Why No Support for Freedom of Speech?

September 17, 2012


There seems to be wide agreement that the vast majority of citizens of the countries in which anti-US protests are occurring at this time, objecting to the film (“Innocence of Muslims”), are of the strong opinion that such protests should stop, and most certainly that there is no justification whatsoever for violence being imposed on US and Western governmental and business entities.

Here’s the harder question to find answers to: If this is true, then why do the leaders of those countries not speak out in opposition to such behavior and perhaps also defend the right of free speech which is core to the dilemma? Some, including the new President of Egypt have done the opposite—calling for the creator of the video to be prosecuted. He is smart enough to know that we cannot do that under our constitution and our rule of law. Nor would England or Germany, which are to some extent, also being targeted.
Can this be explained by simple reasoning? Is it that the leaders do not have a good feeling for the power (in numbers or politically or economically) of the fundamentalist minority? That doesn’t seem likely.

Or, is it that they see only the noise of this minority, and hear nothing from the vast majority? After all, the vast majority does not take to the streets to preach moderation. This kind of influence can be seen in America, can it not? Let’s take the National Rifle Association. Reportedly, they only have 4.3 million members, and even if we multiply by 2 to guestimate their supporters or sympathizers, it’s still not a strong block, in numbers, in a country of more than 300 million. There must be many multiples of that number of citizens like me, who feel we should much more to limit the weapons permitted to citizens of the US. Yet, we do not take to the streets. We do not protest. We do not hire lobbyists. We are not organized. They are. And the capitalist entities which supply their weapons pay millions to lobbyists to protect their interests. Thus, we see even our President defer to this group in an election year. And, there is the fear that alienating a block which might represent even as little as 2% could swing the upcoming election.
On top of all that, if no other charismatic political leaders of any of the countries we are discussing, including Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, and others, if there is no leader in any of those countries who is calling publicly for reason, for understanding, for calm, no one to defend free speech, then what is the downside for a leader like Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, in calling for the prosecution of the creator of the video? Similarly, there is no one in US leadership of political importance at this time, who is calling for reduced availability of firearms.
And, the case we have cited here, the NRA, is by far the strongest of US lobbying interests, according to Congress. We know that far smaller fractions of special interest groups are also able to wield similar power, resulting in our leadership being unwilling to criticize. Why should we expect it to be different in a Muslim country?
There appears to be a dearth of leadership, worldwide, leaders who are willing to say the right thing and do the right thing. As we speak, Morsi is modifying his stance, perhaps largely due to pressure from the US (and Obama directly by phone to him). Is this the only weapon we have to influence the right behavior? Is the world so lost in the complex influence of politics that we cannot even mount leaders who will stand up for what they truly believe?

Let’s hope not!

Libya and a Controversial Video

September 13, 2012

Someone, somewhere, sometimes described as an Israeli-American real estate developer from California (allegedly a “Sam Bacile”), makes a foolish decision, makes and releases a video that is insulting to members of the Muslim faith. The truth about who was behind the video has yet to be discovered. Motives are unknown, but one can only guess that whoever the producer is, he is a member of one of the many splinter groups around the world who do not wish to embrace the globalization of the world on a positive basis, seeking how we can understand and accept each other. Rather, such groups look for opportunities to exploit in the hope that they can hurt people of different faiths or can achieve some other end, or extract revenge, whether or not their target is indeed deserving of punishment.

Most Muslims will undoubtably shrug the video off as coming from someone foolish. Most will know that insensitive actions emanate from people of all faiths and nationalities, and that many of the citizens of the US no longer even regard their own country to be only Christian, but see it as also Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, and more. {That’s not to imply, of course, that good Christians would wish to insult the Prophet Mohammad. They would not.} Most Muslims will know that this has nothing to do with the US Government or widely held attitudes.

