Of Politics, Freespeech & Religious Extremism – By Leburah Ganago

In the 2012 election year, Republicans have made it clear that bad news is good news for them. All along, they have been strategizing  for bad economic news- slow economic recovery, bad monthly job reports  have always provided them with their own version of good news. And on September 11 2012, they got a gift of another “good news”- the attacks on the United States embassy in Egypt and the Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And they pounced. The Republican party’s standard bearer Mitt Romney, in a desperate attempt to score a cheap political point, hasty drafted  a press statement   long before the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.  In the press statement, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of “ apologizing for American values and appeasing Islamic extremists”. The New York Times, September 13, 2012.

The manner of Republicans response to the protests over the offensive video fits the bill of an election year conspiracy theory.   As soon as the protests began across the Arab world, Republican operatives started predicting that President Obama’s foreign policy rating would go down. And true to their prediction, the president’s rating on the foreign policy front immediately plunged. And overnight Republicans who have previously avoided foreign policy debate like a plague started challenging the president to a foreign policy duel. According to The New York Times of September 13, 2012, the offensive video  was  promoted by a network of right-wing Christians with a history of animosity towards Muslims.  Could it be that the “satanic video”  was deliberately promoted by the so-called right-wing Christian group, a bunch of bigots who have openly declared their hatred for President Obama, to incite the Muslim world to violence, in order to rubbish the president’s foreign  policy?. In the Romney’s secret video, at his fundraiser, he said he would take advantage of any mishap on the foreign front.

The thrust of the Republican argument is that what they portray as the weakness of the Obama administration has emboldened American detractors to dare the world’s sole supper power. Again, in the delusional planet of Republicans, and their Neo-con foreign  policy architects, weakness here means the refusal of the Obama administration to continue on the  George Bush administrations perilous path of   waging senseless wars around the world.  This is absolute rubbish.  Treating with respect  other nations that are less endowed than your country does not indicate weakness. It shows strength. And apologizing for America? What is wrong with that? Of course, President Obama has not been going around the world apologizing, but if need be , so be it. It is this foolish pride and arrogance on the part of those who believe that America is so special that it does no wrong  that is fueling resentment and angst in parts of the world. While it is true that there are those who hate Americans or American values, it is also true that there are Americans whose behavior inflames the hatred.  And like I have argued before, rogue states are not deterred by constant threats of military invasion or blustering. They rather ignite a sense of resentment and of course, anti American rage. Yet, it is the dumbest idea to paint a president who has waged the most aggressive campaign against terrorists, expanding the use of drones to decimate an entire Al Qaeda leadership as weak or soft on American enemies. During the 2008 presidential campaign then Senator Barack Obama promised to execute a smart and more effective war on terror, not invading a country that had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001,  attacks like Republicans did in Iraq. AS president Obama has done exactly what he said he would do.

I think one of the most irresponsible questions I  have heard from the American media  in this election circle is this one : “ could President Obama have prevented the violent protest  (in the Arab world)” . Obama said he was going to repair relations with the Muslim world, Why is it that there has been more resentment (protests  against America in the past four years?, asked Jade Tapper, standing in for George Stephanopoulos  of the ABC’s ThisWeek on Sunday September15, 2012. Let me ask Jade Tapper: has there been any American president before Obama who had been able to stop violent protests in the Arab world?. I am sure President Obama never said he was going to be able to prevent violent protests in the Arab world whenever they perceive that their  religion  or prophet Mohammed has been defamed. 

 Just as it was in the case of ,the  Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verse, burning the Koran by a deranged savage call a “Christian”  pastor in Florida, abuse of Iraqi prisoners by some misguided American soldiers in that war ravaged country, the Danish cartoon; there would always be spontaneous violent protests in the Arab world. That is the nature of those societies, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

 It is frustrating  watching a section of the so-called mainstream  American media (not to talk of Fox News) doing the bidding of the lunatic fringe of the Republican party. They are wondering why President Obama could not stop the Arab world from protesting. And like the Republican operatives, are also saying that the current uprising over the denigrating video is going to affect President Obama’s foreign policy rating . And could even cost him the election?. Well, recall Mitt Romney’s   outrageous reaction before the attacks on American embassy in Egypt and the Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, even commenced. The master liar claimed that President Obama sympathizes with the fanatics rather than condemning their acts of violence. Distortion of facts-vintage  Romney. But then in his leaked fundraiser tape he has said he would take political advantage of an attack on Americans whenever it occurs .

However, the attack on the  American Consulate in Libya, as was later confirmed, was not a case of random protest by Muslim extremists but  a preplanned and organized terrorist attack, which analysts reckon could have been avoided or at least minimized if not for intelligence lapses. This is understandably under investigation, at the appropriate quarters.

 As one condemns in the strongest term violent protests and destruction of lives  by Muslim extremists  under any guise , I feel what those of us in the other part of the world should do is to try as much as possible to avoid igniting the flame of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu called  “a tinder box of hatred”. Enter free speech in America. Could the American constitution be amended to sanction such free speech that are violent in nature such as the offensive video in question?. Yet, all we are now hearing from a section of the political spectrum and indeed a section of the American media, is how much Americans must defend free speech. Senator John McCain in a recent interview seemed dismissive of the  impact of the ill-fated video which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, aptly described as disgusting and reprehensible. The usually outspoken Senator while emphasizing the need to defend free speech failed to condemn the offensive video which sparked the violent protests in the Arab world.

This otherwise sensitive discussion is getting complicated. The other day on the CNN one analyst had an advice for our brothers in the Arab world “we now live in the internet world , just ignore anything you see”( reads free speech). But I must confess, this is a fatal advice-a call to more violence. So, why can’t the proponents of free speech ( at all cost) be simply honest about the justness of their cause?. Truth is ,it would take generations  away for most Muslims, even moderate ones, to just ignore it whenever they see images of Prophet Mohammed or the religion itself being perceived as being defamed. 

Why do free speech campaigners in the West believe that they can transform the Arab (Muslim) world overnight as they now insist that the latter must forget their religious beliefs and live with the reality of free speech, even when they see it as denigrating or insulting to their religion?.While we educate our brothers and sisters in the Arab world on the justness and inevitability of free speech, we should endeavor to show sensitivity to the religious beliefs of those who must take offense at some expression of free speech.

 Some people in the media, the CNN (not just Fox News), are now taking offense at the television commercial by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Pakistani media market, explaining the stance of the American government on respect and tolerance of all religions. Their concern? The commercial failed to mention the right to free speech . I think we are beginning to witness not just religious fanaticism  in the Arab world but free speech fanaticism in America. Yet, the efforts of the United States President and Secretary of State here is to douse tension generated in the Arab world by the dangerous free speech videos.

All forms of fanaticism are perilous for peaceful coexistence of divergent views in any society, so must be avoided.  My take here is that there should be a delicate balancing act in expressing our right to free speech and respecting the sensibilities of others religious and cultural beliefs. This way, we can manage our survival in a world already on the edge. 

Leburah Ganago

Atlanta, Georgia

United States.

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