An anti-Islam video comes out of America and the Muslim world blows up.
Some people blame it on Obama and his policies.
This isn’t only about Obama and his policies.
This is about freedom of speech, the sanctity of religion, and a deadly serious clash of values in an interconnected global world.
I read about the burning of an American-run school in Tunisia supposedly in retaliation for the film and wanted to cry. The students were almost entirely non-Americans whose parents work for the African Bank. Who benefitted from this destruction? I don’t know. Who was harmed? Children. Kids who want to learn. Impressionable kids who could grow up to promote peace or could grow up to promote hatred.
There will always be fringe groups in the US who insult others, say and do radically crazy things. And they will never be put on trial or charged with anything. They have freedom of speech and for most, nothing is sacred, certainly not religion.
Trouble is, these people now have access to YouTube and Google and the blogosphere and millions can hear their divisive messages, and embassies burn. American freedom of speech isn’t just communicating with Americans anymore. It is communicating with a world that Americans know very little about and have very little deep understanding of.
The wider world is receiving these fringe American videos or European cartoon drawings. Trouble is, many in this connected world don’t hold freedom of speech as an inalienable right and further, not everyone agrees on just how far ‘freedom of speech’ can go. Plus, for many, sanctity of religion trumps freedom of speech.
They hold religion as sacred and takes personally any attack on matters of faith. They have not grown up in a world where Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha can be insulted at any time. And, more importantly, they don’t want to grow up in that world.
There is a fundamental disagreement between what the United States views as a basic right and what many Muslims living in Arab states view as a basic right. Where Americans prioritize freedom of speech as a value to be cherished and upheld no matter the circumstance, many in the Muslim world sees sanctity of religion as a value that cannot be violated in any instance. While this is not new, the explosion in communications technology and the resulting dissemination of information, no matter how obscure or trivial, pushes this divergence of worldviews to the forefront.
Twenty years ago, nobody in the United States, let alone in Egypt or Libya, would have heard of “Sam Bacile,” and not more than a handful of people would have seen any part of the infamous film. Now, however, anyone with a laptop can create an abhorrent masterpiece and ensure that it is viewed by millions of people the world over. The entire planet has become, in the words of Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, a “crowded theater” on the brink of stampede.”
So what do we do? How do we live? Is this irreconcilable? Are we in for a stampede of terrifying proportions, with people of all types of convictions and faiths and politics and ethnicities and passports unable to dialogue?
Or can we find the way of peace?
Honestly, I don’t know.