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Don't misplace blame for Middle Eastern mayhem

By Jonah Goldberg

7:00 AM EDT, September 17, 2012

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An incendiary video about the prophet Muhammad, "Innocence of Muslims," was blamed for the mob attacks on our embassies in Libya and Egypt(and later, Yemen). In Libya, Ambassador Christopher Stevensand three other Americans were murdered. The video stirred some passion here in America as well.

Over at MSNBC, a riot of consensus broke out when contributors Mike Barnicle and Donny Deutsch as well as University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler all agreed that the people behind the video should be indicted as accessories to murder. "Good Morning," declared Ms. Butler, "How soon is [the alleged creator of the film] going to be in jail, folks? I need him to go now."

Mr. Barnicle set his sights on Terry Jones, the pastor who wanted to burn the Quran a while back and who was allegedly involved in the video as well. "Given this supposed minister's role in last year's riots in Afghanistan, where people died, and given his apparent or his alleged role in this film, where ... at least one American, perhaps the American ambassador is dead, it might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact."

Mr. Deutsch helpfully added: "I was thinking the same thing, yeah."

It's interesting to see such committed liberals in lockstep agreement with the Islamist government in Egypt, which implored the U.S. government to take legal action against the filmmakers. Interestingly, not even the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egyptian government demanded these men be tried for murder.

Now, I have next to no sympathy for the makers of this film, who clearly hoped to start trouble, violent or otherwise. But where does this logic end? One of the things we've learned all too well is that the "Muslim street" -- and often Muslim elites -- have a near-limitless capacity to take offense at slights to their religion, honor, history or feelings.

Does Mr. Barnicle want Salman Rushdie, the author of "The Satanic Verses," charged with attempted murder, too? That book has in one way or another led to several deaths. Surely he should have known that he was stirring up trouble. Perhaps the U.S. Justice Department and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security could work together on a joint prosecution?

Perhaps Mr. Rushdie's offense doesn't count because he's a literary celebrity? Only crude attacks on Islam should be held accountable for the murderous bloodlust they elicit.

One might ask, who is to decide what is crude and what is refined? But that would be fruitless, because we know the real answer: the Islamist mobs and their leaders. Their rulings would come in the form of bloody conniptions around the world.

Are we really going to hold what we can say or do in our own country hostage to the passions of foreign lynch mobs?

If your answer is some of form of "yes," than you might want to explain why U.S. citizens aren't justified in attacking Egyptian or Libyan embassies here in America. After all, I get pretty mad when I see goons burning the American flag, and I become downright livid when a U.S. ambassador is murdered. Maybe I and some of my like-minded friends should burn down some embassies here in Washington, D.C., or maybe a consulate in New York City?

Of course we shouldn't do that. To argue that Americans shouldn't resort to mayhem, while suggesting it's understandable when Muslims do, is to create a double standard that either renders Muslims unaccountable savages (they can't help themselves!) or casts Americans as somehow less passionate about what we hold dear, be it our flag, our diplomats or our religions. (It's hardly as if Islamists don't defame Christianity, Judaism, moderate forms of Islam or even atheism.)

But, I'm sorry to say, that may in fact be the case. After all, with barely a moment's thought, these deep thinkers on MSNBC were willing to throw out the First Amendment for a little revenge. It was a moment of voluntary surrender to terrorism.

Within 24 hours, however, it became increasingly clear that the video wasn't even the motive for the murders; it was a convenient cover for them. In effect, the terrorists behind the Libyan attack not only successfully played the Muslim street for suckers, they played Barnicle & Co. for suckers, too.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book "The Tyranny of Clichés." You can contact him by email at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.