By Ben Wildfire.
Following the widespread anti-American protests in North Africa and the Middle East, and the violence against American diplomats in Libya, it is an understandable reaction for Americans to question why exactly we support many of these protest-filled countries, both militarily and monetarily. Demonstrations have taken place in several countries that received in excess of $300 million in foreign aid from the US in 2010, including Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, and Indonesia. And if not for the American-led intervention, tens of thousands of Libyans likely would have been slaughtered by Muammar Gaddafi. However, for one to take the cut them all off approach, he or she would be making a similar mistake that the protesters in these countries are making — ascribing the actions of a few to an entire nation. The protesters largely do this out of ignorance. Living in closed societies, many do not understand that just because a video is released in America, by Americans, it does not necessarily have the backing of the American government. Likewise, those who would cut off support also assume that just because there are some protesters in Egypt or Libya or Yemen that all Egyptians, Libyans, or Yemenis share the protesters’ anti-American views. As a counter-demonstration in Benghazi showed, many Libyans do condemn terrorism, while also taking offense to insulting, anti- Islamic rhetoric and depictions (link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/12-photos-of-benghazi-citizens-apologizing-to-amer).
Those brave Libyan counter-protesters should be the guide for the American response to both the “Innocence of Muslims” video and to the fallout from it. Both our government and youth, who have always been at the forefront of movements encouraging social change, should condemn both the offensive video that started all of this and the sometimes deadly overreaction of misguided minorities across the Islamic world. And just to be clear, we should not condemn the producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s right to create the offensive video – we are fortunate to live in an open society where even offensive speech is tolerated. But freedom of speech also compels those who disagree with offensive speech to respond to it, condemn it, and diminish its power and influence within the marketplace of ideas. The Obama administration and the US State Department have attempted to do so but it is our duty, as citizens, to make our voices heard as well. We should take a page out of the Libyan counter-protesters’ book and condemn both the video and the terrorist response to it.
Ben is one of AIDemocracy’s 2012-13 Issue Analysts. Want to write for our site? Contact us at opportunities@Aidemocracy.org.