, depending on your point of view, we adapted or overreacted to our cruel new reality.

Well, a similar bifurcation may be appropriate for Sept. 11 and 12 of 2012. On that first day, it still seemed reasonable to enough people in the U.S. embassy in Cairo to preemptively denounce an anti-Islam YouTube video in order to stave off a growing mob of angry Islamists. A press release issued by the embassy that morning condemned the “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” in an effort to forestall potential violence from the Islamist mob. But by Day 2, the Islamist mob had ransacked the embassy in question, pulled down (and tried to burn) the American flag, and replaced it with a black banner that read, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”

As one of the Cairo protesters, Mohammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, reportedly explained: The U.S. government’s statement condemning the producers of the video that insults the Prophet was not enough. Neither prophylactic apologies nor self-censorship, it turns out, seem to mollify religious fanatics.

Not that many in America’s political class seem to notice. It’s a modern marvel to witness how thoroughly the country’s journalists and commentators have, over the past decade, internalized false notions about Muslims, violence, and free expression. For instance, that depicting the historical figure of Muhammad is untenable blasphemy (see the Muhammad Image Archive for a repository of rejoinders); that the mere discussion about the proposed portrayal of a cartoon Muhammad bear-suit should be avoided at all costs in order to avoid a potential spasm of Mideast violence; and that retreating so abjectly from the defense of free speech will somehow make the world a safer place.

No, American writers, reporters, and artists won’t touch the Prophet Muhammad with a 10-foot pair of kid gloves. Provocateurs who luxuriate in the death of God leave Allah the hell alone. Western countries without a First Amendment prosecute “blasphemers.” Even free-speech heroes like Penn Jillette will acknowledge that his act won’t tackle Islam “because we have families.” An alt-weekly cartoonist felt impelled to go into the witness protection program in order to avoid retribution from murderous Islamists unsatisfied with her apology for proposing an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” Meantime, professional free-speech organizations say little.

So, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that now, after Tuesday night’s savage murder of four Americans in Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a sector of the American commentariat is calling for the heads of … lunatic Florida Pastor Terry Jones and a bizarro-world filmmaker who goes by the names Sam Bacile and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Some of them seemed to go so far as to agree with Mohammad al-Zawahiri that “the filmmakers should be arrested and brought to trial.”

University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of Religious Studies Anthea Butler, for example, tweeted: “How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now. When Americans die because you are stupid …”

In the Huffington Post, Rev. Steven D. Martin crossed the line from moral equivalence to moral imbalance. “I have no sympathy for anyone who would assassinate a U.S. ambassador,” Martin wrote. “But I have even less sympathy for filmmakers who spread hatred and for pastors who knowingly incite violence.”

Many journalists and news outlets asserted the same “incitement” charge as fact. “YouTube blocks video inciting violence” in the Middle East, wrote the Associated Press, in a headline reprinted at the Washington Post, FoxNews.com, Boston.com, and elsewhere.

It may sound evasive to reject the “incitement” accusation leveled at filmmakers who fully expected that their work might provoke just such a reaction. But there is a critical distinction between kindling and spark. The former is in limitless supply, usually lying dormant—as the Danish cartoons of Muhammad were for several months before imams found them useful for propaganda purposes. Whipping up the crowd in front of you to commit acts of violence is the M.O. of people like al-Zawahiri, not those whose bad art offends him.

The difference between artistic provocation and pugilistic organization is lost on many, leading to a grossly inaccurate intellectual shortcut best summed up in an Atlantic headline: “Sam Bacile: The Mysterious Filmmaker Who Set the Muslim World on Fire.” Or as Ambassador Stevens’ friend-of-a-friend Farah Stockman put it at the Boston Globe, “How could Chris Stevens die because of a YouTube clip?”

“Shouldn’t people who knowingly incite violence against the United States—as a crude, thinly-veiled publicity stunt—also be held accountable?” Stockman asked. “I can’t think of a time when the reckless actions of a few private citizens have cost us so much—in American lives, tax dollars and credibility around the world.”

Or not. The New York Times and other outlets are now reporting that U.S. intelligence suspects that the deadly attacks on the consulate in Libya were likely planned, with outrage over the video used “as a cover for their attack.” Getting into the heads of the homocidal is more difficult than it seems at first glance.

Which is ultimately why the embassy’s pre-emptive apology for private speech is so self-defeating. Not only are you encouraging the easily offended to lower their outrage bar still further—and thus perpetuating the cycle of stifled speech in the free and democratic West—you are reinforcing the pernicious idea that expression in the United States is sanctioned by the government until stated otherwise.

