Over at Masson’s blog, Doug addresses the misunderstandings that underlie the outsized reactions of Islamic fundamentalists to “provocations” like the amateurish film (or trailer–no one is yet certain an actual film was ever made) that set off the latest round of murderous rage:
Part of the problem seems to be, culturally, a lack of understanding and appreciation for our First Amendment. The Middle East is full of places where government can and does suppress speech it deems troublesome. When the U.S. doesn’t suppress something here, it probably looks to them like an endorsement on some level. In addition, our exposure to so much garbage because of the First Amendment gives us a sort of strengthened immune system we take for granted.
True on both counts.
But folks in the Middle East aren’t the only people who confuse a failure to censor with endorsement of the message. I spent six years as Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, and I can attest to the fact that far too many Americans share that confusion. I wish I had a dollar for every time the ACLU was accused of being for pornography because we defended someone’s right to choose his own reading material, or the times we were accused of being “the criminal’s lobby” because we were insisting on someone’s right to due process, or the many, many times we were accused of being “godless” and against religion because we were defending someone’s right not to be coerced into some government-imposed religious observance.
It’s understandable that people in other countries don’t understand the most basic feature of the American approach to individual rights–our right to make our own decisions about what to read, watch and believe, free of government involvement. It’s less understandable, less forgivable, that so many Americans don’t get it either.