Obama and Clinton Celebrate Freedom to Insult Islam

The American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she finds the anti-Muslim film which has led to protests erupting across the Middle East against American diplomatic missions “disgusting” is a worthless gesture as far as the culpability of the American government for this affair goes, as well as an expression of the fear the US administration has regarding the impact on US interests from the powerful response from the ‘Muslim street’. It is worthless because in the same statement she also made clear that the US does “not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be”. In other words, I don’t agree with the film’s content, but I don’t disagree with allowing it to be produced and promoted in the United States to the World.

This is the same point that was made by President Obama when he claimed that the death of four American staff in Libya were “a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy – sometimes even the freedoms we take for granted – they’re only sustained because there are people like those who were killed, who were willing to stand up for those freedoms, who were willing to fight for those freedoms, in some cases to lay down their lives for those freedoms”.

It is quite clear that this is an issue of principle for the American government – linked to the claim of “freedom of expression” that is enshrined in their own holy text, the US constitution, and the normal refrain of Western politicians and media when it comes to excusing anything that insults Islam and inflames Muslim sentiments.

Given that this is the case, it is disingenuous for the US government to simultaneously claim it is not responsible for the film while maintaining the legal environment that allows such materials to be freely produced and promoted. It is plainly hypocritical to celebrate the freedom of expression that permits the movie, while trying to wash their hands of any culpability for it.

It could be pointed out that the concept of freedom of expression is not upheld unconditionally in the West. For example, in the past a number of suspected communists were jailed in the United States in the heated environment created by Senator Joe McCarthy, while today it is illegal to deny the holocaust in some countries and at the same time across the West many Muslims have been imprisoned on charges of “glorifying terrorism”, purely related to expression.

So it is not illogical for Muslims to believe that “freedom of expression” is used against them when justifying the denigration of their beliefs, and left to one side when it comes to individuals from the Muslim community expressing themselves against Western foreign policy for example.

However, the issue is more fundamental than the hypocrisy displayed in the application of “freedom of expression” – which is that the idea of unrestricted speech is not in agreement with Islamic doctrine, and is considered a destructive concept which destroys harmony in the society.

The examples of this in Islamic law are many – one example would be the law mentioned in the Quran that someone who accuses another of fornication and then does not produce four eye witnesses to the act is to be publicly punished, thus protecting peoples’ honor and reputation. Another would be that it is forbidden to insult the Prophets of God, such as Moses, Jesus and the final Prophet of Islam Mohammad.

In others words, while the American government celebrates the “freedom” it guarantees in this case to allow people to provoke Muslims by insulting their Prophet in a cheap, hate-filled and slanderous manner, Islamic belief rejects such behavior as depraved and illegal.

The reality is that allowing the insulting of the Prophet Mohammad is a red-line that cannot be crossed for Muslims. Many of these protesters around the World can see that this film, innocuously entitled “The Innocence of Muslims”, has been produced and is being promoted under the protection and legal framework of the United States – whose government has expressly confirmed their right to do so – and hence quite fairly hold the American government ultimately responsible for it, irrespective of whether or not the Secretary of State personally agrees with its contents.

This leaves us with the question of why offended Muslims feel the need to protest at the site of the American embassy, which can end up in violence spiraling out of the control and, in the case of the storming of the American consulate in Benghazi, the unjustified killing of the staff there (the killing of ambassadors is expressly forbidden in Shari’a law)*, an unfortunate consequence of what began as a protest for the sake of Islamic values.

The reason for this is that across the Muslim world, there is no single government that represents Islam internationally and would take suitable actions such as open condemnation of the film and requesting the American government to remove it from circulation. Of course, the American government could refuse this on the grounds of “freedom of expression”, which could then be met with whatever sanction they were able if their request were not complied with such as the cutting of diplomatic and economic ties between the two. The point being – there would be a government which is representing the Islamic viewpoint regarding these issues, and people would look to it to take firm stances in their interests, and it can be dealt with at a state level. In the absence of such a government, people take to the streets to express their anger, a sight that is likely to become more visible in the new Middle East without the same Western backed dictators such as Hosni Mubarak around anymore to keep them in check.

If such a government – representing Islam and Muslims rather than a nominal nation state – did indeed exist, the issue of relationship with the American government would be a moot point in any case.  With American troops on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and predator drones killing “terrorists” (which according to the US government is any Muslim adult male who happens to be in the path of one of their missiles) with impunity in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and yes – in Libya – it is unlikely there would be any room for friendly relations until American behavior radically changes. While Obama fools himself into thinking that the US is the World’s “indispensible nation”, many of its innocent victims would beg to differ.


