Freedom is seldom free.
This adage hung upon my father’s office wall, was also present on the wall of at least one of my siblings and upon my own wall for many many years. It served to remind all of us why we were serving our nation abroad. It also served to remind us that our freedoms, such as religious freedom and freedom of speech, are not universally enjoyed. Sadly the events of which have and are occurring in parts of the middle east (Benghazi, Libya; Cairo, Egypt; Sana, Yemen; Tunis, Tunisia) are providing grist to the mill of reality with respect to the price paid for freedoms enjoyed in the United States.
This piece from the American Humanism Association (not an endorsement of the organization, but I am absolutely endorsing their selection of the quote from Secretary Clinton on 13 September):
“When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”
“We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer. They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult, answering ignorance with enlightenment, answering hatred with understanding, answering darkness with light; that if one person commits a violent act in the name of religion, millions will stand up and condemn it out of strength.”
And that is exactly what we have had occur. The acts of one individual from within a population of 300 million provided the spark. The spark which should have floated up into the air and extinguished itself, except there were those who were and are looking at any opportunity to foment unrest and light up the fury. In a recent op-ed piece on Forbes, a former colleague of mine, Arthur Keller wrote, Don’t be fooled the mid-east riots aren’t what you think they are:
“As viscerally satisfying as it is to lash out in retaliation at the people who are targeting the most visible symbols of the U.S., our embassies, we should have the emotional intelligence to realize that happy, well-fed, and fulfilled people don’t riot at the drop of a hat. Only in places with a nearly bottomless well of disaffection and anger can a minor insult ignite such a disproportional response; it has already been established that the film was largely the work of one man, and few in the U.S. have endorsed or extolled it.”
“As I’ve said in other instances – from the ‘Danish Cartoons’ to the disingenuous and dishonest film by Geert Wilders – protecting free speech isn’t important because it permits people to say things we like; it’s important because it allows people to say things we strongly dislike. The morons who made the most recent film (I won’t link to trailers, but they’re on the Internet) behaved within their rights. There is no law against being stupid.
Overreaction to the film, however, is dangerous. Protesting it is perfectly fine. Making insulting films that attack the filmmakers, their ideas, and all they hold holy is perfectly fine, too. What is not fine is to turn to violent actions or to call upon the power of the state to quash unpopular speech.
When protests in Cairo broke out – before the attacks in Benghazi, by the way – a press release, later backed with Tweets, was sent from the US Embassy. That has created a major political firestorm in the US. The release said, in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
That is actually not what the US ‘firmly believes’. It is so far off the mark that President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and presidential challenger Romney have all repudiated it. What is more shocking to me is that this message came from a senior Foreign Service Officer, the Counselor for Public Affairs, who sent it out after being told not to do so.
I did not know Amb. Stevens; we never met. I don’t believe I know the other three Americans killed in Benghazi. It nevertheless pains me to have American diplomats killed and diplomatic facilities attacked. I have known many other diplomats who were killed, in contravention to the Vienna Conventions and in affronts to human dignity. This does bother me, intensely. If diplomats are going to be chased out of a country, then there is no room for dialogue. What will be left is more violence. The world does not need that.”
You see, those without hope, are the most vulnerable in our global society. We as a global people, must invest in uplifting the global economies, as well as, savoring and encouraging the advancement of fundamental freedoms. Without such, I fear we will be allowing the gasoline of hatred and intolerance drip upon the cinders of the past and we will be inviting more violence. A violence triggered by seemingly inconsequential acts. And as my brother stated, the world does not need that.