Fourteen days after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered by Islamists, President Barack Obama stood up in front of the United Nations and declared that the “message” of a movie virtually no one will ever see “must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity,” that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” and that we all should “condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims.”
It should give even Obama’s strongest supporters pause that the same administration so wary about characterizing Benghazi as a “terrorist attack” was simultaneously so eager to characterize an artistic provocation as a (potentially criminal) incitement.
What follows is a partial timeline of statements made in the first two weeks after the attack, from government officials and media commentators who lent credence to the now-discredited notion that Ambassador Stevens and three other U.S. personnel died because of a YouTube video. If we are to robustly defend the American culture of free speech, it’s important to remember those who so quickly chose to throw the First Amendment under a bus.
Sept. 11, 2012: U.S. Embassy in Cairo:
U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.
Sept. 12, 2012: Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania:
How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now.When Americans die because you are stupid…
Sept. 12, 2012: Rev. Steven D. Martin, CEO of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good:
I have no sympathy for anyone who would assassinate a U.S. ambassador. But I have even less sympathy for filmmakers who spread hatred and for pastors who knowingly incite violence.
Sept. 13, 2012: Hillary Clinton, secretary of state:
I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries.
To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.
Sept. 14, 2012: Jay Carney, White House press spokesman:
We also need to understand that this is a fairly volatile situation and it is in response not to United States policy, not to obviously the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.
This is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.
Sept. 14, 2012: Bill Press, radio host:
What, if anything, should happen to the people who made this video? I gotta tell you, I think they are as guilty, that’s my opinion, I think they are as guilty as the terrorists who carried out those attacks against our embassy in Libya.
Sept. 14, 2012: Anthea Butler:
The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers. [...]
While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right.
Sept. 16, 2012: Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:
[B]ased on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what – it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. [...]
[T]his is a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it’s not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with The Satanic Verses with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Sept. 18, 2012: Sarah Chayes, former special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
I spoke to several experts who said the trailer may well fall outside constitutional guarantees of free speech. “Based on my understanding of the events,” 1st Amendment authority Anthony Lewis said in an interview Thursday, “I think this meets the imminence standard.”
“If the result is violence, and that violence was intended, then it meets the standard.”
Sept. 18, 2012: Tim Wu, The New Republic:
When Censorship Makes Sense: How YouTube Should Police Hate Speech
Sept. 20, 2012: President Barack Obama:
Here’s what happened. … You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who — who made an extremely offensive video directed at — at Mohammed and Islam.
We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.
Sept. 25, 2012: Eric Posner, professor at the University of Chicago Law School:
The vile anti-Muslim video shows that the U.S. overvalues free speech. [...]
Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment.
Here’s a tissue, people, to wipe the excrement off your face.
Why do we infantilize Muslims? Granted, some Muslims behave like infants when they feel slighted, but how is that relevant to us? The “unalienable rights” alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, granted by the Creator not the government, are reflected in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Which is our secular Bible. Yet these boys and girls would burn, flush, or pee on the Constitution without a second thought. I’m used to them trying to Liquid Paper over the Second Amendment—but the First?
If the Nazis were permitted to march in Skokie (though ultimately they did not), why can’t some goofy Egyptian Copt make a video offensive to Muslims? Both were hurtful, potentially incendiary, actions; both worthy (if that’s the word) of defense under the First Amendment. The Nazis won their case (holding a rally in Chicago rather than a march in Skokie); the goofy Egyptian Copt rots in jail.