Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday strongly denounced the mysterious anti-Muslim film tied to protests and deadly attacks on American diplomatic compounds. But she reiterated that America will not tolerate limits on its free speech — and challenged leaders in the Muslim world to immediately denounce violence in response.
“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” Clinton said at a meeting with Moroccan officials in Washington. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose to denigrate a great religion and provoke rage. But as we said yesterday, there is no justification — none at all — for responding to this video with violence.”
Clinton pointedly called on other nations’ leaders to denounce the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and the U.S. Consulate in Libya, where four diplomats were killed, including Ambassador Christoper Stevens.
“We all, whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders, must draw the line at violence,” she said. “Any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line.”
Clinton did not name any country specifically, but Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, has not condemned the breach of the U.S. embassy, a development that’s disturbed many American observers who fear the government may be falling under radical influence after ousting longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. President Obama talked to Morsi over the phone on Wednesday and said in an interview with Telemundo after the attacks that “I don’t think that we would consider [Egypt] an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” By contrast, the administration has praised the Libyan government’s strong response to the more severe attack in Benghazi.
Clinton sought to explain to Muslims upset over the film that America has neither the capability nor the desire to censor its citizens.
“I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible 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 in our law. We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”
Clinton added: “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 in response to speech is not acceptable.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.