Yesterday's dramatic congressional testimony about the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. interests in Benghazi, Libya convincingly corroborated what was widely reported within days of the attack: that senior American officials on the ground knew immediately, despite the Obama administration's storyline to the contrary, that the assault did not arise out of a "spontaneous" demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in protest of an obscure YouTube trailer of a homemade anti-Islam movie called Innocence of Muslims.
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.
Fourteen days after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered by Islamists, President Barack Obama stood up in front of the United Nations and declared that the "message" of a movie virtually no one will ever see "must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity," that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam," and that we all should "condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims."
It should give even Obama's strongest supporters pause that the same administration so wary about characterizing Benghazi as a "terrorist attack" was simultaneously so eager to characterize an artistic provocation as a (potentially criminal) incitement.
What follows is a partial timeline of statements made in the first two weeks after the attack, from government officials and media commentators who lent credence to the now-discredited notion that Ambassador Stevens and three other U.S. personnel died because of a YouTube video. If we are to robustly defend the American culture of free speech, it's important to remember those who so quickly chose to throw the First Amendment under a bus.
Sept. 11, 2012: U.S. Embassy in Cairo:
U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement
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.
Sept. 12, 2012: Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania:
How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now.When Americans die because you are stupid...
Sept. 12, 2012: Rev. Steven D. Martin, CEO of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good:
I have no sympathy for anyone who would assassinate a U.S. ambassador. But I have even less sympathy for filmmakers who spread hatred and for pastors who knowingly incite violence.
Sept. 13, 2012: Hillary Clinton, secretary of state:
I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries. Let me state very clearly – and I hope it is obvious – that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims. And we have the greatest respect for people of faith.
To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.