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Stray Thoughts on the Poorly Named "Arab Winter"

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

On Violence is pro-democracy. Shockingly, not just here in America, but around the world too. As a result, we believe the U.S. should encourage pro-democracy movements. And this doesn’t just apply to the countries we hate (the way Republicans are pro-democracy in Iran), but countries we are allied with too. (The way those same Republicans avoid mentioning that Saudi Arabia has a king. A king! What is this, the Middle Ages?)

So we feel like we have to deal with the “fallout” of the Arab Spring, the poorly-named “Arab Winter” (or, as Wikipedia dubs it, “Reactions to Innocence of Muslims”). Today, we have a few random thoughts. Tomorrow, we’ll have even more.

Point 1: How is it possible that people still don’t get what free speech is?

Prohibiting speech is not the same as condemning speech. During the election, the Romney campaign lambasted the Obama administration for opposing free speech when the Egyptian embassy condemned the anti-Islamic video that touched off anti-America protests in Egypt and Libya. Unfortunately, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. If President Obama hadn’t condemned the video, the Romney administration would have said President Obama let hate speech slide.

Remember, people--even government employees--are allowed to say people shouldn’t say things. It only inhibits free speech if they prosecute them, or threaten to prosecute them. Conservatives and liberals both confuse this point, and embrace it, depending on the political winds.

Point 2: Many foreigners (in dictatorships) really don’t get what free speech is.

One of the most fascinating angles to the whole poorly-named Arab Winter was that people living in dictatorships assume that every piece of media is cleared by the government. From their point of view, America, by allowing Innocence of Muslims to exist, agreed with the content of the film.

Point 3: This is the ugly side of revolutions

We hate predictions so we try to not make too many of them. Last year, Michael C tried to do a “prediction audit” on the blog, and we didn’t have a lot to write about.
Except, in this case, we kind of called it. Discussing the Arab Spring, we pointed out that most revolutions are violent, yet most people advocating revolutions don’t realize this. The Arab Winter fits that trend. This shouldn’t shock anyone who has ever studied the history of revolutions; the American Revolution arguably wasn’t complete until our nation slaughtered 600,000 of its own people in a civil war.

Freedom has a price. In addition to America’s Revolutionary War and Civil War, the U.S. had to launch an entire Civil Rights movement. England had Cromwell take over as a dictator...with mass persecutions. France created the guillotine during its revolution...then had revolutions every dozen and a half years for a century. Germany had Hitler take over during the Great Depression.

Democracy isn’t always pleasant, but it is more pleasant than any other form of government. As the Arab Spring evolves, partisans on both sides should take deep breaths; international relations liberals should temper their expectations; realists should withhold their judgement. In either case, having strong democratic partners in the Middle East will provide more freedom, security and prosperity than dictators, but it will take time.
Point 4: Oh, and we mean ugly.

How ugly was the response to Innocence of Muslims?

Protesters stormed and wrecked numerous American embassies. Many people died. From Wikipedia:

“On September 13, protests occurred at the U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, resulting in the deaths of four protesters and injuries to thirty-five protesters and guards. On September 14, the U.S. consulate in Chennai was attacked, resulting in injuries to twenty-five protesters. Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia, climbed the U.S. embassy walls and set trees on fire. At least four people were killed and forty-six injured during protests in Tunis on September 15. Further protests were held at U.S. diplomatic missions and other locations in the days following the initial attacks. Related protests and attacks resulted in numerous deaths and injuries across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

So sad. So ugly.

One comment

Two small points.

It is more accurate to say 650,000 to 850,000 died in the Civil War rather than were “slaughtered.” The large majority of men died from disease.


Second, I rather speculating that the Romney campaign would have chided Mr. Obama for letting ‘hate’ speech slide is a bit of a reach. The whole ‘hate’ speech and ‘hater’ thing is more of a liberal thing I think.