If one thing is abundantly clear in the months since the Arab Spring, it is that many in the Middle East and Africa don’t yet understand the full weight of their newfound freedoms. With freedom comes responsibility. And just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.
I support free speech. I’m a newspaper editor, after all. But I don’t have to agree with what people say and I am free to say as much. To that end, the video that sparked the uproar is disgusting and offensive. Islam, as practiced by devout and reasonable people the world over, bears no likeness to what this video implies.
Muslims should be offended by it. They should also consider the source. The offensive video is no more representative of America than the extremists who co-opted the video as a means to incite violence represent the Arab world.
And the more reasonable in the Arab world must understand that allowing themselves to be dragged into the streets at perceived insults only creates an opening for those looking to capitalize on chaos and turn back the clock on their hard-won freedom.
I was touched by Libyans and Egyptians carrying signs in English disavowing these extremists. It was an important reminder in a debate that far too often centers on the fringe, that these are decent people who fought for their freedom from tyranny and desperately want to avoid seeing their countries overthrow one dictator only to make room for another.
Supporting these people — supporting their right to speak, their right to worship and, yes, their right to disagree with us — is as American as it gets. Just as we must defend the right for someone to make dumb and offensive videos, we should stand with Muslims who want to live in a free and democratic society.