Sunday, September 16, 2012
Egyptian PM Asks For The Impossible
You have surely heard about the ridiculous, offensive, and poorly-made video posted on YouTube. It purports to be the truth about the prophet Mohammed, founder of the muslim religion. But it really is nothing more than naked and ugly bigotry. And it has been used as a reason for muslim riots in several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt and Libya (where four Americans, including our ambassador, were killed).
To his credit, PM Qandil has said that regardless of the provocation, violent demonstrations are unacceptable. He is right about that. Insults (and the ridiculous film was insulting) are offensive, and never any fun to see or hear -- but they are also not a justification for violence, especially violence resulting in fatalities.
In a recent interview with BBC's Arabic News, PM Qandil said it is "unacceptable to insult our Prophet". He has the right to that opinion, but he went further and seems to be asking the United States (and other Western countries) to curb free speech. He called on them to:
"take the necessary measures to ensure insulting billions of people, one-and-a-half billion people and their beliefs, does not happen and people pay for what they do, and at the same time make sure that the reflections of the true Egyptian and Muslims is well in the Western media."
I understand his feelings. But he is asking the impossible -- at least I hope it is impossible. In the United States, we have a constitutional guarantee of free speech. Our Founding Fathers knew that free speech can be offensive at times -- sometimes very offensive. But they determined that free speech is a necessary requirement for a democracy, and they were right. And maintaining a free and open democratic society is much more important than not ever being offended by what someone else has to say, write, or film.
In short, being offended on occasion is just the price of democracy -- and if you are never offended, then you don't live in a democracy. I personally don't like what the racists, misogynists, homophobes, and other bigots in this country have to say. I find it very offensive. But I defend their right to say those offensive things because I want to live in a free and democratic society. And I also recognize that I have the right to blast those people for those bigoted views with my own words, and I try to do that often.
Mr. Qandil has the right to be offended by religious bigotry in this country, and he has the right to speak out against it. And his people have the right to peacefully demonstrate against that hateful bigotry. What they should not have the right to do is commit violent acts -- or ask any other country to curb (or eliminate) their right of free (and sometimes offensive) speech.
Perhaps the most reasonable statement about this whole mess has come from the Grand Mufti Sheik Abdel-Aziz al-Sheik, the top religious authority in Saudi Arabia. He said:
"Muslims should not be dragged by wrath and anger to shift from legitimate to forbidden action and by this, they will, unknowingly, fulfil some aims of the film."