In Defense of the President
Against Islamophobic magazine editors
Whatever one may think of our President, it has to be admitted that his speech to the United Nations showed real leadership. He took the time to explain, at length, that although the noxious Innocence of Muslims video had nothing to do with the US government, and that it represents only the views of marginal extremists, we defend their right to engage in such speech because of the nature of our system. He explained why we don’t ban such speech — because, you see, there’s this thing called the Constitution — and, more importantly, why it’s not in America’s interest to have the world believe we endorse the hate that emanates from such efforts.
I’m ignoring, of course, the threats directed at Iran and Syria: that, after all, is routine for this administration. I’m ignoring the irony of his remarks about the evils of “extremism” against the backdrop of US support to Sunni extremists in Syria, who are killing civilians, driving out Christians and others, and engaging in what can only be called terrorism under the rubric of a US-supported movement for “democracy.” Every time an American president opens his mouth to talk about “democracy,” “freedom,” and All Those Good Things, the charge of hypocrisy hangs over him like a storm cloud, and I won’t be the one to defend him.
However, I will defend him when he’s right against those who attack him for “appeasement” — such as Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine and former “war-blogger.” As editor of a magazine considered by many the voice of libertarianism — a movement I consider myself a part of — Welch’s views on this matter are apt to be confused with the movement at large. In this case, that would be a very dangerous and undesirable assumption.
So what’s Welch’s beef with the President? He finds it “noxious” that Obama described the Innocence video as “disgusting.” He finds it equally noxious that the President went on to say “its message must be rejected.” Yet how could anyone outside of Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, and the rest of the hate-mongers amongst us object to that?
“So many things wrong in so few words. Why this video, and not Theo Van Gogh’s Submission, or Lars Vilks’ animation of Mohammed wanting to go to a gay bar, the ‘Super Best Friends’ episode of South Park, or Funny or Die‘s ‘How to Pick a Pocket’? Is it the degree of the insult, the craptasticness of the production values, the size of the release, or the vociferousness of the outrage expressed?”
Welch is playing dumb here by dropping the context: did an American ambassador die due to Theo Van Gogh’s obsession with Muslims? Or the inanities of South Park? Welch writes: “It is not any politician’s job, and certainly not any American politician’s job, to instruct the entire world on which films to criticize.” This is Welch’s idea of advocating “less government,” and yet this impulse in him is strangely selective: we heard not one word of criticism from the editors of Reason (or Welch) when the US government denounced the “Holocaust Denial Film Festival” put on in Tehran, which the White House attacked as “an affront to the entire civilized world.” In short, the US government engages in this sort of thing all the time — and yet why were no objections raised by Welch and his crew until the subject was obscene anti-Muslim bigotry?
“And speaking of that favorite State Department word, rejected — isn’t that a word to describe what you do to something that gets in your face, or body? In medicine, the body ‘rejects” organs or other dissonant substances that have been introduced within it. In basketball, not every blocked shot is a ‘rejection,’ mostly those that come when the offensive player is driving aggressively toward the vicinity of the hoop.”
Ignore the incoherent style — how is a hate video like a basketball game? — and get to the essential issue: does Welch reject the “message” of Innocence? It’s not clear. He writes:
“Innocence of Muslims didn’t get all up in someone’s grill. it lay forlorn and neglected on YouTube until some people (pro and con) decided to get excited by it. Even then, it is a remarkably easy piece of culture to avoid coming into contact with. ‘Rejected’ implies a cultural potency that ‘Sam Becile’ (or as I prefer, ‘C’est imbecile’) could never dream of.”
As I’ve pointed out in this space repeatedly, Innocence didn’t just lay forlorn and neglected on YouTube: the makers actively promoted it to Muslims in hopes of “flushing out” alleged Islamist cells in the US. They also promoted it abroad, in Egypt, where news of it first surfaced. It was, in short, a deliberate provocation, a work of “art” designed to inspire a violent reaction — a job at which it succeeded all too well.
The President of the United States no doubt has better intelligence on the origins of the Innocence video than I do, but for him to pay so much attention to it in this high profile speech indicates — at least to me — that his information comports roughly with my guess: that it was and is a deliberate ploy to direct violence at American interests throughout the world, including embassies and US government personnel.
