Benghazi and Beyond - Public Diplomacy and the Clash of Values
Wednesday, September 19th 2012
Read my colleagues' posts below. What we have here is a genuine clash of values.
Most Westerners, especially Americans, believe that freedom of speech extends even to those who mock religion. Many Muslims believe that words and images which are disrespectful to Islam must be censored, and some, not only terrorists, are willing to kill those whom they hold responsible.
Looking beyond the events in Benghazi, this fundamental disagreement will endure and continue to cause bitter dispute and ever more violence across the region. This is a quintessential issue for public diplomacy.
It’s important not to narrow the question to counter-terrorism communication, as former Under Secretary McHale and Ambassador Richard LeBaron did in their recent article. And the usual comments about “rebooting” public diplomacy or redoubling exchanges fail to focus on the essence of the problem.
James Glassman in his recent article captured the American position pretty well. “The right response today, I believe, has three parts, and the order is important: 1) violence is never acceptable, and America will take strong action if its people and property are attacked, 2) we believe in the principle of free speech, and 3) all religions deserve respect.”
Secretary Clinton has expressed those same points, and has obtained some buy-in from many host governments with regard to the first one. But asserting these principles does not mean that Muslims will accept them, and that's where public diplomacy comes in. A dialogue among politicians and religious leaders about free speech and respect for religion must begin – and it would benefit from the full array of public diplomacy tools and tradecraft.