Monica Bauer, a playwright and writing Fellow at Quinnipiac University asks “how well do you think Muslims will take to Mitt Romney’s get-tough act, screaming “Get off my lawn” to one-seventh of the world’s population? She explains the cultural gap in the case of Egypt. Excerpt below:
The Egyptian people have been raising their children for literally centuries to believe that any insult to the Prophet Mohammed is an insult to Almighty God. Their culture has never been pluralistic. Their Coptic Christians have their own separate family courts for marriages, divorces, and the like, because Egypt’s Muslims don’t expect these people to live under Sharia. And the Copts don’t take very kindly to anybody who insults Jesus or the Virgin Mary, either.
The idea of freedom of speech to insult religion is just plain beyond their cultural ability to understand, for all but the most educated. I did my doctoral dissertation on the separation of church and state in the United States, and if I could not explain this concept to bright university students, I wish Mitt good luck going door to door in the Arab street.
Here’s what used to happen in my classroom:
ME: “Unlike the laws you have in Egypt that punish people for blasphemy, anyone in the United States may insult any or all religions or religious figures if they wish to do so. Their speech is protected by our First Amendment to the Constitution.”
STUDENTS: “Wait a minute. You’re joking, right?”
ME: “No, Americans can say whatever they want. They can’t burn down a church, but they can certainly say bad things about that church.”
STUDENTS: “Oh, I see! They can say bad things about religions if those religions are not true!”
ME: “No, they can say bad things about any religion. Or all religions.”
STUDENTS: “I can see why your government would not protect untrue religions, but they should protect the true religion. Government is supposed to help the people, and protecting religion helps the people. Right?”
Now, to be fair, some of my students understood the concept of freedom of speech, but they tended to be the children of diplomats who had spent some of their lives overseas, learning about other people’s cultures. But most of my Egyptian freshmen could not wrap their minds around the idea that government literally was prevented from punishing people for the crime of blasphemy by its own Constitution.
That’s the context Mitt needs to understand before he goes around condemning the good people in the American Embassy in Cairo for trying to explain why an American video blaspheming against the prophet Mohammed comes from a private citizen, and does not represent the government of the United States. Because to the majority in the Arab street, governments have the power, and the duty, to protect religion against attack. So if someone in America is attacking Islam, and the government does not stop that person, then the government of the United States must really approve of this anti-Muslim video. After all, if the government was against it, they would stop it! A good diplomat knows the culture she’s serving, and the staff at the Egyptian Embassy were doing their very best to serve their government when they released a statement that Mitt now calls “an apology.”
Continue reading, Mitt Romney Needs to Make an Apology Tour
- Romney’s Libya Response Fuels Foreign Policy Doubts – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Allen West: Apologizing in Egypt is “rewarding bad behavior” (hotair.com)
- Cairo: Between the Protesters and the Embassy (newyorker.com)
- Embassy Row (slate.com)