What’s Left: Sigh (and Ignore) No More

There are a few facts we need to agree on before we talk about the embassy attacks on September 11 and what they mean. Primarily, we need to understand that “Innocence of Muslims” is a terrible movie. I’ve seen a few too many responses that defend it as though it were an artistic achievement like Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” “Innocence of Muslims” is a disservice to the right to free speech.

The extremists in Libya who attacked the American consulate are no more represen-tative of their country or faith than the part-time meth cook/con artist/producer and soft-core porn director of “Innocence of Muslims” is representative of America. It has the production value of a high school video project, and the cultural value of a Glenn Beck novel. It is a piece of Islamophobia without significance.

What is significant is how quickly “Innocence of Muslims” spread throughout the Middle East. Before it had attracted any attention from media outlets in the U.S. (and understandably so), the video had already been broadcast in local TV stations all over the Muslim world.

With a few fundraisers and some terrible actors, an indi-vidual can communicate a message, however inane, to mil-lions of individuals thousands of miles away. As the media power-structure flattens, ‘democratizing’ the news, there will be people using their voice to scream bloody murder. (As an aside, shame on Newsweek for their cheap “Muslim Rage” ar-ticle. I would encourage everyone to read Gawker’s tongue-in-cheek contribution, “13 Powerful Images of Muslim Rage”).

It is in these moments that the principle of free speech becomes infinitely important. Not because “Innocence of Muslims” has anything important to say, but because it forces discussions that we might rather postpone, which hopefully end in rational and tolerant conclusions.

Political correctness that softens harsh opinions is at best a stopgap measure. Would we rather some Americans go through their lives with silent Islamophobia or take an oppor-tunity to convince them otherwise? The right of free speech is symbiotic with the strength of the state. In protecting the right to free speech, our nation need not take an official stand on every pamphlet or low-budget flick: the citizens are left to judge.

To be a citizen in this age demands more from us than ever before. Things like “Innocence of Muslims” could be ignored when perceptions of America were shaped by American media. We’ve all been uprooted from the metaphorical countryside and trans-planted onto the city sidewalk, elbow-to-elbow with our fellow man. To be in close proximity with so many different ideas demands mutual tolerance and powerful voices that speak out against both bigotry and violence.

Free speech and the right to assemble peacefully are going to propel us through the crush of the connected world.

Salman Rushdie will be at Colgate in two months. While the rest of the world reeled from the attacks, the personal representative of Iran’s supreme leader went about linking “Innocence of Muslims” to Ayatollah Khomeini’s failed fatwa against Rushdie and then offered an additional $500,000 to fund his assassination.

If anything, this should remind us that challenges to free speech are not distant affairs. We aren’t so far apart anymore.

Contact Nate Lynch at [email protected].