There is a strong tendency within Western society to do damage control for groups of people who have not earned the privilege to be automatically protected. This undermines the public response that would normally be appropriate in these situations. While this is something that can be applied to a wide variety of cases, the recent (and past) protests across the Muslim world against miniscule events in the West are the most vivid and relevant example at this time. I am strongly against any attempt to skew the view of these events as that prevents us from fairly judging them for what they truly are, which, in turn, prevents us from being able to attack these events in the strong morals terms for which they call.
I am, perhaps, more likely to laugh at the pathetic attempts in the trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims” to ridicule Islam than most, given that I find the entire affair ridiculous prima facie for reasons far more well-founded philosophically than the jabs presented therein. The shtick that is the trailer quickly wears off due largely to the crudeness of the attack; deplorable production values; and the damn-laughable dialogue. From an objective viewpoint, its a terrible attempt to make an incendiary bit of cinema and it falls flat on its face. This is simply not something to become irate about, regardless of the injury felt by such a low-brow and purposefully-offensive shot at Muhammad and the people who follow his teachings.
To be fair, we live in a culture that tries to maintain the freest levels of speech. We give time in our public forums to overtly hateful groups, even letting people as detestable as the Westboro Baptist Church picket the funerals of our fallen soldiers. Our response? Picket them right back, drowning out their hate speech with counter-protests that attempt to demonstrate the best of mankind. Its newsworthy when a punch is thrown, much less violence on the level that has rocked the Middle East for the last few weeks. Consider the media response to Christians rioting in the streets over a blasphemous picture of Jesus (also known as South Park) – there would be no apology followed by a condemnation for acts of violence and murder. There would only be justified scorn and indignity at such deplorable behavior. Better still, imagine secularists rioting in the streets and the response that would provoke.
We let these slights go because the evil of curbed speech is far greater than that of an offended conscience. I believe that our attempts to reach out and be almost militantly tolerant have spoiled the overly-sensitive cultures of the world. Any act that can be seen as a provocation is apologized for and excuses are made despite the fact that we would not tolerate this behavior from ourselves or our loved ones. I would not associate with an individual who's first response to an offense is to throw a tantrum and no justifications should ever be made when violence erupts. The violent protests in the Middle East are nothing more than adults throwing a tantrum a two-year old would be ashamed of and yet we, as a society, temper every criticism with a qualifier because the impetus for the offense is religious.
I am not saying that the majority of Muslims, going back to the aforementioned example, stand for such violence, but I think it is telling that the outcry at the intolerable behavior from within these societies is not enough to stifle it. Obviously there are other factors at play, including the relative strength and standing of the governments within this region, but the simple fact is that were this truly aberrant behavior it would not spread so easy nor be so easily sparked within these societies. We have managed hundreds of years of social and political change because certain moral boundaries are inviolable within our society, keeping deviancy to a minimum. A lack of explicit disapproval is implicit approval.
A major contributor to this problem is the leeway religion is given in Western society. Acts that would never be allowed under another mantle are every day occurrences under the mantle of religious belief and expression. While this is a sound way to maintain peaceful coexistence between the myriad religions of the world, allowing this leeway to overflow into the wholly public sphere is dangerous. I am almost daily incensed by actions taken within a religious context and yet no one would ever think that entitles me to violently lash out at others. By deeming a particular sphere of influence sacred we have granted a level of immunity not found elsewhere. We are seeing the results in the unrest in the Muslim world at this time. We are not allowed to comment on this behavior with the unyielding, uncompromising moral tone we rightfully should because we 'must' respect the religious sensitivities of those who adhere to the teachings of an illiterate merchant from the 7th century. Even having to write that sentence offends me because of the simple fact it is true, yet I have no intention of storming the nearest Middle Eastern embassy in response. Freedom of speech is more sacred than any sacred text, if for no other reason than it protects those who do (and do not) believe in them.
I say again: religion is dangerous and we secularists have a duty to safeguard ourselves and others from its unwarranted influence in the world. Make no excuses for the inexcusable actions of others, despite any holy protestations to the contrary.
Morality is on our side, not theirs.
Addendum: Obviously, things have come out regarding Benghazi that show that demonstrations are not to blame for the deaths of the Americans within the embassy. However, this revelation does not change the fact that it was Muslim extremists who attacked the compound. Religion is still at the core of their movement and so it is just as easily implicated as it was when we thought these deaths were attributable to religiously motivated protests.