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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012

Romney's roots are showing

Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — The crass, insulting, disgusting film attacking Islam and presenting the Prophet Mohammed as a bastard, a womanizer, a homosexual and child molester is undoubtedly the most shameful work produced in the United States this century.

It has already led to the deaths of America's ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three colleagues, has sparked anti-U.S. riots across the Arab world and may be a game-changer in the U.S. election.

Freedom of speech vs. the protection of the special sensitivities of religious belief goes to the heart of the dilemma of American democracy and the U.S. role in the world. Washington backed the Arab Spring, yet now finds itself as the leading target for the democratic voices of supersensitive Muslims.

Christians the world over have had to suffer insults and outrages from all sorts of sources and are expected to turn the other cheek — or, in the case of a young mentally handicapped Pakistani girl probably falsely accused of burning pages of the Quran, to spend weeks in prison.

But Muslims apparently consider it OK and even meritorious to take up rocks, bottles, fire and rocket launchers to protest against the Great Satan U.S. and its agents at any provocation. The film in question, titled "Innocence of Muslims" exists so far only in a 14-minute YouTube version posted in June and unnoticed until an Arabic version appeared this month.

It is an amateur film, clearly not made by the U.S. government or by mainstream Hollywood or any film producer with a reputation to protect. Some of the actors involved say they were not aware of the nature of the film they were making.

The film indeed opens with shots of scenes of Egyptian security forces watching as rampaging Muslims set fire to and loot the homes of Coptic Christians — no Muslim protest there about arson and murder of followers of another great religion of the Book and the God of Abraham — before it turns its insults against Mohammed.

It is a grubby little film, but it is already changing the world and unleashing Muslim fury against the U.S.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi, who could really do with infusions of aid and investment to get the economy moving, was lukewarm in condemning the violence and the death of U.S. Ambassador Stevens and was even encouraging continuing anti-American protests. His defenders said it was to protect his political back against ultra-Islamic Salafists.

But which Muslim leader, civilian or cleric, is going to be brave enough to hold hands with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in praising freedom of speech but drawing the line at violence? If no one does then America is going to face a grim time in the Middle East.

The film may also have an effect on the U.S. election, not least because Republican challenger and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has shown himself more of a crusader than a pragmatist or someone who has a grasp of the realities of international relations.

Romney launched his verbal war against Obama, claiming that the president was "sympathizing" with the attackers. If you examine the comments of Obama and Hillary Clinton, Romney's accusation is not only false but is dangerous.

Not for the first time, Americans and the rest of the world should begin to worry about Romney making it to the White House, as he does not seem to begin to understand the world outside his limited American experience.

Britain's most popular newspaper went rudely straight to the point: "Mitt the Twit," it declared, referring to gaffes Romney made when in Britain.

It is easy to consider Romney a twit for managing to upset the British prime minister, the mayor of London and the British public with his asinine comments about the London Olympics. However, a twit who is running neck and neck with the president in opinion polls with the election just eight weeks away needs to be taken more seriously.

No president has ever been re-elected when the U.S. economy is in the shape it is today — with unemployment of more than 8 percent. Unemployment is 8.1 percent.

It is a measure of the weakness and distrust of both candidates that with the economy ailing and Romney's promising to create "jobs, jobs, jobs" that the Republican has not walked away with the race.

Romney talks like the last cowboy sheriff who will bring American justice and democracy to the world, whether the world wants it or not. He has lobbied the Jewish vote with ludicrous claims that Obama has sold out Israel, made dangerous hawkish noises over Iran and shown that he is all at sea in Asia.

Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations criticized Romney for insulting Japan — which he described as "a nation that suffers in decline and distress for a decade or a century" — and for his failure to understand the importance of Japan in U.S. foreign relations and how Japan has been Washington's loyal partner in defense and military matters since the war.

Romney clearly sees himself as the sheriff of China, promising tariffs on China's exports if the yuan is not revalued, and greater arms supplies to Taiwan.

It is going to be an interesting — and potentially dangerous — contest, not least because China is also asserting itself. Beijing's Global Times declared in an editorial, "America slaps China in the face, but we have the power to kick back."

Interesting times, indeed. But can America afford to open battles on so many fronts simultaneously?

Kevin Rafferty is editor in chief of PlainWords Media.

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