“A Crowded Theater”
On September 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U S Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. They killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American Foreign Service diplomats. Ambassador Stevens was a true friend to the Libyan people and to the emerging democracy in Libya. When he died at in an emergency medical facility in Benghazi, Libya, the Libyan medical personnel broke into tears. They knew who he was and they knew what they had lost.
Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans who died with him were victims of religious intolerance and fanaticism that stretches from the safe haven of the United States into the crowded theater of Islamic majority nations in Northern Africa and the Middle East. These four brave citizens need not be extolled in death beyond what they were in life: good and decent men who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw tyranny and tried to end it, saw hope and tried to sustain it. We can neither properly cherish their memories nor honor their sacrifice if we now betray the ideals by which they lived or abandon the cause for which they died. Though the way ahead may be perilous and the risks may be steep, we will be judged in the end by the faith that we keep.
The actions that took their lives and the actions that provoked or gave a pretext for the violence were cruel and cowardly actions. These nefarious deeds are the responsiblity of the rioters and the paramilitary attackers, but they are also the responsibility of an iniquitous trinity of provocateurs in America, terrorists in the Islamic world, and demagogues in America and Muslim majority countries. The provocateurs try to incite the citizens of Muslim majority nations to do counter-productive, cruel, cowardly acts to foster anti-Islamic feelings or retaliatory disdain, or to provide cover for aggression against Muslims and Islamic nations. The terrorists unwittingly or knowingly collude with these American resident miscreants and enlist ordinary Muslims in acts of wanton violence and gross injustice. Demagogues in America and Muslim majority nations rush to exploit the disruptions and instability for short-term, partisan political gain. In combination, the evil deeds of these three sets of fiendish fanatics and calculating schemers serve themselves only and inflict harm on all people of goodwill regardless or color, creed, nationality, gender, socioeconomic status or level of maturation. The three sets of bad actors are not necessarily in any explicit conspiracy, but their evil intent and harmful conduct blend to form lethally toxic geopolitical consequences.
Whether provocateur, terrorist, or demagogue anyone who communicates in whatever form, in whatever language, through whatever means incendiary, defamatory, words or images in the teeming and turbulent lands of Northern Africa and the Middle East, is in effect falsely crying fire in a crowded theater. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said in an opinion in the case Schenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919), – “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” This Supreme Court case first that explored the limits of First Amendment protection of free speech. In short, there is no absolute right of free speech because there are always real circumstances in which unregulated expression can create or aggravate dangerous situations. The Schenck decision went on to assert: “Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such a nature and used in such circumstances as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent. The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done.” In Bradenburg v. Ohio, 395 US 444 (1969), the Court held a person could not be punished for using offensive or inflammatory language, but only for inciting “imminent lawless action,” with “lawlessness” being a likely outcome of the speech. In the current context, the scurrilous fourteen minute YouTube video is not subject to proscription because of its foul depiction of Mohammed, but it is subject to censure due to its known and intended effect of “inciting lawless action.” Superficial defenses of “Free Speech” by people who should know better notwithstanding, the producers and distributors of the “Innocence of Muslims” are culpable and should be identified and prosecuted.
Responsible political leaders and responsible citizens of the United States and Islamic countries must effectively counter the nefarious ploys of the provocateurs, terrorists and demagogues and/or their opportunistic political facilitators and sycophants. In order to do this, several themes and tactics are required. First, both responsible leaders and responsible citizens must not panic and they must not imbue the actions of misguided rioters with more sinister and far-reaching implications than are warranted. Second, the millions of non-violent citizens of Islamic countries and tolerant citizens of America must must not be tarred with broad brushes due to the manipulative efforts of the provocateurs, demagogues and terrorists or the rampaging of those they have duped. Third, in the United States, responsible leaders and citizens must keep their courage and maintain focus on American principles, purposes and prevailing interests in peaceful, constructive relations with Islamic nations and the millions of Muslims throughout the world. Fourth, in Islamic nations responsible leaders and citizens must make a good faith effort to distinguish between the calculated strategies of American provocateurs and demagogues seeking to foment a crusade against Islam for their own dominionist ends and the considered actions of the American government and the true intentions of the majority of Americans. Finally between America and the Islamic world, candor, cooperation, courtesy, mutual respect and good faith diplomatic efforts to identify and resolve genuine issues are the beneficial qualities conduct and the proper courses of action.