In fact, it is precisely in our proclivity for free-wheeling offense that America’s free-speech tradition becomes an irresistible magnet for those who live in the kinds of stifling societies where the government really does regulate expression. As a Romanian rapper once told me about N.W.A., listening to “Fuck tha Police” convinced him that America really was a free country. Many participants in the Arab Spring were using new media for that most familiar of reasons: access to porn. Even one of the Cairo rioters was reportedly wearing a V for Vendetta cap, though clearly this is open to multiple interpretations.

I do not begrudge Farah Stockman or anyone else their grief at losing a friend and fellow citizen. But when she writes that “one great downside of the First Amendment is that the inner thoughts of our stupidest citizens are put on display for the whole world to see,” I say she has it exactly backward. America is so free that even the dullards despised by their own government have access to expression and distribution, as long as it doesn’t involve ransacking embassies or firing rocket launchers into compounds. That there are expressive alternatives to violence may be the best American advertisement of all.

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This is absolutely spot-on. Terrific column.

O for the good old days when you could call these kinds of people bloodthirsty savages…

The killers,
USA SO CALLED MUSLIMS
millions in afgh
millions in iraq only 3000 on 9/11
thousands in libya
thousands in syria
LET ME KNOW WHO IS THE KILLER

Marc Delman says:

The problem is that with free speech, must come hand in hand with a sense of responsibilty. Clearly the terrorists used the film as a pretext, with or without it this act would have happened. Yet in the world we live in some responsibilty must be leveled at the provocaters. This film is of the same hate that Nazi Germany used in “The Eternal Jew”. Our thoughts should turn to the deceased and find away to make sure this never happens again.

CygnusA81 says:

Oh stop it with your straw man argument. Once you starting policing speech where does it stop. And how do you stop cranks from uploading videos on YouTube? By banning YouTube? Seriously, stop treating these fanatics like children that don’t know any better. They know exactly what they are doing and that stupid video as Matt mention was just a convenient pretext for the attacks.

CygnusA81 says:

Oh stop it with your straw man argument. Once you starting policing speech where does it stop. And how do you stop cranks from uploading videos on YouTube? By banning YouTube? Seriously, stop treating these fanatics like children that don’t know any better. They know exactly what they are doing and that stupid video as Matt mention was just a convenient pretext for the attacks.

Starshine says:

So why should I even think twice about giving my complete support to this column? The way to counter this fear is for every paper including the paper of record to put this on their front pages. We should be voting with our feet. Mr. Obama, pay attention. This is a nuclear winter, no longer an Arab spring.

Agreed. “Free speech” is only worth defending when the person speaking has the courage of his convictions, and is willing to stand up and face the consequences for his speech. There is, and should be, no constitutional protection when the principal motivation of “speech” is to harm or kill other people, as was the case with this film.

genelevit says:

Responsibility? How about media which reported that the filmaker was an Israeli without even checking his claim? And now they are trying to locate the man putting his life in danger. Talking about responsibilities.

AriShavit says:

in Cairo most of the protesters even admitted they didn’t know what movie they were protesting because they had not seen it.

it has so little to do with the movie …

A Pawzlaugh says:

Hold on … I thought it was the Am Consulate staff in Libya that published the memo, not the Cairo Am Embassy staff. Am I wrong?

Ali Boy,

Can you please tally up the rolls of the dead from 1400 years of jihad? You can then add them to the list.

Last I checked the United States didn’t intervene in Syria and was hardly involved in Libya. You are adding WAY too many zeros (by the way, the Indians would like their “Arabic numerals” back) for Afghanistan and Iraq. Saddam killed a hell of a lot more of his “own” people through his direct actions than the United States did.

Thank you for posting. You just proved the value of our First Amendment by helping identify yourself as a buffoon and jackass.

Words offer means to meaning, they don’t offer weapons, they don’t kill people, and they certainly don’t make you go crazy unless you are already a raging lunatic.

Mr. Steven, I’ve lived most of my life in this region, people in that part of the world need to relax, develop a thicker skin, and learn how to communicate their ideas and opinions with words instead of relying on their reptilian primitive brain which most of the time involves burning, smashing, or bombing.

If you watch the local media here, everybody is riding the wave, everyone is using the streets’ violence to score points with a sick society.

So please, don’t poison the meaning of free speech just to avoid the rage of mindless zombies.

