You are a pribbling, gorebellied, motley-minded, flap dragon mugger hugger.
Well, not really. But I can say that here in America. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental to the values of our country and — as long as we aren’t inciting chaos or violence — we can say what we want, how we want and to whom we want. We can make videos, post blogs and produce television shows without fear of the government shutting us down.
This is why, when a movie trailer like “Innocence of Muslims” makes fun of the Islamic prophet Muhammed and insults him in almost every way possible, we think nothing of it. We’re in America. Who hasn’t had their religion mocked by South Park or Saturday Night Live? There really isn’t anything to get upset about. There definitely isn’t any reason to start riots and kill the American Ambassador to Libya.
At least, that’s what a lot of Americans seem to think about the riots that have spread across the Muslim world in response to this video. The reason for our mindset is because we live in a society where the government has little to no control over our expression. Having your religion insulted is par for the course.
In most of the countries in the Middle East, there is no freedom of speech or freedom of press. Any media viewable by the general public is state media, controlled and censored by the governing authorities. You can’t produce a video mocking the government or the state religion without fear of imprisonment or death.
According to the Reporters Without Borders 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, most Middle Eastern countries rank in the bottom third with the least amount of media freedom. Syria, Iran and Yemen are all in the bottom 10.
Imagine you grew up in a world where everything you see, everything you read and everything you hear from a media outlet — including the Internet — is only media which has been approved by the government. This is why, when Muslims in the Middle East come upon an American-made video insulting the very foundation of their way of life, they see it as coming directly from the American government.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton understood this cultural difference and when she spoke to senior Moroccan officials about this video, she was clear on this point.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” Clinton said. “We absolutely reject its content and message.”
To the small group of extremists who were incited to violence by this video, it may even seem a deliberate act of war on the Muslim way of life, propaganda intended to denigrate their religion in the worst possible way.
In these countries, when the government does something the people don’t like, they have no reasonable recourse for redress of grievances. They can’t petition peacefully, they can’t “march” on the proverbial Washington and they can’t stand in the public square and shout about how much they hate their government. To do so would mean imprisonment or death.
So the only option left is to revolt violently against their government — organize a militia, overthrow the current regime and institute a new one.
In countries such as these, one of the only ways the people know to express their displeasure with a government entity is to enact violence against it. This is why, instead of standing outside of the American embassies holding cardboard protest signs, a portion of the Muslim world reacted with violence to the perceived affront to their religion from the U.S. Government.
So while only a small portion of the Muslim community is involved in the egregious acts being committed across the Islamic world, they are still reprehensible. And while violence is never the answer, it is still incredibly important to understand why this portion of the Muslim community is reacting so caustically. We have the power and privilege of free expression in our country. We need to use that power wisely and responsibly.
There are vast cultural differences between the U.S. and most Middle-Eastern countries. Differences that we need to understand and respect.
It’s vital for those of us living in the free world to understand why something that seems like no big deal to us may seem like a dangerous threat to the way of life of somebody else.
Kaitlin Moroney can be reached at email@example.com