The New York Times had a great article today that contextualized the current wave of anti-US violence in parts of the Middle East:
In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.
It got me thinking about the right words to help translate those free speech rules – and the condemnation of violence – across cultural contexts. And then I read Hillary Clinton’s words on the subject and thought, “damn, our Secretary of State really gets it!” She said exactly what I was trying unsuccessfully to formulate in my head:
“When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence,” said Clinton. “The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”
She spoke movingly about her own personal beliefs as a way of re-enforcing her point.
“I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries,” said Clinton.” Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”
She didn’t spend any time trying to contrast the speech laws or defending the United States’ position on the subject. Instead, she met her audience in the context of their current perspective: religious insult. In one fell rhetorical swoop, she both praises Islam and dismisses the violence. It’s a stroke of diplomatic genius.
I really hope Secretary Clinton runs again in 2016. She’ll have my vote – despite my distaste for political dynasties – because she has earned it on her own merits.