If one takes the latest rioting in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere as truly being motivated by Muslim outrage over the allegedly defamatory movie made by some American wannabe film maker, you may be gullible, but I see an opening for some spirited rhetorical debate and perhaps an opportunity earn myself a personal fatwa for the effort.
Let’s start with the facts, which are largely available on-line and relatively straight-forward. Roughly three months ago, an American independent film maker released a movie titled “Innocence of Muslims” in a Los Angeles theater, to an audience estimated to be “under 10” — not in median age or IQ, but in number. The name of this film maker is reported to possibly be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but it might be George or Harry, as for reasons about to be described, his identity is presently being kept under wraps. For our purposes, I will henceforth call him Knucklehead, as it seems to be apt.
Although I’ve not seen the movie, but have seen pieces of the trailer, I accept the following critique of the “Innocence of Muslims,” as reported in the Los Angeles Times as being accurate, to wit: “The acting was amateurish, the dialogue clunky and the costumes no better than those sold for Halloween.” Frankly, in my 60 or so years as a denizen of the planet Earth and movie buff, I’ve seen a lot of movies that could be succinctly described by that single sentence. “Plan 9 from Outer Space” comes immediately to mind, but I digress.
I will note here, as this is America, and we Americans, as I’ve diatribed at length in earlier posts, are endowed by our Creator and our Constitution with the inalienable rights of free speech and religion, our boy Knucklehead was free to both make and display his movie as an exercise of the first right mentioned. The freedom to do so does not in any way ensure that the content is of any degree of quality, nor does it offer any promise that it will be warmly received by any who choose to view it. We have a right to say what we want. We do not have a right to be appreciated for it or even to be understood. But once you venture outside of our borders, and enter into foreign lands, you often leave both of these rights behind, not because either our Creator or our Constitution took them back, but because in many other countries the Constitution is a mere bit of foreign political bravado and our Creator may or may not be recognized as such, and whichever it is, isn’t understood to have endowed anyone with the right to run off at the mouth — a reminder, perhaps, to the sentinent, how precious and taken for granted these rights are. We’ll get to the case in point in a bit, but first we’ll take a closer look at these rights as they are understood and protected here.
The notion of freedom of speech has several aspects to it. There is the notion of the content of the speech, the form in which it is presented (i.e., orally; in print; electronically on the internet; as a drawing, painting or bit of sculpture; as a physical act, say burning a flag; and, as a sign, billboard or tee shirt); and, the degree to which form or content may be regulated. “What?”, you say. Yes, I said “regulated.” Even our Creator gave us conglomerations of quarks and leptons something slightly short of unlimited freedom in the speech department, as His Commandments to not take his name in vain and to refrain from bearing false witness against our neighbors are, in essence, admonitions to refrain from speech of either sort. Congress and the Courts are a bit less liberal. You can read my earlier post called “Adopt This!” for my commentary on governmental restraint on free speech. My point here is simply that in America, you can say a lot of truly dopey, hurtful or otherwise offensive things, with no fear of reprisal from our government. Thus, in the guise of an exercise of such freedom, alleged to be “art,” in 1987, a photographer named Andres Serrano endowed us with his photographic composition called “Piss Christ” — which depicts a wooden crucifix and white plastic Jesus figurine submerged in urine, stated by Serrano to be his own. The inflammatory artwork ignited a firestorm of controversy in the United States, not so much for its imagery but from the $15,000 grant provided to Serrano by the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. To the best of my knowledge and belief, no one in Rome, the Vatican or anywhere else for that matter, thereafter stormed an American Embassy, or killed an American Ambassador, or any other American, in reprisal. I do note that in April of last year, a group of four, 18 to 25 year olds, stormed an Avignon, France gallery where it was on display and slashed it, allegedly fatally.
