Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
Recently a YouTube video came out claiming to be a trailer for an independently produced movie called “Innocence of Muslims.” It’s a poorly produced movie by every standard, if it is indeed a movie, and not just a video. The video mocks Muslim reverence for the Islamic prophet Muhammad and denigrates his character, portraying him as an adulterer, power-mongering tribal warlord, pedophile, and stooge. The video, fourteen minutes long, is being blamed for riots and attacks by Muslims around the world, including two which ended in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and the deaths of a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other American in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
With the subject of hate speech rising up in conversations everywhere regarding the relationship between the attacks and the “Innocence Of Muslims” video, one contribution to the conversation that got my attention is a blog post written by a Muslim woman, Bina Shah, entitled “No, I Will Not Get Over It.” In it, Ms. Shah complains that in Western countries that have laws on the books criminalizing “hate speech,” those laws don’t seem to apply to hate speech against Muslims. In this post at American Parser, I will not attempt to verify her conclusion. But when it comes to hate speech, I have plenty to say.
The term “hate speech” is just a subcategory of the term “hate crime,” which is in itself redundant if taken seriously. Aren’t all crimes, most obviously violent ones, pretty much motivated by some sort of hate, even if it’s self-hatred?
That understood, the idea of extra punishment for a “hate” crime over a (non-hate?) crime is ridiculous. If you intentionally attack or kill somebody because they are black, or white, or because they have money you want, or because they end a relationship with you, what’s the difference? Hate is hate. Dead is dead. While it’s important in a court of law to establish the existence of a motive, the particular brand of motive behind the crime is irrelevant. Whatever the crime, the effect is the same, regardless of motive. If you kill somebody or steal from somebody, the value of their loss does not rise or fall upon the quality of your motivation. Neither should the value of the punishment. Moreover, a court of law can’t really judge a man’s heart. It can only judge his actions.
Hate speech, however, is not exactly the same as other hate crimes, because all speech is not motivated by hate. Unlike murder or thievery, hate speech is an entirely legal construct, and cannot be identified by its nature, as actual crimes can be, but rather is identified by arbitrary lines drawn by civil, religious, or military authorities, and the powers that influence them the most at a given moment. Otherwise, everything negative said by anyone could be legislated as hate speech, and everyone would eventually be convicted. All of which, by the way, has already happened cosmologically.
Ever told a fat joke? Made fun of someone who is short? Said you could kill someone for what they did? Told someone to go to hell? Asked to go on a “dutch” date? Claim to have been “gypped” out of something or “jewed” by someone? Called a woman a bitch? Well, then, stand in line, because that’s “hate” speech, and if hate speech is a crime, well then, my friend, those authorities might be coming for you next.
That’s why the right to free speech is so important in the United States, the melting pot of the world. And by America’s founders, this right was not considered granted by government, but rather recognized by government as a right that has always existed for humans, whether honored or not. We are in America, indeed, a melting pot of cultures, religions, ethnicities, body types, sexual preferences, languages, and philosophical and political ideologies. Along the road to becoming one (united), we will certainly misunderstand one another. And in those misunderstandings, we will sometimes say and do things out of fear and ignorance. That’s just part of the process, and we need to give one another some grace along the way, both to offend and to be offended, as long as that offense doesn’t rob anyone of their natural rights.
That’s the beauty of free speech. In the United States, we tend to cut each other some slack, no matter what we say or hear, and give each other another day. Or, as one philosopher, regarded well by both Christians and Muslims, would say, “turn the other cheek.” That’s so good, it deserves some context: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).
By the way, Christians endure daily ridicule of their faith, diminution of their beliefs and cultural influence, and discrimination because of their faith in almost all circles of American culture, including news media, the entertainment industry, and government, that would never be tolerated toward Islam or Muslims in Muslim countries. And Muslims get freedom of expression in the United States that would be, and is regularly, a death sentence when exercised at that level by Christians in Muslim countries, where Christian homes are regularly burned to the ground, their women raped, and their men killed and imprisoned for outrageous expressions, like having worship services in their home, or giving away bibles in their communities, or simply saying the word “Jesus” to anyone out loud. And this is in the twenty-first century, not the twelfth. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?clickfrom=bWFpbl9tZW51.
Show me a Western country that has hundreds, or even thousands of continuous, documented acts of violence and persecution against life, liberty, and property perpetrated on Muslims and ignored or even encouraged by civil authorities. Oh, yea. That’s right. There are none.
So to Muslims offended by this innocuous little video that most of them have never seen, I would absolutely say, “Get over it. So, you stand for something? Great. Now take a little blowback. Sorry, but that comes with the territory. Welcome to the club. Think you’re being persecuted now? Try sending out invitations to your family and friends to RSVP to your baptism in the Tigris.”
And those evil-doers who offend us? They’ll eventually either catch up or die out. Or who knows; maybe those offended will just learn to relax and realize they were being a little dramatic. Maybe they’ll realize, finally, that vengeance belongs to no man.
Evil will not last forever. But we cannot complete that work in anyone, including ourselves, without Grace. Until then, we wait, and we have grace for one another, even as He has given grace to us. This is the way of G-d.