Somehow, allegedly, the video went viral a year after it was produced, and an uprising at the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of 911, resulted in the death of our Ambassador Chris Stevens and several others. A tragic event, especially since Stevens, a career foreign service officer, is not known to have any negative views regarding the Islamic faith or its Prophet. An innocent victim. And, anyone who knows, understands that the broad mainstream of America does not support such things as this video, do not wish to insult the Muslim faith, and that most of us want to understand that great faith better and to respect its basic beliefs.

Questions swirl: Was the uprising and the attack an angry mob’s excess, only that? Or, was it some other terrorist force (possibly allies of the late Qhaddafi), attempting to extract revenge against the US, although our intervention in Libya last year was completely a collaborative NATO initiative and was supported by countries of predominately Muslim faith?

What is the message for globalization in all this? Was globalization involved?

Globalization was involved. If not the rapidly growing interconnectedness of the world, we would not have had a consortium such as NATO to decide to overthrow Qhaddafi. If not for globalization, we might not know so much about Libya or care so much. If not for globalization, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida regarded to be supporting the film, might have turned his attention rather to the numerous atrocities inside the US, more local to his parish, such as gay marriage, inter-marriage, gambling, drinking, or whatever (too numerous to enumerate), rather than choosing to clamor over how the Islamic faith is endangering the world.

What is the message?

-Globalization will not always result in only good things, and most certainly not quickly.

– As Ed Husain (Center for Foreign Relations) explains, it’s natural for people who have lived under dictatorship for decades to hold the feeling that governments control and are responsible for the actions of their citizens, when, in fact, this is not the nature of true democracy. Husain argues that heresy and blasphemy, as offensive as they are, are an allowed part of democratic societies.

-There will always be forces which seek to use any development to justify or incite, and with the benefits of enhanced globalization, they will have more opportunity to do so. Communication, technology, and transportation advances, all part of globalization, increase the opportunities for such harmful behaviors by a wide variety of splinter groups. One thing they do seem to have in common is a desire to turn back the clock to times when some of the forces of globalization were not bringing influences which they regard to be threatening to their beliefs.

-However, let us not underestimate the potentially beneficial impact of the backlash of reactions to such acts around the world. Millions of Muslims and Christians alike are already reacting to the killing of Stevens and colleagues with denunciation of such behavior. I think this serves to some extent to galvanize the “moderates” of the world in further isolating the extremists and their behavior. That’s exactly the opposite of what the perpetrators hope for in such acts. It takes a lot to move the moderates of the world to take action. Terrorism is the weapon of extremists who represent small numbers of our world population and can only resort to such actions, being largely without resources. Little do they calculate that such actions are less likely to gain followers than to gain strength of opposition.

-Our Secretary of State described the video as essentially reprehensible, but also made clear that the US will never act to inhibit freedom of speech and expression.

Right and Wrong in Pakistan

September 4, 2012

Globalization certainly raises the question of whether there is indeed a universal “right and wrong?” When the world was more national, less global, there was less interference by one nation in the internal affairs of another nation. Now, we find that reasons for intruding, for caring to influence change in the internal affairs of another distant country can be for a variety of reasons: concerns that those internal affairs could somehow affect the business interests (e.g., energy supply) of our distant country; concerns that those affairs could result in war which might spillover to affect many other countries; and, concerns that the internal behaviors are simply “immoral” or wrong, in the opinion of us outsiders. This is seen to mean that we have a moral obligation to stop those behaviors, even if we have no authority to do so, and even if they do not appear in any way to threaten our way of life in our distant country.

If there is universal right, and if we know what those right principles are, universally, for all, then we certainly will wish to impose those upon people who are behaving otherwise. It stands to reason, that is a good thing for all, provided we do our best to impose those in the most humane way.

