“We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker said, holding up a handwritten sign in English that read “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”
In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.
In his statement after protesters breached the walls of the United States Embassy last Tuesday, the spiritual leader of the Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that “the West” had imposed laws against “those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not a sacred doctrine.”
In fact, denying the Holocaust is also protected as free speech in the United States, although it is prohibited in Germany and a few other European countries. But the belief that it is illegal in the United States is widespread in Egypt, and the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, called for the “criminalizing of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.”
“Otherwise, such acts will continue to cause devout Muslims across the world to suspect and even loathe the West, especially the U.S.A., for allowing their citizens to violate the sanctity of what they hold dear and holy,” he said. “Certainly, such attacks against sanctities do not fall under the freedom of opinion or thought.”
So free speech should only be kinda sorta free? Right, got it.