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Obama’s Grave Misstep on YouTube Video

White House censure attempt fuels Islamist logic

September 14, 2012
President Obama Exits Marine Force One(Getty)
President Obama Exits Marine Force One(Getty)

Earlier today, the White House asked YouTube to review “The Innocence of Muslims,” the anti-Islamic film that has been at the center of anti-American riots in several Arab capitals this week, and consider its removal from the popular site. To hear the administration say it, the film–an embarrassingly silly affair with green screens, fake beards, and obvious dubbings delivering its most noxious lines—is the real reason behind the recent spate of outrage.

“It is in response to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy.”

The administration, of course, is juggling a host of responsibilities, including quelling the violence, protecting American representatives abroad, and maintaining relations with strategic allies. These are delicate tasks, and they justify the occasional lip service. Today’s statement, however, crosses the line. Diplomacy is essential, but when murderous mobs shake the fences and take lives, there is no substitute for standing tall and staying sober.

Soberly observed, the predicament is simple: The recent wave of violence is nothing but “an effort by Islamists to garner support and mobilize their base by exacerbating anti-Western sentiments.” This is the explanation furnished in this morning’s Wall Street Journal by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States.

He is exactly right. To believe otherwise is not only an intellectual failure—a world in which a bad YouTube clip can, all alone, spark riots is one that defies logic—but also a moral one, willing to explain away any monstrous measure as merely a component of some cultural sensitivity that should be respected at all cost.

President Obama, naturally, is free to pursue whatever interpretation he chooses; voters who strongly disagree with his analysis will have their chance to deliver their message in November. But words and ideas aside, the administration’s actions in this case thus far raise considerable concerns. Regardless of the circumstances, it is hard to justify an official appeal to consider the censuring of content.

YouTube may eventually decide to remove the offending film for violations of its own terms of service—“speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity” is prohibited from the world’s most popular video sharing platform—but the government should not attempt to influence its decision, particularly when doing so would most likely be interpreted
by the evil men fueling the bloodshed as a victory.

That the administration has chosen to do just that should trouble all of us. If it felt compelled to approach YouTube at all, it ought to have congratulated it for being, in so many ways, the embodiment of free speech: So much of the content and the comments posted on the site is tawdry, tasteless, pointless and offensive, but the fact that we are able to post it without fearing the repercussions is precisely, to borrow a favorite campaign chestnut, what makes America great. To subscribe to any other logic, to curb speech, is just as dangerous to America’s body and soul as are the men savagely attacking American targets worldwide. And if the president should find anything truly reprehensible and disgusting, let it be not poorly made video screeds but the very violent crimes of our very real enemies.