* Update 11/10/2012
The State Department has now made it clear that there was no protest against the movie in front of the US consulate in Benghazi that night, and that the attack which killed the Ambassador was premeditated. And yet, President Obama as late as September 26 was still linking the attack to the protests.


On 14th September, 2012 – in the UK, Azhar Ahmed was found guilty of “grossly offensive communication” by posting a facebook message stating that “all soldiers should die and go to hell”, when commenting of the deaths of 6 British soldiers killed by an IED in Afghanistan.


In the United States, On April 12 2012, Tarek Mehenna was sentenced to 17 years in jail for translating an openly available e-book by an al-Qaeda member that had already been widely quoted elsewhere, and supporting the right of Muslims to defend themselves when occupied (while being against the world view of al-Qaeda and the targeting of civilians)


Reza Pankhurst is a political scientist and historian, specialising in the Middle East and Islamic movements. He has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, where he previously completed his Masters degree in the History of International Relations. He was a political prisoner of the previous Mubarak regime in Egypt, spending almost 4 years in jail between 2002 and 2006. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Inevitable Caliphate?” (Hurst/ Columbia University Press 2012) and is available at Amazon and other retailers. He can be contacted at rezapankhurst@newcivilisation.com

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(17) Readers Comments

  1. Jzk for an excellent article

  2. Salam aleikum and shoukran Reza for this article. I’m (unfortunately) an American but first and foremost I am a Muslim. I left the US to find out the truth about Islam after converting and realized that I was living a lie in the States even when I was a “Christian”. I pray this article is read my many who will see the truth. I am appalled every day by what the US government does and doesn’t do, allows and disapproves according to their will. The American people who LOVE God, have been blinded by the fact that we need to obey the laws of God, not the laws of men, as you see the laws of men can be twisted and stretched for whatever need someone has to be made “legal”. People seem to have forgotten, that we will all be held accountable for what we did or didn’t do in this life on judgement day (and yes, for all the atheist’s out there, this goes for you as well because even if you don’t believe in God, He exists and you will see the truth in the end) . I am not even close to being a perfect person, or even sometimes a good person, but now I try to be the best Muslim I can be, to speak the truth and to try to get even one person to realize that what the media feeds them in the west isn’t necessarily the clear truth and they need to look deeper for the truth. If the people of the West do not wake up to the fact that they are being “sheep” following blindly, that they will still be held accountable for not looking for that truth. Thank you again for being a beacon of the truth….

    • I just read this article after recently discovering the website. If some of you are not happy about being Americans then I have to ask why don’t you leave? This country will never subscribe to Islam or Sharia as a basis of ideology. I, too, am sorry for one who professes to be unhappy as an American, for this country is great and our people are good. We do not represent our government, but I must also say that for Clinton to say anything other than that which supports our Constitution and America’s ideology would, to many of us, be outrageous. We all have to suffer ignorance of those who refuse to live within a moral code. I hope many will reconsider their unhappiness as Americans. This truly is a great country which affords many options and opportunities quite scare in many other parts of this world. People will always be insulting and rude, but to treat this as a crime is simply outrageous. The best we can do is be the good examples for which we are meant.

  3. “the unjustified killing of the staff there (the killing of ambassadors is expressly forbidden in Shari’a law), an unfortunate consequence”
    Unfortunate indeed.
    Then again, the murder of non combatants, suicide bombing, dishonour killings etc are also forbidden by Sharia law, and the consequences of those are also “unfortunate”, but who draws attention to that?
    I have yet to see any attempt to uphold these laws, all I see are thugs, ignorant of their own religion, destroying property and killing all who dare to differ.
    Does Sharia law encourage the killing of Ahmadi, Sufi, Sunni, Kurd, Shia, each by the other? The cutting of throats of children, using children as human bombs? Or is it just unfortunate?
    Islam has been hijacked by worldly men, for worldly aims. Exactly as the Holy Roman Empire hijacked Christianity. Your mention of Caliphate, is an obvious parallel. Who will rule it? Persian Shia? Saudi Wahabi? Ottoman? Pakistani? What about a London born Muslim, could she be the Caliph?
    Until Islam can live in peace with itself, it will always live in the House of War.

    • “Then again, the murder of non combatants, suicide bombing, dishonour killings etc are also forbidden by Sharia law, and the consequences of those are also “unfortunate”, but who draws attention to that?”

      Would you mind looking around you or finding out exactly how much of an attention has always been drawn to all that?

