I have just finished watching hours of commentary on the Middle East as I put final touches on a health presentation I am doing tomorrow. And I feel compelled to write.
An ambassador and other public service officers have been killed. It is a tragedy, and a condemned act of violence.
The last time an American ambassador was killed was in Kabul in 1978 — and I was in Kabul. As a senior in high school I had gone to Afghanistan on a school trip to participate in a Fine Arts festival at the American International School of Kabul. While there, the famous military coup transpired, paving the way for the Russian invasion in 1979. As an adult I now understand the diplomatic nightmare at play; not only did the foreign service personnel have to worry about their staff in Afghanistan, they had hundreds of added students and staff from international schools throughout Pakistan as well as from Delhi, India. It was an emergency, much like the current situation in Libya
And with this recent event there are a lot of voices, and so much opinion. Even as those in public service are mourned, politicians are using the grief for gain.
The stereotypes on both sides of the globe are reinforced. Over and over we see images of fires, riots, and demonstrations in Egypt,Yemen, and Libya. With Friday prayers, the worry is that violence will spread farther in the region.
And on this side of the globe the cries arise: “Jihadists” “Islamists” “Fanatics”. “They hate us” many say, fueling an already blazing fire of misunderstanding.
Yet, even as I am burdened and frustrated by an amateur film maker who, in making what sounds like a sub par film, has incited rage throughout the Muslim world, I support his right to do so.
Was it wise? No.
Was it correct? Probably not.
Was it his choice to do so? Absolutely.
That’s what we preach, that’s what we boast – that we live in a democracy that allows freedom of speech.
Over a year ago I wrote a post called “Protected Privilege, Awesome Responsibility”. And right now at 11pm, while watching CNN in a hotel bedroom in Lincoln, Nebraska thinking of my daughter, living just blocks from the American Embassy in Cairo, I looked back at what I wrote. I have posted an excerpt below. To understand the full context I have linked the post but even without that context the words below express my viewpoint.
Freedom of Speech. It is a privileged protection and an awesome responsibility. Only days before our neighborhood became the target for these messages, my husband and I had been at a lecture on the apostasy law in Pakistan. As I passed the signs I couldn’t help but think that the messengers have no clue what a privilege it is to live in a country that allows freedom of speech. It was fully their right to be there and broadcast what I consider to be messages that are at best unwise and at worst vitriolic and hateful. No one would think to arrest them or charge them for breaking a law and this gift is not enjoyed world-wide.
And though I desperately want to rip the signs down shouting “You have no right to present God in this way” and let those around me know that this message is one of extremism and that the God I love walks among us, knows our hearts, and loves with a love that is deeper than deep, I respect freedom of speech. I know that the privileged protection of speech used on vans with venom also protects me. It protects outwardly through the law of the land, and it protects inwardly by challenging me to carefully weigh words and meaning so that I may not abuse this protection. Freedom of speech is a gift to be used carefully and protected continually.
The incidents of the last few days are a compelling challenge to all of us who value our freedom of speech, and recognize its power and gifts, to use these gifts for building bridges; to commit to communicating across boundaries and being agents to heal the great divide.