Iranians Up Price on Rushdie's Head by $500,000; U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Condemns "Heinous and Offensive Video"


Here's Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, talking with Jake Tapper on ABC News' This Week about the cause of the anti-American violence taking place across the Middle East the past week:

RICE: … What happened this week in Cairo, in Benghazi, in many other parts of the region…

TAPPER: Tunisia, Khartoum…

RICE: … was a result—a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated, that the U.S. government had nothing to do with, which we have made clear is reprehensible and disgusting. We have also been very clear in saying that there is no excuse for violence, there is—that we have condemned it in the strongest possible terms.

More here.

On Fox News, Rice asserted

"We are of the view that this is not an expression of hostility in the broader sense toward the United States or U.S. policy. It's proximately a reaction to this video."

There are many reasons to believe that the Obama administration, which has asked Google and YouTube to censor the video, is wrong about whether the video is at the center of Muslim rage at the United States. The incapacity to allow that American foreign policy is in any way a factor here is staggering. One needn't even be a critic of that foreign policy and the past decade-plus of military action to be insulted by the adminstration's position. Are we really supposed to ignore two major wars we've waged in Afghanistan and Iraq plus all sorts of other public and "covert" actions we've underaken in the 21st century?

Meanwhile, the Iranian foundation (!) that manages the fatwa against Salman Rushdie has recently upped its reward by $500,000, to a total of $3.3 million for killing the Satanic Verses' author. The book was published in 1988 and its Japanese translator was killed in an attack.

"I am adding another $500,000 to the reward for killing Salman Rushdie, and anyone who carries out this sentence will receive the whole amount immediately," said Hassan Sanei, the foundation's head, in a statement carried by the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA)….

In 1998, under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Iran's government distanced itself from the Rushdie fatwa, but hardline groups regularly renew the call for Rushdie's death, saying Khomeini's decree is irrevocable and eternal.

Reason interviewed Rushdie back in 2005. Here are some excerpts worth thinking about:

The idea of universal rights–the idea of rights that are universal to all people because they correspond to our natures as human beings, not to where we live or what our cultural background is–is an incredibly important one. This belief is being challenged by apostles of cultural relativism who refuse to accept that such rights exist. If you look at those who employ this idea, it turns out to be Robert Mugabe, the leaders of China, the leaders of Singapore, the Taliban, Ayatollah Khomeini. It is a dangerous belief that everything is relative and therefore these people should be allowed to kill because it's their culture to kill.

I think we live in a bad age for the free speech argument. Many of us have internalized the censorship argument, which is that it is better to shut people up than to let them say things that we don't like. This is a dangerous slippery slope, because people of good intentions and high principles can see censorship as a way of advancing their cause and not as a terrible mistake. Yet bad ideas don't cease to exist by not being expressed. They fester and become more powerful….

There is nothing intrinsic linking any religion with any act of violence. The crusades don't prove that Christianity was violent. The Inquisition doesn't prove that Christianity tortures people. But that Christianity did torture people. This Islam did carry out this attack.

Read the whole thing here.

Rushdie has said "The Innocence of Muslims" is an "idiotic…piece of garbage" but called the protests against it "an ugly reaction that needs to be named as such."

I do not quite understand the need to pass aesthetic judgment on a work before making a free speech argument, but that seems to be a minority opinion. Does anyone else find it puzzling, though? It's almost as if Theo van Gogh, murdered by an Islamist nut job in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004, would have deserved his stabbing death if the production values of "Submission" had been a bit lower.

Going back to Amb. Rice's comments, though, I guess the important thing is to recognize that President Obama has it all under control:

What we've seen is that the president has been incredibly calm, incredibly steady, and incredibly measured in his approach to this set of developments. And his interventions, his leadership has ensured that in Egypt, in Yemen, in Tunisia, in Libya, and many other parts of the world, that leaders have come out and made very plain that there's no excuse for this violence.

Does any of that make you feel better about the world and the United States' place in it?