A wave of protests and assaults against symbols of US influence has erupted in the Muslim world. Embassies, schools and restaurants have been attacked. Protesters have died as local police battle to defend American missions from rioting mobs in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan. The US embassador and three other members of staff in the Libyan city of Benghazi were killed when a mob set fire to the compound. And all in retaliation for a 14 minute trailer for a low-budget film posted online a few weeks ago. The film allegedly cost $5m to make and insults the Prophet Mohammad, depicting him as a fraud, a womaniser and a paedophile. I won’t name the film, on the basis that it may just draw even more attention to a project that was crude, stupid, offensive and inflammatory. I understand YouTube has now blocked the video clip from being seen in Libya and Egypt.
Arguably, free speech that provokes violence makes the speaker complicit to some degree in the crime. Freedom of speech must surely come with responsibility. To insult the Prophet Mohammad and incur the wrath of Muslims in such a way is a reprehensible neglect of this responsibility and even the most ardent supporters of free speech should not condone the making of this film.
However, there is a fundamental difference between expressing an offensive idea and killing people. Does the film in any way excuse the murder of an American ambassador and his diplomatic staff? Absolutely not. Does it excuse the killing of two US Marines in an attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan? Absolutely not. Does it excuse the mayhem wrought by stone-throwing protesters throughout the Islamic world waving banners such as “Behead all those who insult the prophet”? Absolutely not. America and its allies should not be cowed into dumb and silent resignation. There should be the strongest possible non-violent condemnation of this behaviour.
It behoves Muslim leaders to denounce the violent reaction just as it behoves us to denounce the idiotic film makers who incited it.