Beatrix17 says:

Good
article, except this man isn’t a Salman Rushdie who had to go into
hiding for being critical of Islam. This is a man who hid behind
Jews, innocent actors, and unsuspecting Americans to make a piece of
artistic trash, and who still won’t admit culpability. I haven’t
heard a word from him about standing up for his religious beliefs

geoff kl says:

if the fbi and cia do their jobs, they will find financial ties from either the muslim brotherhood or al quaida to the “filmmaker”

the 9/11 attacks of 2012 were just as well planned out as the attacks of 2001

the response from the arab world has been as tepid as it was in 2001

the response from quarters in america has been at the very least, stupid and the very worst, evil

america is still under attack

geoff kl says:

seems it hasnt been enough…nuke em from space. its the only way to be sure

JoyceSch says:

Interesting POV. It’s my understanding, though, that Free Speech was decided to be unlawful when it presents something akin to a clear and present danger (later refined to intent to incite.) I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have a litmus test for speech that would hit that mark, but it would seem given the current national threat of terrorism, there’d be a standard for limiting text that knowingly incites violence and puts people in harm’s way. (Full disclosure: I’m not entirely comfortable with that position either!) Ultimately, people are accountable for their actions: the protestors theirs and the filmmaker his. Oliver Wendell Holmes where are you…….?????

cantwait2see says:

If your response to an act of douchebaggery is violence, then you are the one who is the bigger asshole.

jacob_arnon says:

To Farah: your husband wasn’t killed because of a movie, he was killed because he was a popular representative of the “Great Stan.”

The last thing Jihadists want is infidels becoming popular among Muslims.

jacob_arnon says:

Great essay Mr. Welch.

“But when she writes that “one great downside of the First Amendment is that the inner thoughts of our stupidest citizens are put on display for the whole world to see,” I say she has it exactly backward. America is so free that even the dullards despised by their own government have access to expression and distribution, as long as it doesn’t involve ransacking embassies or firing rocket launchers into compounds. That there are expressive alternatives to violence may be the best American advertisement of all.”

You got it exactly right.

Obama put the Islamic funadamentalists in.

We should pull back ALL US aide to ALL foreign countries and take care of our own and strengthen our military then take a very strong stance against extremists inside our borders. We need to be far less tolerant of those who want to tell us we must accept Alla or die. Stop the ridiculousness and bring our brave troops home stopping the useless bloddshed for absolutely NO benefit to the US.

Why bother!

If this Mohammed illusion they speak of were here right now I would tar and feather his ass and toss him out in the desert.

I say she has it exactly backward. America is so free that even the
dullards despised by their own government have access to expression and
distribution, as long as it doesn’t involve ransacking embassies or
firing rocket launchers into compounds.I am beautiful woman and I love good
man…..inter racial romance is my dream… so I joined —blackwhitеPlanet.С0M—–it’s where to- connect
with beautiful and excellent people!This is a man who hid behind
Jews, innocent actors, and unsuspecting Americans to make a piece of
artistic trash, and who still won’t admit culpability. I haven’t
heard a word from him about standing up for his religious beliefs

I’m
beginning to smell a BIG rat. Just heard Shepherd Smith say that these
angry riots are only a taste of what will happen if Israel attacks Iran.
Setup anyone? “Sam Becile” sound like “imbecile” to anyone?

How did those Muslims in the ME find out about the stupid film that is actually a 5 min trailer of nothing?

WHO financed it? “Some Jews and radical Christians”?
Doing this, they kill 2 birds with one stone-demonize the Jews and the “radical Christians in one fell swoop.
First they blamed an “Israeli Jew” now its a disgruntled Egyptian Copt who made the movie.
Its a SETUP. Simple. A SETUP.

Sick that the Obama administration organized this setup and in the
process our ambassador and 3 others were killed, including 2 SEALS.
Revenge anyone?
Obama was out of town in Vegas campaigning so “” it
wasn;t him…” I’ll bet it was -he, Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe( who
took money from Iranian sympathisers) and David Axelrod.

This
will also start the ball rolling to remove the First Amendment from the
Constitution which is now rapidly being dismantled.
It is a SETUP

I find the sentiment that “expressive alternatives to violence may be the best American advertisement of all” to be a pretty sad one. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good that there are such “expressive alternatives” but talk about lowering the bar. The embassy’s language makes a lot of sense – you can stand for the rights of Sam Bacile without approving of it. What happens to a society, to a government, that can only ever defer without objection to the rights of idiots?