On the one hand, most educated liberals of the world would say there are certain universal truths–in fact, most of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, as examples) would agree on many of them. The golden rule is one of them.
Is tolerance one of them? Is acceptance of the rights and freedom of others one of them?
Is the process of globalization going to force the beliefs of the powerful upon the less powerful? Will the less powerful have any ultimate alternatives other than to develop nuclear weapons or conduct terrorism, if, indeed, they believe their most sacred beliefs are not respected–and if they have been taught to believe that failure to believe as they do and adhere precisely to their beliefs is blasphemy against their God, as they know Him?
There are those of us who would say, tolerance is a universal truth, a universal right. That would mean that if someone wanted to burn the pages of my Bible in front of my Presbyterian church, because that person was an atheist and felt that there is no God, certainly no my God as Presbyterians see him, is not a good God or does not even exist. It would mean that unless he was creating a disturbance which inconvenienced others, I should walk right by on my way in, and on my way out, and never seek to disturb his rights. I wouldn’t like it, but he has his right to his beliefs.
It seems tolerance is not yet universally agreed as one of the great truths of mankind. There is too much fear for loss of the seemingly sacred nature of “my” personal rituals.
We are not yet ready, as a world, to believe that all our “Gods” are ultimately the same God. That it is only our rituals which differ, and these can well serve our needs for history and tradition and individuality. These rituals need not be the same. In fact, we can study, respect, and appreciate the rituals of others.
Another day, let’s talk about the rituals of certain religions–can they be allowed to retain all of them, even if they do not choose to threaten believers in other religions….? E.g., is my religion to be tolerated to punish those who do not obey its prime commandments in harsh ways, just as I see fit?

Religious Issues in Globalization

September 2, 2012

Perhaps 30 years ago, the case of a 14 year old learning handicapped Christian girl being accused of burning the Koran in Pakistan would not make it to the papers in the US or London. If it did, perhaps most people would not feel we have any right to judge or to interfere.

But we have this thing called globalisation, which has instantaneously delivered this news to every major city in the world. Along with the news comes a plethora of observations by foreign notables. This is a dramatic example of issues exacerbated by globalisation.
The young girl is in jail, awaiting trial, the penalty for conviction potentially being death. And, even if she is released, local press report that her life will be in danger in Pakistan, notwithstanding that there are strong allegations that a Muslim cleric, arrested today, was seen planting burned pages of the Koran into her belongings.
These comments are not intended to address the right and wrong of this situation. It’s clear that most all of us Christians and many of other religions in the West are of the opinion that this young woman should not be arrested. While it is not morally OK in the west to burn our religious books, it is not illegal. There might be a few extremists who would endanger one who did so, but such threats or endangerment would not be tolerated in most Western societies.
However, in Pakistan, it seems there is a very vocal and significant group of citizens who feel strongly that destroying the Koran is a sin so very grievous that anyone doing so should face death. Have we ever had such types of beliefs in Western societies? Yes, of course, we have, probably some such sensitivities and/or laws dating back only 2-300 years. Would it have occurred to those conducting the Salem witch trials in 1693 that people of a different mind on this from other countries should have a right to opine or to interfere? Of course not.
It is clear that today, 2012, we have instant knowledge transfer of news like this, and we have strong feelings in countries very foreign to Pakistan, with no clear authority or rights to influence human rights (or religious freedom, as some of those extremely dedicated Muslims might call it–those who see the burning of their religious book as a mortal sin), feelings that say “No!” “This is wrong.” “Stop, release this young woman, and by the way, change your laws to give people the same freedoms of religion (choices, practices, all of it) that we have in the West!”
I admit to being of this opinion. Most everyone I know would probably agree. Nevertheless, herein we see a vivid example of the process of globalization. What right do the people of my nation state have in judging and trying to control the attitudes, religious preferences, and laws of another distant nation state? There is no IGO with overriding rules covering this aspect of human behavior. There are no rules, no authorities, nothing other than publicity and moral suasion available to the objectors to enable them to force the will of the majority of developed Western nations upon those of a different persuasion!
We will soon know the outcome of this particular extraordinarily sensitive matter.
As to globalisation, one thing we can say is that it’s unstoppable, permeating into all aspects of life, worldwide. Notwithstanding the absence of authorities, rules or agreements, whatever weapons that can be found will be used to influence. It doesn’t mean that the opinions of developed countries will always prevail, but it does mean that the time of quiet enjoyment of your own local traditions is gone, likely never to return!