Politics
Photo: AP Photo: AP  

Hillary Clinton adopts Romney free speech policy

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday championed the United States’ First Amendment, saying the government doesn’t stop Americans from debating Islam.

The policy shift is a tacit validation of Mitt Romney’s criticism of administration policy, but buttresses President Barack Obama’s controversial Arab outreach policy, which has been damaged by televised waves of Islamist attacks and the rise of Islamist political parties.

“Our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and in our law,” she said during a long-planned meeting with leaders from Morocco, a Muslim country concurrently governed by a Western-oriented king and an elected Islamist government.

“We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be,” she said, in reference to complaints by Islamists about a low-budget video that uses orthodox Islamic texts and current events to satirize Islam and Islam’s reputed prophet, Muhammad.

Clinton’s high-profile defense of the First Amendment is a turnaround for the administration, which has repeatedly slammed criticism of Islam as anti-American. (WATCH: The anti-Muhammad movie cited as cause of violence)

The shift allows the administration to shake off demands by Islamists — including the new president of Egypt — for the forcible suppression of U.S. free speech, while also helping it demand that Islamist governments shield U.S embassies and citizens.

Islamists believe societies, government and individuals should be governed by the demands of Islamic texts, such as the Quran. Those texts bar criticism of Islam, penalize non-Muslims and urge hostility against non-Islamic governments.

Clinton’s comments came as Islamists cited the video as a pretext to invade and damage portions of the U.S. embassy in Yemen, and to continue protests around the embassy in Cairo. On Sept. 11, other Islamists killed the U.S. ambassador and three aides on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity by al-Qaida’s Islamist recruits

The embassy attacks have upended Obama’s Arab strategy, which called for the support of democratically elected governments. (SEE ALSO: Protesters storm U.S. embassy in Yemen)

Muslims, however, have mostly voted for radical Islamist governments, wrecking Obama’s 2009 plans for a “New Beginning” in U.S.-Arab relations.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world… based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition” Obama declared in his June 2009 speech announcing the new policy. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings,” Obama claimed.

The policy turnaround came Sept. 12, following the unexpected embassy attacks and sharp criticism from Romney.