Chris Stevens and three other U.S. Embassy officials are dead. Murdered. Who did it? According to most journalists, a movie did it. I’ve watched a great many “Who Done It” movies, but I think this is the first time the movie “done it.” How can a movie kill?
In the twisted logic of news outlets from MSNBC to the New York Times, the violence was “sparked” by the film’s producers and by one of its infamous promoters, Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who once threatened to burn a Quran. Several different headlines read, “Film on Muslim Prophet Sparks Protests” (see Reuters).
This kind of reporting is perverse, but popular. It’s trendy. It’s fashionable to place the blame for violence on those who supposedly incited it. (After all, they are usually more compliant criminals than those who threaten further killings when confronted). As a Christian, I would say that this misguided effort of blaming the non-violent for the actions of the violent is “trending.” Consider these three examples:
In 2001, Harry Hammond, a street preacher in England, stood in protest of the homosexual and lesbian lifestyles at a pro-gay rally. Basically, all he did was hold signs which read, “Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord.”
Hammond was assaulted by a crowd of three dozen or more angry attendees. He was also fined for inciting violence (even if it were against himself). No one in the crowd who assaulted him was charged. Hammond appealed, but died before his appeal was heard. He was again condemned after his death.
In 2004, another filmmaker was apparently guilty of inciting violence (against himself). Theo Van Gogh made a short documentary detailing the stories of four women who claimed they were abused in Islam. For his efforts, Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim, who claimed to be representing all Muslims. The murderer left a note on Van Gogh’s body and had another note with him. The notes made clear that Van Gogh was not the final target: America, Europe, Holland, and others were. Still, many blamed Van Gogh for his “controversial” film.
Even in America, this nonsensical approach to violence has taken root. This past June (2012) in Dearborn, MI, a group of street preachers brought signs to a public festival celebrating Arab life. For their protests, the street preachers were assaulted with bottles, cans, rocks, milk crates, and language that would have embarrassed Howard Stern.
The police threatened to arrest the preachers for inciting a riot. Ultimately, the police made them leave the festival; then, on their way home, the police pulled them over for having too many people in their van. No one throwing rocks and bottles was addressed, even though there is clear video footage of many who were hurling projectiles toward the preachers and making threats against them.
The trend is toward criminalizing “hate speech,” blaming those who hold to “hateful” ideas for the violence that ensues, rather than holding violent people responsible for their crimes. Right now, those “hateful” ideas include opposition to homosexuality, opposition to abortion, or concern about the violence of Islam. In the future, other hateful ideas such as spanking your children or teaching them your Christian faith will likely “incite” riots and violence.
When it comes to the persecution of Christians this is a growing trend. More and more, those Christians who remain steadfast in their moral beliefs are labeled as “hate” groups for what they believe—especially if they dare to utter such beliefs publicly. This represents a complete corruption of the ideals established in the original USA, a place which allowed both freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
For now, we are struggling to understand how to frame these issues. I would suggest we all should at least be able to state what our Secretary of State said:
“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Beyond that, I wish we would learn to be more clear. For example, when we hear the President of Egypt call for the prosecution of filmmakers in America, why not respond with, “How about we first worry about prosecuting the murderers who killed an American ambassador?” Or, when news media attempt to blame Terry Jones or Sam Bacile for Muslim rioting, why not alter a line from the NRA and say, “Movies don’t kill. Muslims kill.”
I understand that last line is a bit provocative, but the onus of peace is on Islam. If they cannot condemn violence and if they respond to free speech with threats of violence, then they will only further the perception people have of Islam—that it is a violent religion. When news reporters feign outrage at a movie maker yet do not charge Muslims with wrongful violence, they are making matters worse (and making themselves look foolish).
UPDATE: (There is now evidence that the attacks were planned around 9/11 and that the Embassy knew about them in advance, indicating that the violence was not outrage against movie clips.)
Feel free to express your own opinion politely.