Brilliant work Matt.

Yaw Mandy says:

How old are you, Marc Delman?

The claim that “Provocateurs who luxuriate in the death of God leave Allah the hell alone.” is seen to be false after only seconds of searching. Sam Harris, Christoper Hitchens, and PZ Myers, for instance, have all spoken against Islam. PZ Myers desecrated a Koran as part of Wafergate, in fact, and the photo is still on his website.

You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theatre, causing panic and death. But if you tell someone that they are a jerk and their religion is false, that’s offensive, but too bad. If someone repeats your statement and uses it a part of a plan to incite a riot. That is the crime. If someone already had the riot planned and then used your offensive words on their slogan, the fault is again with the planners and the rioters. And if the former “cradle of civilization” is now the tenement of barbarity, looking for any pretext to burn and destroy, how is that the fault of anyone but them?

KingBabar says:

I wonder if Matt Welch would consider a person calling out “FIRE” in a crowded theater was merely a case of exercising one’s right to engage in free speech. The world has had enough time to realize that a very large number Muslims are no less maniacal than the Calvinists were in 16th century Europe. Words DO have consequences, and rights come with obligations. In this case, the obligation is to exercise the right to free speech responsibly, and not engage in infantile provocations that we KNOW will result in the very kind of mayhem we have just seen.

Very much the case.

The film, moronic as the clips – which are all that exist of it, is, has nothing to do with the protests and planned attacks.

What does need to take center stage is how Obama could have missed this thing. There is absolutely no excuse for his dropping the ball on this. The man refuses to have personal intelligence briefings as did his predecessors; he reads a report and asks no questions. We are dealing with a glaring failure akin to Carter’s pathetic handling of the Iranian embassy debacle. By all rights, this president should be hung out to dry for this major failure.

What saves him now is Romney who, truth be told, is the perfect foil.

We are seeing the Laurel and Hardly of presidential politics.

If they think they have problems now just wait until they watch what happens after Israel is forced to attack Iran.

Not only will Obama have betrayed our only ally in the Middle East but he may usher in far greater unrest than now exists. Some day he will wish he had read his tea leaves more carefully; but his incredible arrogance and hatred of Israel just go the better of him.

Neither he nor Romney deserve to be in positions of power.

Sorry, but your analogy makes no sense. This is the 21st century, not the 16th and the Calvinists had nothing on the Catholics, who were busy depopulating much of the Americas.

If nothing else (and we have yet to hear the complete story), it is entirely possible that the “filmmaker” was simply trying to call attention to the Pogrom like attacks on Coptic Christians (including rapine, church burnings, and murder), led by the Muslim Brotherhood, as the Egyptian police stood by.

Yes, the US Government, particularly the Department of State, reacted as though they were led by Neville Chamberlain, but there is certainly an understandable tendency to say something. Of course, it would be better to simply say that “We are assessing the situation”, but the talking heads and the GOP would never accept that.

One could liken the sweep of this weeks violence to the pogroms in the Balkans..baseless…generated by rumor,and exaggerated wrongs..The kind of thing that plays well with socially isolated,undereducated provincially minded people who have not been exposed the larger world Often goaded by clergy who enjoy the role of manipulator.
Lychings in the US were the same –often in waves and then subsiding

One has only to remember the Joe Straus affair.Straus,a Republican Jew,was elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, however there was virulent opposition from the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party..far more than the final vote tally. http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/01/11/2742509/straus-reelected-speaker-notes-attacks-on-faith Every voice against Straus because he is a Jew..was also an outspoken Christian Evangelical “champion” of Israel.

rameshraghuvanshi says:

The lunatic who downloaded the Movie on You Tube is real culprit, why not America persecuted him..Americans have right to insult, hurt and injured Muslims`s emotional symbol. If Muslims reacted to this insult are they culprit,? Is this definition of freedom of express in Western dictionary? I never understand the logic behind this argument?Only conclusion I draw from this incident that western people want permanent conflict with Muslim world.

Some of us had the notion that if a man beat his wife, she probably deserved it — She didn’t do what he asked. She didn’t cook properly. She should have . . . She shouldn’t have . . . And then he wouldn’t have . . . That’s what he always said.

When terrorists fly into a skyscraper in the United States or set an American consulate ablaze, we have the notion that we deserve it: We weren’t sensitive enough. One of us made an insulting film. We should have . . . We shouldn’t have . . . And then they wouldn’t have . . . That is what they always say.

