by Joseph Klein
“While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” President Obama said in response to the brutal murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff members. Obama promised to “bring justice” to the killers and added: “There is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None.”
Ambassador Stevens and embassy staff members were killed in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Ambassador Stevens’ body was dragged through the streets of Benghazi by angry Muslims — the very same city that the United States and its NATO allies saved from imminent massacre at the hands of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Ambassador Stevens had said last May when he returned to Libya to serve as the U.S. ambassador:
I had the honor to serve as the U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition during the revolution, and I was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights. Now I’m excited to return to Libya to continue the great work we’ve started, building a solid relationship between the United States and Libya, to help you, the Libyan people, achieve your goals.
Tragically, the Islamists whose lives may have been saved by Obama’s intervention into the Libyan civil war are pursuing radically anti-American goals that cost Ambassador Stevens his life.
President Obama praised Stevens as “a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States” and said that his “legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice.” He has pledged to bring the attackers to justice and to provide more security for our embassies. That’s fine as far as it goes. The problem is that both Obama and his State Department have denigrated the unique importance of free speech in the pantheon of American liberties in favor of protecting the sensibilities of Muslims who are offended by speech critical of their religion.
The Benghazi murders occurred during a rocket attack on the car being used to rush Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans from a consular building stormed by Islamists allegedly upset about a film made in the United States by U.S.-based Egyptian Coptic Christians insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammad. It was this same film that sparked an attack by Islamists on the American embassy in Cairo.
Obama had not directed any remarks specifically to the 9/11 Cairo attack, which took no lives but resulted in the destruction of the American flag and its replacement with an Islamic flag on American property. Instead, his State Department’s Cairo embassy chose only to condemn the offensive film:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions…We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Sensing a possible political embarrassment of appearing to defend the Egyptian Islamist attackers by condemning the object of their wrath, the White House at first tried to distance itself from the Cairo embassy statement. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in responding to the news of the attack on the Libyan embassy, both condemned that attack and the film that sparked it. She said that the U.S. deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others but that there is never any justification for violent acts as occurred in Libya. Obama took up the same refrain when he said, as quoted at the outset of the article, that “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”Here is the problem. By including in both Obama’s and Clinton’s statements a condemnation of speech such as the offensive film that “denigrates” religious beliefs, the Obama administration is denigrating the First Amendment protection of free speech no matter how offensive it may be. This is reinforced by the fact that Obama and Clinton evidently waited for confirmation of the loss of American diplomats’ lives before addressing the violence head-on, and they still refused to link Islamism with the violence. Apparently, destroying the American flag hanging at half mast on 9/11 and replacing it with an Islamist flag associated with jihad was not worthy alone of unequivocal condemnation by either the president or the secretary of state.
This is not an inadvertent lapse. It is part of the Obama administration’s relentless campaign to deny that we are at war with Islamist jihadists. At its highest levels, the Obama administration insists on using euphemisms and general references to terrorists and extremists rather than accurate language describing the Islamist ideology we are fighting. And it has sided with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in trying to marginalize those who dare criticize this ideology and its sources rather than defend the First Amendment.
Clinton met with OIC officials in Istanbul in July of 2011, at a conference she co-hosted, to embark on what has become known as the “Istanbul Process.” The ostensible purpose of the Istanbul Process is to work with Muslim-majority countries, the OIC and other interested nations on exploring specific steps to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief. This was followed up by a three-day closed door meeting hosted by the State Department last December in Washington, D.C.
In other words, behind closed doors, the Obama administration has been working with the OIC to find acceptable ways to stifle speech offensive to Muslims without going so far as outright censorship of Americans’ speech — at least not yet. Indeed, Clinton assured her OIC partners that she was perfectly on board with using “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.” Hillary is right in line with Barack Obama’s vow to the Muslim world in his June 2009 Cairo speech: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam whenever they appear.”
Hence, the Obama administration’s responses to the attacks in Egypt and Libya that de-couple the violence from Islam and include condemnations of speech considered offensive to Muslims. As a result, our First Amendment right of free expression – starting with expression that the Obama administration and the Islamists “abhor” – are in jeopardy of being whittled away. The Obama administration’s willingness to use government mechanisms to apply “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” is already in full swing. But it may be just the beginning. We must remain vigilant against efforts by the Obama administration to pursue legal mechanisms such as hate speech laws and vigorous enforcement of very broadly interpreted anti-discrimination laws, supplementing its “shaming” campaign, to curb any speech the administration and its OIC partners think may “denigrate” Islam.
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