Clash of Elites: What Lies Behind the Defamation Debates

Shop the Entire Current Issue- The Future of Energy  ||  Return to The Future of Energy index

Mark P. Lagon is International Relations and Security Chair, Master of Science in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University; and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations.

Ryan Kaminski is Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow with the United Nations Association of the USA, and formerly a Research Associate in the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 "If elites in the Muslim world fanned the flames of conflict, so did a few in the West..."
 "Identifying and acknowledging the role elites play as accelerants of fiery conflict will help advance constructive dialogue on tolerance, dignity, and universal rights..."

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. (purchase article...)