How is blaming a victim of international violence different
from blaming a victim of domestic violence?
The people to blame are the people who perpetrate the
violence. Not those who are their targets.

Excellent article. So disgusted that too many people simply accept at face value what is written or aired on /in mainstream news outlets

This has become the default position of liberalism with regard to terrorism: what did we do to MAKE them do this? It is like the sad strategy of a child of an alcoholic trying to gain control of her chaotic world: “Daddy drinks and goes crazy because of me”. But co-dependency writ large is no basis for a foreign policy. Time to get sober, sane adults in charge.

Islamist terror 1
First Amendment 0

Amazing – using Free Speech as a cover for terror and getting the MSM to go along with it and condemning the Constitution and suppressing our basic rights!

What’s next, condemning the right of a nation to defend itself?

It’s like 1938/Germany all over again.

KingBabar says:

I sense a
contradiction here. Nearly all the comments are strongly in favour of the
congenital idiot who got his 15 minutes of fame by placing a video clip
depicting Mohammed having sex. Yet pretty well the entire Jewish population of
the US was up in arms when, in 1977, members of the American Nazi Party decided
to hold a march in Skokie, Illinois, a particularly brazen provocation,
considering the fact that Jews constituted some 40 per cent of the city’s
residents. And Jews would be up in arms today if someone tried pulling such a
stunt today in a town with a large Jewish community.

So, is free
speech sacrosanct when Muslims are being offended, but not sacrosanct when Jews
are being offended?

There is
absolutely no justification for the mob outrages we have experienced lately in
the Islamic world. But anyone with an iota of common sense could have predicted
the effect of uploading the video clip. After all, we know about the fatwa
issued by Khomeini, calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie for his
publication of “Satanic Verses.” Millions of Muslims, most of whom could not
even sign their name, and certainly would not have heard about the book had
they not been told about it by people who used the book to promote themselves,
came out to protest it violently. Several people were killed because they
either translated or published the book. We have seen the reaction to pastor
Terry Jones’ threat to burn a copy of the Koran. We have seen what happened when
some imbecile burned the Koran on a NATO base recently. Each time, the Islamic
world was thrown into an upheaval.

True, a lot
of these mobs are managed, just as the mobs of Chinese smashing up Japanese
businesses are being managed by the Chinese government. The issue is, why give
them an occasion to stir up anti-American sentiments. What has the clip
accomplished? Unlike “Satanic Verses,” it was not a work of art. It was, at
best, a juvenile prank. Yet now, eight million Copts in Egypt are being
endangered.

The clip
also potentially endangered Jews, as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man
allegedly behind the film, initially claimed to be Israeli, and to have been supported
by 100 Jewish donors, whereas the truth is that Nakoula is a Copt, and there
were no Jewish donors supporting the project.

There is
another aspect of the comments I find disquieting. It seems that a lot of
American Jewry is convinced only adherents of Islam engage in violent acts.
They blissfully forget about killings of doctors and nurses who performed abortions
in legitimately established clinics. And they certainly have forgotten Eric
Robert Rudolph, the man who detonated a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a
bomb that killed several people, and injured over a hundred bystanders. All of
these killings have been perpetrated not by Muslims, but by fundamentalist Christians.
And

Jews too
have resorted to violence, such as the assassination of Rabin (recall how much
support his killer received from fellow extremists?), or Baruch Goldstein, who
killed several dozen Palestinians, and wounded over one hundred people in the Cave
of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron. And let’s not forget the violence
perpetrated on a daily basis by the most radicalized religious Jews from the
illegal settlements on the West Bank. Finally, in our own backyard, we have the
notorious Jewish Defense League, whose bombing campaign resulted in at least
one death.

Perhaps
we should be just a little less self-righteous both as Jews and Americans, when
“celebrating” that great work of art, The
Innocence of Muslims by that great Coptic director, Nakoula Basseley
Nakoula. And let’s also recall that crying out loud “FIRE” in a crowded theatre
is not an innocent prank. It is a crime, and it has very real consequences.

Purple Canary says:

When violent men rape women, we have the notion that she deserved it: she dressed in a provocative way. She flaunted her figure. She should have…she shouldn’t have… then he wouldn’t have…That is what they used to say until they realized how fatuous it was. I hope that by the time these idiots wake up, it won’t be past the point of no return.

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A Pretext to Murder in Libya

Don’t blame a YouTube movie for ‘inciting’ the mob that killed the U.S. ambassador. Blame the killers.

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