Another September 11th ticked by and, it seems, another catastrophic Middle Eastern event rocked the political stage. While millions of Americans paused in respect for what appears to be a fading memory of two fiery towers sending plums of smoke into a brilliant, blue, uniquely American sky, our President silently stopped at the Pentagon Memorial to deliver a speech declaring the war in Iraq over and reporting the forging partnership blossoming in Afghanistan, and once again assured us that this country’s fight is not with Islam or any other religion, but with al Qaeda.
In the meantime, halfway across the world, a rabid crowd brought to a frenzy by a movie produced in the United States that attacked Muhammad set its site upon our embassy in Cairo, raiding it, tearing down our flag there, and replacing it with a black one belonging to al Qaeda.
But as is the case in the Muslim world, displays of anger aimed at the United States rarely occur in isolation. In Libya protestors burned the American consulate in Benghazi, killing one of our countrymen in the process. And in the latest and most serious affront to American interests, the American ambassador to Lybia was gruesomely murdered along with three staffers.
The eerie coincidence of these events taking place on what has become the most solemn date for Americans is unmistakable, but perhaps more significant is their chronological concurrence with the president’s refusal to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In response to these criminal events, the United States released this statement:
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others”
Mr. President, the misguided individuals are not those who created A MOVIE, however offensive it may have been to others. I am reminded of the often quoted Supreme Court opinion in New York Times Inc. v. Sullivan, a case where the high court took on one’s right to express the most inflammatory opinions about another:
“In the realm of religious faith, and in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields, the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained, in the light of history, that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.”
And so it is, Mr. President, that if we so defend the right to free speech despite its offensiveness, then how come you side with religious zealots who try to offend your own people not by the creation of a movie, but by the firing of bullets, raiding of our embassies, and killing our ambassador? Further still, Mr. President, if suddenly you have found it so important to come to the defense of the sensitivities of the recipients of the speech, then how come you have not yet come to the defense of the veteran who is emotionally scarred every time he sees some ungrateful demonstrator burn the flag under which he saw his buddy die while defending our right to speak freely?
Yesterday, I was afforded a moment to think of my fellow Americans killed eleven years ago, but found my reflections cut short, not by work, or my kids, or the honking of a passing car. Instead, it was cut short by another senseless attack on this country and by the merciless killing of at least four Americans on another 9/11.
And from the White House I hear only a silence broken by an opportunity to repulsively reprimand those Americans who did nothing more than fire a camera.
There comes a point, Mr. President, when you must face the damning truth that leading from behind means merely to follow those in the lead.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D.
Follow me on Twitter @gonzopod