      “I have yet to see any attempt to uphold these laws, all I see are thugs, ignorant of their own religion, destroying property and killing all who dare to differ.”

      And whose fault is it if all you see is limited to what you wish to see, and you fail to see the other side of the picture? Freedom of expression indeed! I wonder if those nations even have any freedom of sight or hearing!

      “Does Sharia law encourage the killing of Ahmadi, Sufi, Sunni, Kurd, Shia, each by the other? The cutting of throats of children, using children as human bombs? Or is it just unfortunate?”

      It is fortunate indeed that we are already dealing with these issues as they need to be dealt with, and trying to tackle our problems without needing our Western brothers to point them out to us. It is most fortunate that we have the guts to look at our own faults and attempt to solve them.

      “Islam has been hijacked by worldly men, for worldly aims. Exactly as the Holy Roman Empire hijacked Christianity. Your mention of Caliphate, is an obvious parallel. Who will rule it? Persian Shia? Saudi Wahabi? Ottoman? Pakistani? What about a London born Muslim, could she be the Caliph?”

      Again, look up the Islamic rules for Khilafah before asking questions, since I suppose you enjoy the freedom of honest, unbiased search?

      “Until Islam can live in peace with itself, it will always live in the House of War.”

      Until the Western countries learn to mind their own business and keep their weapons to themselves and their own countries, Islamic nations will always remain houses of wars.

  4. Update.
    I have looked at the Azhar Ahmed details online, and would draw your attention to this difference between UK and the “house of submission”.
    Instead of a lynch mob of enraged Christians turning up at the Saudi or Pakistani embassies, burning flags, throwing petrol bombs, shooting etc, he got a summons, a day in court at our expense, and he will be sentenced by an appropriate authority, after due reflection.
    As a student of a British University, I would expect the author to know that the law recognises the right to freedom of expression, provided that this is not used to incite hatred, violence, or knowingly and deliberately to cause offence etc.

  5. “the law recognises the right to freedom of expression, provided that this is not used to incite hatred, violence, or knowingly and deliberately to cause offence etc.”

    The (unintended) irony of this statement is lost on yourself. I suggest you read the article again and think carefully about what you wrote here.
    The rest of your post is just a rant not worthy of a response.

  6. Jzak Allah Khair for your excellent article. KHILAFAH is our call, may Allah reunite Muslims all over the world as soon as possible InshAllah.

  7. “The rest of your post is just a rant not worthy of a response”
    The point you make is excellent.
    Now, try and look at silly films and cartoons through the same lens.
    “Your silly film about the Prophet (pbuh) is just a rant not worthy of a response”

  8. There are several differences between the two scenarios.
    The first being that the Prophet is sanctified, whereas discussion about the actions of Muslims is not.
    Secondly the film has been created to cause offence, is being broadcast internationally through the internet, and is defended by the American government under the pretext of freedom of speech.
    Third, you cannot divorce this issue from the years of military and political interference in the region. It is just one event which is simply one more grievance on top of many others – rendition, torture, predator drones and so on.
    As mentioned in the article, it should be dealt with at a state level. However, in the absence of a state that takes appropriate stances, people will take to the streets and problems escalate.

    • Islam did neither forbid debate about its beliefs nor forbid critiques of its way of life. It gives unparalleled rights to all citizens -Muslims and non-Muslims – to have lives, belief s, honour, property and minds protected.
      However, it also gave due right to Allah and his Messengers not to be insulted, which no other state in the world carries, such noble values in the international arena.
      Muslims are obliged to counter these lies by carrying the message of Islam to others in Western society and show the qualities of the Messenger of Allah (saw) as a Prophet, human being, husband and father, statesman, political leader and military commander.
      Also, Muslims are urged not to remain silent, condemn those who insult our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) – whom Muslims love more than our parents, our children and ourselves.

  9. It is time for the practioners of Islam to separate religion from state, and to adopt a more post-modern approach to their culture and religion. While it may be perfectly acceptable within an Islamic society to subjugate the rights and freedoms that we in the West treasure to safeguard religious tradition from criticism and insult, there needs to be an understanding that outside of Islamic society, those religious traditions may be insulted with impunity, and that this is perfectly alright in those societies. To participate in the broader world, Muslims need to understand and accept that they cannot project their norms onto other societies any more than those societies can project their values onto Muslim societies. A Muslim experience of what is meaningful and sacred is not, or at least should not, be diminished when others do not adhere to it.

