Among the stories crowding news outlets last December was the tale of a young man who had found himself incarcerated in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for making a satirical video which that government had determined to be a breach of national security. For our purposes here, the details of the video need not be chronicled. It was widely accessible, and contained no content of an obviously offensive nature. In fact, its lengthiness suggests the possibility that many viewers who started to watch it may have tuned out a good while before its conclusion.
Nevertheless, the UAE jailed the satirist, thereby triggering the wrath of the American media. Coolly crafted statements were issued from comfortable confines in New York and Hollywood, condescendingly advising the UAE to cease engaging in third world tactics if it desires to avoid third world classification.
And such comments seem reasonable, don’t they? After all, here in the U.S.A. we’re allowed to say almost anything we wish at any time we wish. And no one had better object to our right to say it. In fact, our freedom of speech has been expanded by the Supreme Court to include physical actions like burning the flag. In American speech law, the wilder, the more tasteless a given expression is (or so it often seems) the more sacred is the speaker’s right to share it with us all.
Interestingly, at the same time that we’re pretending that the American revolutionaries fought to establish liberty for the likes of Larry Flynt, we commend ourselves for our understanding of differing international norms. We enjoy showing off our liberalism by acknowledging that the U.S. is no better than any other culture in the world. We savor the saying that we have no right to judge others. But when you hear such righteous intonations, be skeptical. Our understanding attitude toward other cultures often ends where our problems with their policies begin.
The President of the United States has a Chief of Protocol for a reason. Other countries have other customs, and it behooves us to pay healthy respect to those customs when we visit those places. Just because we get away with a great deal here, doesn’t mean that we can plan on similar privileges there. I am as disturbed by the specter of Americans confined in foreign prisons as anyone else; however, stories like the UAE report suggest a sobering thought for those traveling abroad. When you’re packing for that overseas excursion, better leave the Yankee upstart spirit in your top dresser drawer. It’ll be there for you when you arrive back home – safely.