Waking early each morning last week to TV news video of US Embassies being attacked, and our Libyan Ambassador and others murdered, was not exactly the best way to start the day.
One thing about this instance of seeming mass insanity brought into your living room on your BigScreen, struck me, and others, quite hard: we are watching a world that has no clue what “Free Speech” actually means!
A noted physicist explains what the concept of the existence of extra dimensions (beyond the immediately observable) means, thusly. If you see Koi lazily floating around in a pond, and you stick your hand into the water, the Koi see something they can’t understand – they live in a simpler, two-dimensional underwater world, and the intrusion of a human hand coming from above the water, is simply incomprehensible to them.
And, so it seems with “Free Speech” in the Arab world.
From too many hours glued to the news last week and over last weekend, I have heard statements like – Why does the American government allow making a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed? The underlying assumption being, that our government tightly controls all media, as has been done in every Arab country, and in many other countries, like China. It is incomprehensible to the average man in the Arab Street (sorry, they have this ‘thing’ about women) that our government would ‘permit’ such blasphemy. Thus, they demonstrate that, like the Koi when you put your hand into their pond, millions living in the Arab world, despite the much touted “Arab Spring,” have no basis whatsoever in their reality to understand. Our American government does not control our media like their oppressive governments have done for many of the lives of those we see trying to breach the barricades with mindless violence on American embassies, and for God’s Sake, on at least one Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise!
Now, there are surely limits to our American Constitutionally-guaranteed Freedom of Speech – in law school, we read the legendary appellate opinions, which teach us that “you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” But, when American Nazi’s wanted to march through Skokie, IL, a community of Jewish people with more than a few Holocaust Survivors in their midst, our Courts correctly allowed it as an exercise of Free Speech. The more disgusting, and obnoxious the speech may be, the more important that it is allowed under our First Amendment, to resist any restriction on our freedom of expression, truly the undergirding of our whole Constitutional system.
Try explaining that to under- and uneducated people, many of whom are still in their teens, used as pawns by their own governments for too many decades. Try explaining that to irresponsible religious figures, who issue calls for mindless violence and destruction. From their viewpoint, as nearly as I can make any rational sense of it, a film made by some nut jobs in America, is AMERICA SPEAKING.
So, as if our world was not strange enough these days, we now have another fuse which can easily be lit by any fool without brains, good taste or morals. Want to see the Arab Street lose it’s collective mind, and go bananas right on your Big Screen, right there in your living room? Issue a cartoon lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, or a painfully amateurish video or movie, doing the same, and watch the disintegration of what hopes some day to be a civilized society.
One of the most telling comments, and I’m sure you’ve heard by now, in a lame defense of the rage that we have watched in too many countries now: “How would you Americans feel if somebody made a movie ridiculing Jesus or Abraham Lincoln?!?
Duh . . . . guess you’re not from around here, are you?
How do we explain Free Speech to a world that is still living in the Middle Ages, without sounding like we are an alien life form?
America has a rich tradition of satire, and political, gloves-off brawling. In Colonial days, people, often famous people, wrote columns under pseudonyms, saying the worst things imaginable about their political rivals. Burr dueled and killed Hamilton over one such slur. In modern times, the publisher of Hustler Magazine beat American Cleric Jerry Farwell’s defamation lawsuit on free speech satire grounds. But, if you look closely, you will see that even Great Britain, which originally spawned our America, does not see Free Speech the way we do. Follow a few British defamation cases if you don’t accept this, and you will see that, perhaps, our brand of Free Speech may just be a peculiarly American flavor of our democracy – a critically important one, that must be defended, and yes, explained, when ignorant people simply have no way to understand it.
The startling picture of half a world gone mad over a dumb video making its rounds on YouTube, poses a real threat, which we can no longer ignore. More questions are raised than answers are apparent: why did this video languish in obscurity since last June, to only now, in September, stimulate this horrifying front page news? Who made this video, and then so cowardly blamed it on Israeli financing, to press again that particularly, worn-out hot button – offering up video of Palestinians in Gaza (with no US Embassy to attack and no US fast food places to ransack), engage in the obligatory throwing to the ground the US and Israeli flags, to trample and burn? And, why now, so close to our US elections in early November? Why were not our embassies better guarded – they surely will be now. And last, but not least, who is manipulating the uneducated in the Arab Street like so many puppets on a string? And, why? What is to be achieved by ‘biting the hand that feeds?’ – are the billions upon billions we give them each year not enough? Nothing could be more ungrateful than seeing people in Benghazi, who would not be alive today but for the heroism of our tragically slain Ambassador, commit such a senseless killing?
Answers will come – and, hopefully through them, we might understand better how to explain three dimensions to a Koi living in two dimensions.