Then, in 1999, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hosted an exhibition aptly called “Sensation,” which it caused while displayed a painting by Nigerian artist Christopher Ofili, which he calls “The Holy Virgin Mary,” and depicts a Black Madonna surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines, and elephant dung. Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought suit to cut off the City’s funding of the Brooklyn Museum — and lost. But no one grabbed a rope and attempted a lynching of Mr. Ofili, and no Embassies were besieged or other lives lost in reprisal.
I will leave to a future post the debate over whether excrement, no matter how cleverly dressed or applied, constitutes “art.” What matters here is that these two cited instances represent the extent to which a person’s right to make a statement is protected here, no matter how unflattering, no matter how offensive it might be; and, regardless if directed to religious notions held sacred by many of us. In this regard, Knucklehead’s movie is no different — at least here.
Returning to the facts, as they evolved, on or about July 1, 2012, You-Tube user “sam bacile”(more aptly, perhaps, and hereafter in any event, “Imbecile”) uploaded a trailer for “Innocence of Muslims,” which included clips that might be interpreted to mock the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It’s presently unclear whether Imbecile and Knucklehead are one and the same person, but knowing if that is so is largely irrelevant to the rest of the chronology or the real issue. On September 4, 2012, an as yet un-identified rocket scientist uploaded an Arabic dubbed version of “Innocence of Muslims” to You-Tube, and maybe sat there with his or her fingers in their ears.
On September 5, 2012, one Morris Sadek, an Egyptian Christian activist living in the U.S., decided to promote “Innocence of Muslims” on his blog and Twitter in conjunction with “International Judge Muhammad Day,” hosted by Florida pastor Terry Jones, scheduled for Sept. 11. If you recollect, the Reverend Jones got his 15 minutes of fame via organizing “Burn a Koran Day” which actually never came off.
On September 8, 2012, the Egyptian religious television channel Al Nas actually airs the video and to the shock of no one, condemns it.
On or about September 9, 2012, Libyan extremists plan protests for September 11th, that, according to experts in our State Department, were unrelated to the movie, even though Sadek continues to promote it on Twitter.
In case you stopped counting, September 11, 2012 was the 11th anniversary of the massacre of 2,966 Americans at the hands of 19 Arab terrorists, via coordinated suicide attacks in New York City, Washington D.C, and in the air space over Shanksville, PA. In response to those attacks, not a single Arab or Muslim was dragged from their home over here, and lynched or tortured, nor was any Arabic Consulate attacked.
In the years since, we have waged wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and on May 2, 2012, as our President likes to remind us of late, our Navy SEAL’s took out Osama bin Laden, the alleged architect of the September 11th attacks. His demise went over big over here, but most reports from the Arab world suggest the news was received with a somewhat more muted response. It should therefore come as no great surprise that on this September 11th, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed when militants attacked and burned the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya; while in Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag.
In response to the attack on our Cairo Embassy, it issued the following statement, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” What?
If you are a dolt, or a member of the re-elect Obama campaign, you might be willing to blame Knucklehead for this riot. If instead, you are a sentinent, reflective being, whose quarks and leptons like to engage in the orderly examination of facts and the logical inferences to be drawn therefrom, you start parsing the assertion and issuing “pffts.” As I claim to be both sentinent and reflective, here is my take.
The reference to rejected actions, as modified by the reference to free speech, can only logically be taken to refer to Knucklehead and his film, thereby positing him as the reason for the riot. Think about this for a moment. Knucklehead or his cohort put his film’s trailer on the internet on July 1st. I’m thinking there’s a few English speaking, web-connected denizens of Cairo who might have picked up the feed pretty soon thereafter — but no riots. The Arabic translation made it to the internet on September 4th — but still no riots. On September 5th, courtesy of Messrs. Sadek and Jones, Twitter-connected denizens of Cairo got clued in — but still no riots. If indeed the content of Knucklehead’s production is blasphemous in Muslim parlance, then what in the Hell was the point of publicizing it further by the Egyptian religious television channel on September 8th? Doesn’t matter — still no riots. What day does the rioting occur? September 11th? Really? What Arab might be of a mind to storm an American Embassy on that date?
