Let’s revisit Benghazi and the 1st Amendment

YouTube Preview ImageIf you didn’t get a chance to watch the Benghazi whistleblowers testify before Congress yesterday, you should. Part of what made it so interesting was how dramatically their testimony contradicted the official line received and published by the media in previous months. It was also just a good lesson in how bureaucracy works and how competing interests can impede the search for truth or justice.

You may recall that “What difference, at this point, does it make?” was a main takeaway from former Sec. of State Hilary Clinton’s fiery testimony on Benghazi.

State Department counterterrorism officer Ed Nordstrom responded to that by saying, as he choked up, “It matters to me personally. It matters to my colleagues, to my colleagues at the Department of State. It matters to the American public for whom we serve. And most importantly, excuse me. It matters to the friends and family of, of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, who were murdered on September 11th, 2012.”

And Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Benghazi, testified that when he heard Obama administration officials say that the Benghazi attack was due to a blasphemous YouTube video, “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed.”

Now, given who the perpetrators were, the 9/11/12 terrorist attack has serious and complicated religious angles that should be explored. But there was another huge religion angle to this story and I’m disappointed that we didn’t see more or better coverage of that angle.

That religion angle is about freedom of religious expression and government action against blasphemy.

For reference, my posts on the matter from last September (aka “a long time ago”) hold up well: Missing the forest for the YouTube video, The missing anti-Muslim movie stories, and Journalism means never having to say you’re sorry.

I thought about this angle again when reading Reason‘s “Hall of Shame” for people who thought the overarching lesson of Benghazi was that freedom of expression needed to be restricted. It’s frightening how highly placed or influential some of those people are.

Falsely assessing partial blame for the violence on a piece of artistic expression inflicted damage not just on the California resident who made it—Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is currently serving out a one-year sentence for parole violations committed in the process of producing Innocence—but also on the entire American culture of free speech. In the days and weeks after the attacks, academics and foreign policy thinkers fell over themselves dreaming up new ways to either disproportionately punish Nakoula or scale back the very notion of constitutionally protected expression.

I also thought of that angle when reading Rich Lowry’s column in Politico today that began:

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula deserves a place in American history. He is the first person in this country jailed for violating Islamic anti-blasphemy laws.

 

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Innocence of Muslims filmmaker finally sentenced

Of the many curious coverage decisions the mainstream media made this year, I thought the relative lack of interest in the plight of Mark Bassely Youssef, who made “Innocence of Muslims,” was noteworthy. There’s no question the dude is shady and broke the law in matters unrelated to the YouTube phenomenon. But the Obama administration’s focus on him, the physical threats issued against him, and his incarceration over the last few months also merited some serious discussions about free speech as its practiced in the United States.

But the media could not really have been much less interested in him.

The Associated Press does give us a follow-up this week about the situation. It begins:

The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.

What’s the provocative statement?

Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.

“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.

Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”

Is that statement either provocative or unclear? It seems kind of obvious and clear as day to me. I was trying to figure out if the writer was just trying to play it straight, because it’s clear that there are all sorts of hints at what Youssef was getting at. We’re told that the U.S. attorney said the case had nothing to do with the film but that had he been truthful with people associated with the film, they may not have done the film:

He said they have had death threats and feel their careers have been ruined.

Even the worst Hollywood films don’t usually result in death threats. Is there a ghost there?

Or what about this?

Youssef, 55, was arrested in late September, just weeks after he went into hiding when the deadly violence erupted.

Enraged Muslims had demanded severe punishment for Youssef, with a Pakistani cabinet minister even offering $100,000 to anyone who kills him.

Hmm. Is there anything ideological or religious that could be unpacked here?

The piece goes into detail about the stiff sentencing the con man received. I’d love to see how this news is reported around the world.


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