Immanuel Adeola ’14
I was deeply saddened by the release of offensive video clips that depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, child molester, and murderer and the subsequent violence that ensued, which resulted in the killing of U.S Ambassador Chris Stevens and other diplomatic personnel at the consulate in Benghazi. Such violence has no place in a society where the ultimate goal must be peace and tolerance. Both sides have created numerous complexities that cloud the opportunity to successfully tackle this issue.
Many news outlets have talked about why this happened. I believe that the more important question to ask is how this happened. If we ask why, we only look at the logic, which in such a complicated situation does not exist. However, if we ask how, we ensure that we learn from our mistake, and we prevent something this terrible from ever happening again.
How did this happen? The answer to that question stems not from the producer of this “film,” but from a long history of violence and intolerance. I’m not implying that this producer made the little known film to serve a greater purpose, but rather believed he was counteracting what has become an accepted practice of cultural insensitivity in our society. No one can dispute that the offensive nature of these video clips, and I can’t imagine the producer himself did not understand the full gravity of his actions. However, this is not the first time we have seen intolerance in our society. There are parts of the world where Muslims kill Christians because of their religious beliefs. My grandparents and relatives see it every day in Nigeria, where the North is at war with the South over political and cultural control of the country. They hear of Nigerians burning down churches with fellow Nigerians in them, just because they were Christian. We see it in parts of the Middle East, where there is room for only one cultural attitude.
The reality of this situation is that both sides have been throwing fuel on the fire for so long, and in the end it is only innocent Muslims and Christians that pay the ultimate price. If we had asked ourselves how, we would have found that there are more answers than needed. We only need to look to our own history. If we remembered the time when blacks and whites were not considered equal, or the time when women were disenfranchised because of their gender, or when immigrants became the target of ‘nativists’ who preached a gospel of hatred and intolerance.
We have seen such intolerance before, and we are aware of its destructive nature. The most shocking part is that those guilty are willing to sweep it under the rug, by hiding such ignorance behind the idea of free speech. That was not the intent of the framers when they wrote our Constitution.
Our Constitution is truly a remarkable legal document. It is a testament to the brilliance and audacity of the founding fathers. The Constitution is not just a set of laws, but a vision that these men had for our country. They embarked on a journey to create a nation that would personify the true definition of justice and equality. They wanted a nation that would be empowered by the people; a nation that would govern from the bottom up; a nation that would protect the liberty of all men. The Constitution possesses a spirit that reflects the image of a free and united nation. Unfortunately, the greatness of our Constitution sometimes becomes its fatal weakness, when people take such liberties for granted.
The unique attribute that sets the United States apart from other countries is its people. Some believe that our cultural diversity contributes to our greatness. We can all trace our ancestry back to different sets of peoples, who came to this country, for different reasons. Nevertheless, we all unite ourselves under one flag. We all cherish the opportunities that allowed our ancestors to realize a vision that they wanted for themselves. The only problem is that sometimes we don’t appreciate the fact that we are not the same.
We all have different cultural beliefs and customs. We know that we all cannot agree on everything, but do we respect each other enough to recognize that fact? How can we expect our nation to remain great if we always put each other down? How can we expect Muslim-Americans across this country to place their hands on their chests and salute the flag? How can we expect to be a model for other countries when we alienate them with hatred and call it free speech?
I’m not implying that this has become widespread, but it has started to grow in parts of the country. We have seen crazy pastors burn Qurans and link Islam to terrorism. We have heard stories of Muslims being harassed by their fellow American neighbors because they exercise their religious beliefs. It is crucial to recognize that free speech must never grow into disrespect. We undermine the values of the constitution and our society if we continue to go down a path that divides our nation and ourselves from others across the world.
It does not matter who started this long standing practice, neither is the response from both sides of any relevance. What matters is how we as a society prevent such terrible acts from ever occurring and move on.
We should always remember that many young Americans gave their lives protecting the free speech we hold so dearly. We should never forget that the liberties we possess carry with them great responsibility, and that because we are all originate from different backgrounds, the true meaning of an American is a person that has respect for all cultural values, no matter how foreign they might seem to us individually.
It is my hope that everyone will put aside cultural differences and remember that we are all citizens of a great nation and a great planet, and that should always take priority over whatever cultural identity we assume for ourselves.
If we can learn from another fatal mistake, we can preserve the fabric of our nation and the freedom that makes our country great.