This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
The slaughter of Americans in Libya on Tuesday follows a familiar plot. It goes like this:
One of the world’s more than 300 million Americans does something to insult Islam. The act of desecration goes viral on the Internet and other media. Muslim militants assign guilt to the entire United States. Mobs rampage; people die.
Fill in the blank: Irreverent cartoons. Quran-burning by a jackleg preacher. Quran-burning by clueless soldiers. This time, a foul “movie trailer” that ridicules Muhammad in almost every possible way in a few minutes.
And now a U.S. ambassador and four other Americans are dead, killed in Benghazi in a riot that appears to have been exploited by al-Qaida-style jihadists. Another riot in Cairo targeted the American embassy there, though there were no deaths.
The supposed trailer for something called “Innocence of Muslims” couldn’t have been better designed to incite anti-American rage in Islamic countries. Conspiracy-minded people might conclude that it was produced by al-Qaida itself.
So far, there’s little evidence of an actual movie. The short, amateurish video – obviously made on the cheap – depicts Muhammad as a lecherous, murderous buffoon.
Someone who calls himself Sam Bacile – who presents himself as both an Israeli Jew and an American – uploaded it to YouTube. The Israeli government says it has no record of such a person.
To compound the outrage, Terry Jones – the Florida preacher who staged a Quran-burning last year – has jumped in front of the cameras to endorse the video. Jones’ desecration of the Quran in 2011 triggered riots in Afghanistan that left a dozen people died.
Worst of America, meet the worst of Islam.
A generation ago, it would have been harder for profaning West to connect with angry East. The Internet has solved that problem. Any fool can now upload any vile material, including provocateurs looking for international notoriety. The whole world can pull it up on a screen, and anonymous websites that are all but impossible to shut down can keep the bile stirring for months or years.
Solutions? The usual “remedies” – repudiating Israel, abandoning the Middle East to jihadists – wouldn’t scratch the paint on this problem.
Denmark can’t be accused of imperialism, yet it suffered bombings, arsons and cyber-attacks for years after a Danish newspaper published caricatures of Muhammad in 2005.
There’s a fundamental conflict between societies that guarantee freedom of expression, even to fools, and holy warriors who treat impiety as a capital crime and believe in the collective guilt of all infidels.
Holy warriors and fools: The world could use fewer of both.