Now let’s look at the assertion regarding the “abuse the universal right of free speech.” More confusion, fomented no doubt by a profound misunderstanding by the author in not knowing that there is no such thing, outside of America. Stand on a street corner in Havana, Cuba, and tell the world what a schmuck you think Fidel Castro is, and what crap his political policies are. Do likewise in Caracas, Venezuela, regarding Hugo Chavez; or, in Moscow, Russia, regarding Vladimir Putin. Better yet, try it on a street corner in Teheran, Iran regarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — see how long you last, and where you end up.
Now let’s look at the last part of the assertion, the one about our government being opposed to hurting the religious beliefs of others. Really? What umbrage did our federal government express to Christians, worldwide, over “Piss Christ?” Not much. They, through Republican sponsorship, did enact 20 U.S.C.§954(d)(1), which requires the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts to “…ensure that artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public….” Sure enough, four performance artists denied grants from the NEA, ostensibly because of the controversial nature of their work, sued. In truly American fashion, they recovered damages equal to the grants they would have received, but the Supreme’s declared the statute constitutional anyway, in National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, 524 U.S. 569 (1998). Obama was visiting his grandma in Kenya in 1987 and didn’t weigh in on the Piss Christ controversy. Similarly, in 1999 Obama was in the Illinois Senate and didn’t weigh in on the Black Madonna controversy. His future Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton did, saying, in true liberal fashion, it was “not appropriate to punish” the Brooklyn Museum, but also alleged that parts of the exhibition were “deeply offensive” and that she did not intend to see the show. How she knew that without going, one can only wonder about. No mention is made about whether Wild Bill took it in. On reflection, that’s probably how she knew about the offensive stuff.
So, if you’re getting the lay of the land here, you know can diss Jesus and the Blessed Mother in the guise of exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and suffer no repercussions, and reasonably expect no one will storm our Embassies or lose their lives over your exercise. But….if you want to diss the Islamic prophet Muhammad, you’d better watch out.
I add to the time-fact line that on September 16, 2012, good ole Knucklehead was taken into custody, for “questioning” about alleged parole violations. Take a look at his picture and tell me you honestly believe he was being rousted for reasons having nothing to do with his movie. If that were so, and it was just a routine pinch, why were they hiding his identity? The cops doing the pick-up are aptly dressed in brown shirts, but that’s probably just another coincidence.
Call me overly aggressive. In my apparently fakakta head, if you have the brass to storm an American Embassy or Consulate, you probably aren’t doing so to wish all inside well and should therefore have a reasonable expectation of getting an American bullet up your ass for the exercise. Of course, that notion only has substance to it if (1) there’s actually a Marine on premises, (2) the Marine actually has a weapon and ammunition; and, (3) the Marine has the authority to fire when the perimeter of the Embassy or Consulate is penetrated, as inside, an invader, by International Law, is on American turf. Incredibly, our Consulate in Libiya had none of the three when our four fellow Americans were seized and murdered. But, in a world so in love with the U.S. and Obama, why would we ever expect something like that to happen, particularly in an Arabic and largely Muslim country? Not because we were learned the day before the attack, that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri made direct threats against Americans in Libya to avenge the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda official taken out by an American drone attack last June. That was just rumor.
Mind boggling though these notions are to me, I have learned they are consistent with the current rules of engagement in the battle between liberals and conservatives over the future of our nation. Vilify a conservative and be proud for having struck a blow for the poor, the oppressed, the gender confused; and, the women in need of unfettered access to abortions. Vilify a liberal at your own risk. Those risks include being labeled a racist; a combatant in the war against women; a homophobe; a hater and worse. Nice game it is. Color me delusional, I actually believe there are still preponderantly more conservative conglomerations of quarks and leptons out there who will make their voices heard on election day this year. If they do, we can look forward to a war of outraged words from the left, and perhaps a serious swing at the debt that is bankrupting our nation. I suspect there will also be a respite of American Embassy storming, even if Knucklehead decides to make a sequel.