    If I find beauty and meaning in something, that beauty and meaning should not be contingent. When the opinion and the expression of others makes light of what I value, it should not effect my abiity to find beauty and meaning. In the age of the Internet, where cultures and religions are in a proximity which is unavoidable in the way it was in the past, we all need to develop a means to experience meaning and beauty in a non-contingent way, without the need that others agree and support my values.

    Until this happens, the war of cultures, religion, individuals and countries will continue. Each must find local validity and meaning without imposing it, (except in cases where the local society projects violent expression outside of the local society.) This is true without regard to the society, country or individual.

    • you still can’t see the hypocrisy, read the most recent article on the french situation, unfortunately respect does not extend to the muslims unlike other.

      • When redical islamic people start to do things the modern way, and discuss it rather than blow things up and kill people when they get mad, maybe we can have a civilized discussion about the whole respect thing.

        Until then, my respect level for Islam as a whole, stays where it’s at. Pretty low. Just like it is for the black panthers, or radical christians, or radical ANY group.

        I’ll respect individuals that don’t resort to violence, or force people to do something they don’t want to do. I have islamic friends, but I wouldn’t be friends with them if they supported terrorist actions. No way. I have american friends, but if they support terrorist actions against innocent islamic people, i wouldn’t respect them either.


    Some Americans hate Islam. Some Americans hate blacks, whites, latinos, christians, luciferians, rastafarians, jewish, hindus, buddhists, atheists. So what, are we all gonna kill each other now?

    Islam isn’t the only religion that has hate videos out.

    Ever see an islamic person tied behind a car and dragging by their neck? Or hanging on a tree? Or, for 300 years forced to do heavy work with no pay since childhood?

    Black people have experienced this. To this day even. But, you don’t see african terrorists blowing buildings up because of what happened years ago. Like seriously, get a grip. Just because your prophet didn’t want to be insulted doesn’t mean you go around killing anyone that says they don’t like him. How the f*ck does that even make sense? If he’s such a good person, why would he allow that? I don’t even think he does allow that to be completely honest.

    Black people were oppressed, and we were actually slaves on this very soil i’m standing on. You know what we did? We didn’t declare jihad, we fought with due process, and we have those rights today. This is probably why Ghandi made so much success driving the British away from India. Has any islamic person tried due process in America to get things changed in America (not that it would work, but if Islam is so great, it should do fine in court)? All i’ve seen is car bombings, assassinations, hijackings, and anthrax since I’ve been born.

    EVERYTHING WILL BE INSULTED IN AMERICA IF THE THOUGHT IS THERE. EVERY INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN HAS THE RIGHT TO INSULT ANYTHING. Even our government. Even Jesus. Even the Koran, every single thing that exists in the world can and will be insulted in America, period. And has.

    If you don’t want to see that type of content on the internet, contact the ISP’s of your country, making that material available in your country, and figure out how to get THEM to stop it from broadcasting in your country. Do like North Korea did, shelter yourself from the rest of the world if you value your own way of life so much, because America is not having it that way. Maybe on an individual level, but widescale? Forced religion? NOPE. WE will die for the right to speak against anything no matter WTF it is.

    Try due process, for once. You might be happy with the results if there’s such a large following. Can’t promise it’ll work, but it would make Islam look that muck more appealing if those people could handle themselves with a little more composure.

    I’m sure your prophet would appreciate the fact that you’d all die for him if you could, but he’d rather you live and spread word to not disrespect him, rather than just drive planes into buildings and blow sh*t up and get people more pissed off. Violence solves nothing.

    • British India called resistance fighters terrorists, gandhi was very popular with the british hence why they tolerated him before his peaceful activism, the underbelly of resistance in whatever way from whatever creed were called extremists and terrorists. As the article showed freedom of speech does not extend to all.

      In islam we don’t believe in forced conversion but we do believe in a thing called respect, in many European countries they do too unfortunately their respect does not extend to the muslims based on their stereotypes. A minority resorting to violence should not be representative of about 2 billion muslims.

      Extremism is one thing and being militant is one thing, media and individuals have to stop mixing the two for our whims and desires, Malcolm X was a militant black man working for civil right though he was vilified as an extremist, check out his biography its pretty good.


  11. I also will say that one of the many reasons why I hate the US Government is that it ALWAY gets itself into trouble in other countries because wars are good for the economy, as sad as that is and as much as i oppose that.

    We have enough oil here on our soil, we dont need to be up in the middle east stealing it, and fixing prices up high when we can’t get more. We have enough oil here to last a century, and theres proof of that, its the oil companies fixing prices to maximise profit.

    We most importantly don’t need to be fabricating 9/11 to make it look like terrorists did it. Im with you all on that point.

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