Muslims are notoriously prone to violent anger when their god or their prophet is portrayed at all, let alone in an unflattering light. Militants have thought nothing about even murdering those whom they think have transgressed against their faith. Today comes reports of the latest atrocity, the murder of American diplomats in Libya in retaliation for the purported showing on an internet video that supposedly disrespects the religious beliefs of Muslims.
As I wrote about six months ago, there have been attempts, instigated by Islamic countries and supported by some western nations including the US, to get the United Nations to adopt international treaties that would limit criticisms of religion by trying to include it under the umbrella of ‘hate speech’. Jonathan Turley had an excellent op-ed about what is being attempted and why it is a dangerous assault on free speech.
The BBC news report linked above says that the film that triggered the latest outburst is “highly provocative and insulting to Muslims”. I can well believe that the people who made the film were deliberately seeking to provoke a reaction. According to the Washington Post it was a created by an Israeli filmmaker living in California who claims it was funded by 100 Jewish donors. The film had been shown publicly just once before, to an empty Hollywood theater.
This tragedy may result in renewed calls for people to be ‘sensitive’ to religious sentiment. My feeling is that no level of deference will ever satisfy all religious people and attempts to do so only enhance the sense of entitlement of the most prickly of religious elements. No one has the right to unilaterally what is religiously offensive and what is not and enforce speech restrictions on others. If people want to go out of their way to offend others, the only thing that should be used to deter them is the opprobrium that they might face, not death or physical injury.
It will be interesting to see how the US government responds to this attack. When private individuals have been attacked by religious zealots, the acts have been condemned but also resulted in calls for greater sensitivity to the feelings of religious people. That is wrong-headed. What we really need is a greater global sensitivity to the right of free speech. Muslims, like any other religious group, will have to come to terms with the fact that their religious beliefs cannot be allowed to put limits on the speech of others however deliberately offensive it may seem to them.