OPINION: Irony in the wake of Libyan riots

By: Benjamin J. Gohs

By now you’ve likely heard about the four American Embassy workers in the port city of Benghazi, Libya, who were killed outside the consulate building as they attempted to flee a riot by Muslims allegedly upset over an American-made low budget movie which negatively portrays Islam and the prophet Mohammed.

That the event occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil may have served as the catalyst for a press release the embassy released at the outset of the riots which would later turn deadly. In the release, consulate officials said they strongly condemn any attempt to denigrate religions and that religious freedom was paramount among American values.

Attempts to assuage the rabid hoodlums were futile as American diplomat Christopher Stevens—a man who, by many reports, was highly regarded by the people in the Mediterranean town—was murdered in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. It is not believed that Stevens or the three unnamed casualties were targets of the violence.

The overall theme of the attacks was anti-American sentiment apparently whipped into a frenzy by the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” made by Sam Bacile, a man who reportedly (according to AP) created the movie with the expressed purpose of insulting Islam.

The White House condemned the riots, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped just short of an apology for Bacile’s movie.

“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Clinton stated. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

She further stated, “But, let me be clear, there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

I’ll spare you the platitudes about what a tragedy this was and move right on to the offending notions: respect and tolerance for religion.

After all, what is religious tolerance? Why should I respect your beliefs?

“Tolerance” means to “put up with” and respect means “reverence for something.”

I certainly have no reverence for the range of silly-to-horrifying, of which the world’s religions consist.

And, since I have no desire to control how people spend their time, there is no need for me to “tolerate” anything. It causes me no harm for my neighbor to go to church. I am not physically disturbed by others when their thoughts turn to the ethereal.

I have no respect for the Qur’an’s treatment of women or the Judeo-Christian rituals of genital mutilation. But, no one needs my permission or “tolerance” to celebrate their holy days or pray in the public square.

What I do respect is the importance of concepts as vital to basic human liberty as free speech and free expression.

Religious beliefs and practices—so long as they do not directly harm another—are a form of free speech and free expression, and deserve to be protected as such.

In that I don’t owe anyone or anything my blind respect for their mere existence, and since the act of tolerating something that has no effect on me smacks of arrogance bordering on hubris … I will consent to neither.

What I do not have to respect or tolerate is a group of violent, superstitious dullards who harm people and property, stifle education and hijack legislation—regardless of how supreme they think their celestial dictator may be.

Ultimately, all humans should have the right to speak and express themselves as they see fit: whether that be by making a movie critical of religion or by praying to the east five times per day. What they don’t have a right to do is silence the voices of those with whom they disagree.

The popular, though spurious, solution to this issue of hurt feelings among religionists is to pass hate speech laws. Countries from Canada and Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Singapore and a dozen others have rules which criminalize everything from insulting and ridiculing religion to defaming religious figures and generally creating an air of disharmony between religious factions.

If it isn’t enough that entire groups of malicious cowards are given somewhat of a pass by blaming cartoons and movies and newspaper articles for their wicked actions, the passage of so-called hate speech creates an entirely new set of problems: what is hate speech?
One man’s joke is another man’s denigration. My criticism may be your defamation. An off-color joke may be sufficient grounds for people on the other side of the planet to wage war. We’ve already seen for what 13 minutes of amateur cinema posted on youtube.com can be blamed.

As Shocknet Radio’s John Mill is fond of saying—patriots do not need, and scoundrels will not heed—demands for respect or tolerance.

The freedom of religion is only as important as the freedom to hold up one’s middle finger; it is only as necessary as your ability to scream “Hell no, we won’t go!”; it is only as relevant as our ability to ridicule the ridiculous.

True freedom of religion will only exist as long as the freedoms of speech and expression are paramount.

I hope my enchanted brethren worldwide consider this last point before sharpening their swords and unfurling their crying towels: when you scheme to smother the expressions of others, you run the risk of extinguishing your own.

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