Despite the currently inflamed passions among millions and the genuinely strained and sore points in play at the moment, all people of goodwill have more that brings them together and benefits them all than things that divide and set them against one another. In particular, American citizens and officials must recognize and acknowledge that the murderers of our fellow citizens were not authentic representatives of either the Libyan people or the emerging Libyan democratic government. The perpetrators of these heinous acts would be delighted if Americans and America lost focus and turned on a people and a government who are more our friends than our enemies.
In this turbulent and potentially terrifyingly destructive situation, “The mark of the truly admirable is steadfastness in the face of trouble.” None of us can afford to lose our bearings or our heads and pour gasoline on the raging fires of deliberately incited fanaticism and premeditated treachery. All people of goodwill must stay out of the vortex and exert their powers to contain and then reverse the malicious forces rampaging across the Islamic world due to the unholy alliance of three sets of evildoers.
Now every person of honor, regardless of their nationality or religious faith or personal philosophy must send out into the world ripples of hope. We must stand up for the ideal of human solidarity. As a guide for this effort, consider and apply the following from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U N General Assembly on December, 10. 1948, by a vote of 48 to 0:
“Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
“Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
The General Assembly adopted two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights; and in 1976, after the Covenants had been ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Bill took on the force of international law. In a legal sense, these principles form a world commitment to doing the right things as stipulated.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not an erosion of American sovereignty as many jingoists love to falsely claim. It is a expression of American principles and purposes on a global scale. It is a monument to American leadership. Consequently, in the latest time that tries our souls, the American people and the American government must take the lead and stand up and speak out for these ideals even in the face of the gathering fury of fanaticism and insidious skullduggery. Let us be inspired and guided by these words of a great American thinker:
“In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than just ideals to be valued – they may be essential to survival.” The principles and provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not merely platitudinous window dressing and they require more than lip service. In America, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, we may have been brought to different shores by different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.
The principles and purposes of the UN-UDHR are the last, best hope for a world spinning rapidly out of control and a populace riven by raging fury, deep-seated suspicions, and long-standing animosities. Whether we are Islamic, Christian, Secularist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, or of some other persuasion, whether we are American citizens or citizens of some Islamic nation, we must appreciate and understand this plea –
“Sail on,O Ship of State! Sail on in unity, strong and great! Humanity with all its fears, With all the hopes of future years, Is hanging breathless on thy fate!” Not merely in America, but across the globe: united we soar and divided we fail. Come on people, now – whatever your faith or nationality – let’s get together. Let us remain steadfast in this time of troubles and show we can live together as brothers and sisters rather than perish together as fanatics and fools.
It has been truly stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Now, President Obama and the Republican nominee find themselves in times of challenge and controversy. One has sought to unify and lead the nation and the other has sought to exploit a toxic brew of reprehensible action by some Americans and frenzied violence by some Muslims into a campaign advantage. As American citizens and voters, it is our patriotic responsibility to take a true measure of each man. If we are willing to accept the evidence of our own eyes and ears, we should be impelled to conclude that one is a person of commitment seeking to rekindle the belief that we as a people can heed the better angels of our nature and rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed while the other is a practiced cynic who through his cynicism and cold calculation will impel us down the path to becoming a morally bankrupt and utterly corrupt land whose best days and highest aspiraitons are behind us.
Tags: Ambassador, America, Consulate, Diplomasy, Dipomacy, Dissent, Foreign Service Officers, freedom of religion, Freedom of Speech, humanity, International Relations, Intolerance, Islam, Larry Conley, Rioting, tolerance, unity, universal rightscitizenship, Violence