Five days after the terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at our “mission” (falsely called a “consulate”) in Benghazi, Libya, Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, appeared on five national Sunday morning shows and repeated the fiction that an anti-Islam video inspired what she called a "spontaneous attack." Recently, she blamed the intelligence community for providing her with invalid talking points when "there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi." Blaming the video has been described as a “cover-up” of the fact that terrorism and al-Qaeda are very much alive, contrary to President Obama’s campaign posture. Rice also has been attacked for being the “wrong person” to defend the White House response. The current criticism of her from key Senators such as John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Kelly Ayotte and others in and out of government focuses on whether she deliberately lied to the American people and whether that disqualifies her to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. While that criticism is legitimate, it misses the central point.
Put aside that an Obama compliant press is failing to examine other reasons for a cover-up such as reports that Stevens was in Benghazi to oversee a gun-running operation with al Qaeda linked terrorists both in Libya as well as Syria. Never to let a good crisis to go to waste, blaming the video was not a random press release dumped on Rice to mouth out loud. It not only shifted responsibility for the murders away from terrorists; it encapsulates a critical aspect of the ideology that Rice, along with Clinton, have been advancing at the UN. If the public battle over Rice centers on her presumed irresponsible use of information obtained from intelligence sources, she will win. Failure to grasp what an ideologue Rice has been will make a mockery of any Senate confirmation hearings to be held.
Rice was precisely the right person for the task. She has been a strong advocate for UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 which was co-sponsored in 2011 by none other than Clinton. Entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief,” it is the latest iteration of long term efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the largest Islamic body in the world and largest--if not controlling--voting bloc in the UN General Assembly toward criminalizing any speech that is critical of Islam or the Prophet Mohammad. As seen throughout the Islamic world, forbidding such criticism through blasphemy laws and otherwise is fundamental to establishing and maintaining Islamic control. This aspect of the OIC’s 2005 Ten Year Program of Action is also fully consistent with the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Civilization Jihad” for transforming the US from within. The Brotherhood, through purported hundreds of meetings in and outside of the White House, has had a profound impact on the Obama administration’s policies.
The Constitutional right to broad free expression is primary. All of our other freedoms essentially rest upon our unassailable ability to freely criticize those in power as well as any idea, including defaming a religion. The OIC, on the other hand, has made clear that this right must be tempered by other “human rights.” Whereas the US Constitution protects citizens’ and their rights, the OIC seeks to protect Islam- an unbridgeable gap. Nonetheless, Clinton and Rice have made great strides to advance the effort.
While Clinton has paid lip service to the notion that 16/18 must comply with US free speech laws, the efforts have altered the center of gravity for free speech, substantially elevating “religious tolerance” and the prevention of the “denigration of religious beliefs” to near equal status with free expression. First, 16/18 calls on UN Member States to speak out against “intolerance.” Immediately following the Benghazi violence, both Clinton and Rice dutifully obliged the OIC by repeatedly and loudly condemning the video despite overwhelming facts disproving the theory. Clinton has additionally proposed that in order to push the purposes of 16/18 along we must “use some old fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.” She exposed her radical devotion to the task in her vengeful threat to prosecute the video producer as reported by the father of one of the murdered in Benghazi. It is unclear just what, under US law alone, could justify any prosecution of the producer related to the video’s content.
16/18 also recognizes that the US and other UN Member States have restrictions on limiting critical speech and urges those states to loosen those restrictions. It asks states to take the first steps to “enhance implementation of existing legal regimes that protect individuals against discrimination and hate crimes…” As shown in follow-up meetings either hosted or attended by Clinton as well as US agencies such as the FBI and Department of Justice, a grand effort has commenced to chip away at the uniqueness of US free speech law in order to begin to conform to a shared centralized law.
More importantly, the critical limit in current US law is on speech which is intended and likely to lead to “imminent” harm. Accordingly, Clinton’s boast that 16/18 must comply with US laws is based on 16/18’s use of that word in its call for States to adopt “measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.”
It is the effort to globally standardize this concept that sheds light on exactly why Rice’s television appearances were much more insidious than mere ministerial public relations. What has underscored much of the OIC and Muslim Brotherhood’s decades long responses to criticism of Islam (from Salman Rushdie to Theo Van Gogh etc.) is the effort to establish the narrative that Muslims are so uniquely sensitive that criticism necessarily leads to a violent response. Just as Islam treats Muslims differently from all others, it expects the world to treat Muslims specially; in this case, to recognize this unique fragility. The more that Muslim violence is tied to speech critical of Islam, the easier it becomes to establish that one who makes such speech should have known that harm was “imminent.” For the OIC, intent is irrelevant and 16/18 seeks to have US law import the notion that the violent consequences alone determine whether speech is permissible. From there, criminalizing critical speech is made substantially easier.
The OIC has long pressured the West to criminalize the defamation of religion under misleading rubrics such as “protecting human rights” and “combating Islamophobia.” Rice, along with Clinton, Obama, and their many associates, however, have been very accommodating to the OIC and the Brotherhood and this is the context in which to evaluate the blame the video theory. Far from being an innocent flack, Rice is a committed ideologue identified with the interests underlying 16/18. Her ideology, not her competence as spokesperson, must be the focus of examination.
Bill Siegel is the author of "The Control Factor- Our Struggle to See the True Threat" published by Hamilton Books.