In this context, then, it is indeed the President’s job “to instruct the world on which films to criticize.” His job, after all, is to “protect and defend” not only the Constitution but also the people of the United States, a people whose lives are put in danger when someone creates provocations of this sort. After all, has Welch forgotten about the death of Chris Stevens and three others? An American ambassador hasn’t been killed in a generation, and for Welch to snipe at the President in the one moment in which he rises to the occasion and acts presidential is downright weird.
It gets weirder. In response to the President’s statement that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Welch avers:
“Not your call, dude. Also, not my ‘prophet.’”
Now this is an odd way to configure the President’s phraseology. Aside from the juvenility of “dude,” the “not my prophet” remark is telling, because what it seems to be telling us is that Welch is dog-whistling to the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim crowd. Now this may seem a stretch, in ordinary circumstances: after all, the implication is indirect. Yet when one considers that Reason is financially supported through the very generous contributions of Charles and David Koch, who are on a jihad against the President this election year, this kind of low-level pandering is not out of the question. At this point nothing would surprise me.
Not my prophet, dude — but maybe yours! *Wink wink!*
“Yet to be credible,” said the President, “those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.” Welch’s response:
“Even though you can see what the president’s getting at in terms of equivalent outrage, he’s still way off base here. It is not our job to condemn blasphemy of any kind, period. As individuals we might criticize a few bits here and there, but we mostly ignore the vast ocean of what various people may consider ‘hateful’ or ‘offensive’ speech, and rightly so.”
It is not our job to condemn blasphemy — yet to read Reason magazine, especially the online version, one would think it is our job as libertarians to promote it. Welch and his fellow editors have been promoting the makers of the hate-video as veritable free speech martyrs, heroes to be defended. Except for calling “Sam Bacile” an “imbecile” (in French), we haven’t heard one word of condemnation out of their mouths when it comes to the actual content of the film. Why is that?
Libertarians of the Reasonoid persuasion are radical anti-clericalists: they are in favor of blasphemy, and in Welch’s case there may be reason to believe blasphemy directed against the Muslim faith is particularly welcomed. His “war-blogger” history is replete with examples of utter contempt for Islam, per se. More ominously, his very first entry on Mattwelch.com declares:
“Welcome to War. Sounds like a strange and unpleasant thing to say, but these are strange and unpleasant times, requiring unusual responses. Like many of you, I am reading and hearing and watching too much about the wicked horror of Sept. 11, and finding it a challenge to keep track of how it is already changing our lives. The biggest question facing Americans and other decent people is how the civilized world and its strongest country should respond to this mass murder. I, for one, advocate a Global War to abolish terrorism. Many of you probably disagree.”
Well, yes — especially if you’re a libertarian who opposes endless wars and the depredations against liberty that go with them.
Back then, when the war hysteria was at its height, it was hard for sites like Antiwar.com to even operate: we were subjected not only to constant DDoS attacks, but also received death threats by the thousands. To say that Welch was a part of this mass hysteria is to understate the case: in fact his literary career really took off because of that hysteria, and he knowingly rode its momentum to where he is today — editing an ostensibly libertarian magazine, and pontificating on Fox News, where he gets to slyly imply the President of the United States is a secret Muslim — if indeed that is what he meant to say. Of course, what dog-whistling involves, in this case, is playing to it without really saying it.
While we here at Antiwar.com were on the receiving end of death threats, Welch was busy excoriating the anti-war movement: another early entry in his old “war blog” likens opponents of the post-9/11 war hysteria to modern replicas of Neville Chamberlain. Critics of Bush’s open-ended “international war on terrorism,” such as Michael Moore, were smeared by Welch as “anti-American” and disdained as spineless “pacifists.”
Given this history, Welch’s recent fulminations against the President’s “appeasement” of rioting Muslims are an indication that this particular leopard hasn’t changed his spots. Up until now, he’s managed to rein in his inner “war blogger,” but the recent crisis provoked by Innocence has forced him out of the closet, so to speak, and it isn’t a pretty sight.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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- Leslie Gelb Is Right – October 21st, 2014