Secretary of State Clinton on Religion and Peace
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some words to say about religious violence, particularly focused upon the recent murder of Ambassador Stevens in Libya at the hands of Islamist extremists supposedly incited by a crude trailer for an anti-Islam film that ridicules Muhammad:
Religious freedom and religious tolerance are essential to the stability of any nation, any people. Hatred and violence in the name of religion only poison the well. All people of faith and good will know that the actions of a small and savage group in [the Libyan city of] Benghazi do not honor religion or God in any way. Nor do they speak for the more than one billion Muslims around the world, many of whom have shown an outpouring of support during this time.I like most of this, though I don't think that the US government should take an official position for or against the content of the free speech of individuals who express their opinion on religious issues. The State Department has to be diplomatic, of course, but rather than say, "the United States rejects both the content and the message of that video," Clinton could have said, "the United States does not support the content or the message of that video." Similarly, instead of saying, "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," Clinton could have said, "The United States does not support any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." This might seem a minor point, but in withholding support, the US government would not be taking the side of a religion, and I believe this is more consistent with the separation of church and state. Besides, some religious beliefs ought to be denigrated and criticized, and the US government ought not to oppose such anti-religious statements. A diplomatically worded sentence can always be constructed to soothe feelings without the US government taking an official position favoring some religion or other.
Unfortunately, however, over the last 24 hours, we have also seen violence spread elsewhere. Some seek to justify this behavior as a response to inflammatory, despicable material posted on the internet. As I said earlier today, the United States rejects both the content and the message of that video. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. At our meeting earlier today, my colleague, the foreign minister of Morocco, said that all prophets should be respected because they are all symbols of our humanity, for all humanity.
But both of us were crystal clear in this paramount message: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. And we look to leaders around the world to stand up and speak out against violence, and to take steps to protect diplomatic missions from attack.
Think about it. When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.
When all of us who are people of faith -- and I am one -- feel the pain of insults, of misunderstanding, of denigration to what we cherish, we must expect ourselves and others not to resort to violence. That is a universal standard and expectation, and it is everyone's obligation to meet that, so that we make no differences, we expect no less of ourselves than we expect of others. You cannot respond to offensive speech with violence without begetting more violence.
The most crucial point raised is Clinton's remark that the "small and savage group . . . [that murdered the ambassador does not] speak for the more than one billion Muslims around the world." Undoubtedly, this is correct, for we have seen some Libyan Muslims protest against the murder of Ambassador Stevens, but two questions remain: 1) how many Muslims does the "small and savage" Islamist group speak for, and 2) to what extent does the "small and savage" Islamist group speak for Islam?
In this respect, Clinton's comparison of Islam to other religions is apt. When the sacred symbols of these other religions are ridiculed, these religions don't seem to react with such widespread violence. After the recent violent demonstrations by Muslims around the world, the satirical folk who work for The Onion published a crude cartoon depicting NOT MUHAMMAD, but Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, and and a Hindu deity engaged in a sexual orgy, and none of the religions that hold these figures central to their faith incited believers to violence.
Is Islam different, more prone to violence?