Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday blasted an anti-Muslim movie trailer — which is believed to have sparked violent protests at U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya — as “disgusting and reprehensible.”
Clinton, in remarks aimed at tamping down anger in the Muslim world, stressed that the United States government had “absolutely nothing to do” with its production.
“Let me state very clearly, and I hope it is obvious, that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” Clinton said at a press conference in Washington.
“We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation, and as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including of course, millions of Muslims, and we have the greatest respect for people of faith.”
The crude video, which features an unflattering portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad, remains shrouded in mystery. There are conflicting reports over who created it, how it was translated it into Arabic and whether an actual full-length movie exists at all.
Clinton contended that the purpose of the video was strictly to incite anger in the Muslim world.
“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” she continued. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose — to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
The administration has tried to balance condemnations of the film trailer without appearing to sympathize with the protestors that breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, something Mitt Romney alleged in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Romney cited a statement that appeared on the embassy website criticizing the makers of the film for abusing “the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
The administration says the statement was unauthorized and was the work of one individual who was looking to squelch the growing protests outside embassy walls.
“But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence,” Clinton continued.
“We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue. Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents. As long as there are those who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of religion, in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”
Clinton also addressed the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other staffers were killed.
Initial reports attributed the attack to anger over the video. But Obama administration officials now suspect the attack on the consulate was planned, according to The New York Times, though the intelligence is inconclusive.
“It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions,” she said. “These are places whose very purpose is peaceful, to promote better understanding across countries and cultures. All governments have a responsibility to protect those spaces and people, because to attack an embassy is to attack an idea that we can work together to build understanding and a better future.”
Despite the uproar, Clinton said that even if the U.S. government had the ability to keep the anti-Islam film from being released, American principles of free speech would not allow it.
“I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of videos from ever seeing the light of day,” she said.
“Now I would note that in today’s world with today’s technologies, that is impossible, but even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be. There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence around free speech is never acceptable.
The Egyptian government, including the country’s first Islamic president, Mohamed Morsi, was slow to issue a statement condemning the breach of the embassy in Cairo, and didn’t reject the breach as strongly as it did the film.
“We all, whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders must draw the line at violence and any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line,” Clinton said.