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Clash of Elites: What Lies Behind the Defamation Debates

Authors: Mark P. Lagon, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Human Rights, and Ryan Kaminski
Winter/Spring 2013
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

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Since Samuel Huntington's 1993 article warning of inter-civilizational conflict, pundits and policymakers alike have been quick to forecast a so-called "clash of civilizations." This has become especially common following 9/11, with warnings of a unitary Islam pitted against a unified West. Yet a clear-eyed assessment reveals that the West includes Muslim-majority regions and the often fractious United Nations; this divisive vision is as incorrect as it is unhelpful.

In his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2012, President Barack Obama argued that freedom of speech and tolerance transcends civilizational, cultural, and religious fault lines. "Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that's the vision we will support," declared Obama. In direct opposition to those favoring limitations on the freedom of expression or the imposition of blasphemy charges, the president noted, "The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect."

Setting the stage for Obama's remarks was what can roughly be termed as a global panic attack with peaceful, semi-violent, and violent protests about a video spreading from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In the face of the unmistakable energy and vigor associated with protests, however, many were left confused how a shabbily crafted video, Innocence of Muslims, with a skeletal budget, and miniscule opening audience to match, could instigate such a worldwide conflagration.

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