September 13 2012

Our Problems in the Middle East Are More than a Misunderstanding

Carrie L. Lukas

The Administration’s response to the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya is being lambasted for effectively apologizing for offending Muslim sensibilities, while condemning the violence. 

Charlotte wrote about this yesterday and Reason has a great piece on the need for the U.S. government to more clearly articulate that the U.S. government has nothing to do with speech made by private citizens, and therefore has no business apologizing for it.  This would be important not only in reiterating the real idea underpinning the first amendment, but also in reminding those around the globe that it’s senseless to attack U.S. government building when one of the 300 million Americans says something considered disrespectful toward Islam.

And yet, even as I make that last point, I think it’s also critically important that we Americans come to terms with what I fear is a sad fact in our relations with those in the Middle East. Explaining that Americans have nothing to do with any particular statement made by a single American—that we allow people to say essentially anything, which means that people are routinely offended and insulted and we are supposed to be grownups enough to ignore it—isn’t going to make a difference.

Similarly, one can sympathize with the Obama Administration, as with the Bush Administration before it, for wanting to try to reassure the larger Muslim world that we respect all faiths and that those who denigrate Islam are in no way speaking on behalf of the country overall.  As if this was all just a giant misunderstanding. 

The problem is, however, that it isn’t a misunderstanding and that those who perpetrate such attacks aren’t going to be satisfied with the American live-and-let-live mentality.  They believe that their way, and their set of beliefs, is the only way, and are without apology willing to kill for it. 

There’s no skillfully-worded bit of diplomatic correspondence which is going to solve this very fundamental problem.   

The Administration clearly got their initial response to this tragedy wrong.  Sadly, I fear that Washington will have plenty more of such opportunities to do better in responding to other senseless attacks.

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