Violence is the Arab response to American Free Speech

Yemen, Arab Spring, Violence

Protesters in Yemen – Huffington Post

Tragically on the Tuesday September 11th, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, an attack on the US Embassy in Libya, killed well-respected U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his staffApparently the attack was motivated by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as a buffoon, questioned his sexual orientation as well as made references to his participation in acts child-molestation.   In just a few hours, the attack in Libya was followed by an Egyptian militia storming the compound outside the United States Embassy in Cairo. On Wednesday, new crowds of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassy in Tunis.  On Thursday the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, was surrounded by a mob apparently angry over the same inflammatory film.  As of this writing, Thursday September 13, protests have also been sparked in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. Sadly, one can only guess how many U.S. Embassies will be embroiled in the latest violent controversy revolving around the fragile relationship between the U.S. and the Arab World.

But the question must be asked, could a 14-minute film spark such outrage?   The film, titled Innocence of Muslims, was produced and directed by an Israeli-American, Sam Bacile, a California real-estate developer who called Islam “a cancer,” in an interview. Mr. Bacile told The Journal that he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors and shot the two-hour movie in California last year. Since the attacks on U.S. Embassies Mr. Bacile has gone into seclusion.

In the U.S., a country that believes and values free speech, we find it reprehensible that people could be killed in response to a form of “artistic expression.” Surprisingly, some in the Arab world find it equally reprehensible that Mr. Bacile wasn’t killed for his form of “artistic expression”.  Innocence of Muslims was neither sanctioned by the U.S. government nor seen by most of Americans, yet innocent Americans are dying because of the film’s message.  U.S. attitudes towards the Arab World in particular as well as American cultural attitudes towards “expression” highlight the friction between the two cultures. In response to the attacks Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mounted a strong defense of free speech by saying. “‘We do not stop individuals from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be.” However, Clinton warned that there “should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable. We must draw the line at violence,” she said.

What are your opinions about the film, the Arab response, American involvement in the Arab world as well as the Political football that has been passed by Mitt Romney as he has claimed the Obama administration responded “weakly” to the attacks?

-Network for Peace through Dialogue Staff Member:

A.C. Evans

About networkforpeace

Network for Peace through Dialogue (formerly the Center of International Learning) was begun in 1985 by sociologists, theologians, and educators from Germany, the Philippines and the United States united by their world view and wanting to participate in transformative change. The Center was to provide ongoing learning, analysis and collaboration between people of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. There were two specific goals: to promote democratic processes and to work toward de-militarization. Thus since 1985 The Network for Peace through Dialogue has been dedicated to connecting grassroots communities, both local and global in order to identify and research common issues and solutions in the areas of making peace and promoting just action. Our objective is to provide a platform so that communities and societies can expand understanding and discuss their differences within a dynamic environment to help resolve conflicts and cooperate more fully. In all our programs we do so by analyzing, facilitating, and fostering dialogue, identifying solutions and sharing information.
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6 Responses to Violence is the Arab response to American Free Speech

  1. kkanet says:

    I am wondering if the title of this blog is misleading. “Violence is the Arab Response to American Freedom of Speech.” The hateful video was the work of a few people and the violent response was also the work of only some people. The activities cannot be identified as Arab or American. Indeed, our two cultures need to learn more about what is important to the other.i.e. free speech and protecting the sovereignty of ones’ religion. But this understanding will never come through a violent response to a violent action. Some individuals made the video and some individuals went beyond demonstrating against this initial initial violation by taking the lives of innocent others.

  2. Peggy Ray says:

    Thank you Kathleen for your comment. In addition to that, I would add that we should be a little more modest in our praise of freedom of expression in this country. Just a couple of examples of ways it is constrained: Only think back to demonstrators being pepper-sprayed during Occupy Wall Street protests a year ago. In mainstream politics, the candidates of the Green, Libertarian and Constitutional parties who will be on the ballot in many states are barred from participating in the four upcoming Presidential debates. It would greatly enrich our understanding of the issues to be able to hear their voices; without them the debates will be mostly scripted events. For more information about the debates and ways to reform the way they are set up, go to

  3. n z riccio says:

    Violence is a communication about the state of selfhood. This is missing in many parts of the world. I agree with Peggy R… we are not so representative here. We continue to hear two vapid and vaporous voices in the political arena.

  4. I agree the title to the Blog is problematic. The violence was not a reaction to American Free Speech. It is a reaction to the lack of institutions of free speech in certain predominantly Muslim states. If their citizenry lacks institutionalized and effective free speech, they cannot relate to and understand the institutionalized free speech in Western states. They are used to states were the media is subservient to the authoritarian regimes so that the exercise of free speech in Western states appears as acts of the governments and its citizens, not the sentiments of the individual speaker. Therefore they regard the speech content of a few as the sentiment of the sentiment of the country of origin, which them becomes, in their minds, the sentiment of the people of the country. They then strike out against the country, rather than regarding the offensive speech as the sentiment of the individual speaker.

    In the US and other countries that are used to free speech, the people are able to put the offensive speech into context of the individual speaker, and ignore it when it is offensive. Obviously, a certain group of Libyans and Egyptians were not there yet. They then fall prey to will of those whose interests lie it stalling the progress of democratic institutions in their countries. We need to understand that. Hopefully, the time will come when those groups will be overcome by an enlightened population.

    • kkanet says:

      Yes, I see the hurdle of understanding and misunderstanding that needs to be addressed with people of the Muslim states and with the people of the USA about “Freedom of Speech.” How can this enlightenment then take place? I’m reminded of the Nursery rhyme: Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” and that this probably would not be a rhyme that Muslim children learn. They seem to be very hurt by words against their Prophet. and can respond by physically hurting others. It seems violence both ways!.

      • From my contacts through Soliya, I plan to pose this questions to some people in predominantly Muslim countries. I will try to do it through Facebook. It may not change anything, but it would at least indicate that we understand this divergence in cultural norms, we hope that they will too, and that we care.

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