U.S. foreign policy is in a very, very confused place when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounds more sanguine about the latest insult to Islam than our ostensible allies do. In Egypt, an atheist who uploaded the Mohammed movie to YouTube was beaten during his interrogation by police and will stand trial for blasphemy next Wednesday. In Pakistan, one member of the coalition government can’t wait that long for “justice”:
The Pakistani government on Monday distanced itself from an offer by one of its Cabinet ministers to pay $100,000 for anyone who kills the maker of an anti-Islam film, saying the offer does not represent official government policy…
Bilour said Saturday that he would pay the reward money out of his own pocket. He also appealed to al-Qaida and Taliban militants to contribute to “a noble cause” of eliminating the filmmaker…
Bilour’s comments appealing to al-Qaida and the Taliban also struck a nerve within his own party, which is considered anti-Taliban and has lost several leaders in the fight against the insurgency.
His party, believe it or not, is considered secularist. Whether this guy has simply gone rogue or whether he sees political advantage in pandering to Pakistan’s many fanatics with bloody demagoguery, only he knows. But he told the Daily Telegraph today that he refuses to withdraw the bounty, despite pressure from the government and his party to do so. The onus is now on Zardari to fire him, but that’s complicated by the fact that Zardari’s out of the country right now. He’s at the UN, where he’s preparing to speak out against … freedom of speech:
His comments will intensify pressure on President Asif Zardari to sack his defiant minister when he returns from addressing the United Nations General Assembly this week, where he is expected to call for an international anti-blasphemy law and compare it to laws in Europe which outlaw ‘Holocaust denial.’ But his proposal has been undermined by Mr Bilour’s incitement and bounty offer.
Senior figures in his own party said they had called a series of meetings to decide whether to take action against him. Many are baffled by his actions given his long and high-risk opposition to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and his long-standing support for NATO intervention in Afghanistan and for Pakistan’s role as a supply route for its bases.
I’m bracing for the argument that the Pakistani government can’t fire Bilour because he has freedom of speech and, well, you can’t go around denying someone a government salary just because he’s calling for murder outright. For now, though, here’s the State Department response. What’s wrong with this picture?
Calling Pakistan Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour’s offer as “inflammatory and inappropriate”, a State Department statement said, “There could be no justification for violence and it is important for responsible leaders to stand up and speak out against violence.”…
The State Department said, “The (US) President and Secretary of State have both said the video at the core of this is offensive, disgusting, and reprehensible – but that is no justification for violence, and it is important for responsible leaders to stand up and speak out against violence.”
Note whom the harshest pejoratives are reserved for. A movie insulting Mohammed is “offensive, disgusting, and reprehensible,” which is almost exactly the same phrase the White House used today to describe Ahmadinejad’s eliminiationist rhetoric towards Israel. Meanwhile, the guy who’s begging Al Qaeda to cut the head off the man who made it is … “inappropriate” and “inflammatory.” I realize that our “partnership” with Pakistan involves lots of funny little quirks, like giving them foreign aid while their intel bureau helps Afghan jihadis kill American soldiers, but can we muster a little extra invective for an honest to goodness government minister who’s calling on terrorists to murder a U.S. citizen? How about “inappropriate, inflammatory, and problematic?” Too sharp?
Exit quotation from Pakistan’s foreign minister: “It is not good enough to say it’s free speech, it should be allowed. I think if this does provoke action against American citizens or Americans anywhere else in the world, then maybe we do need to rethink how much freedom is OK.”