Getting Causation Correct in the Riot Coverage

"The Movie That Sparked the Embassy Attacks" is The Daily Beast headline over a story about "The Innocence of Muslims," the idiotic video that many Muslims (and others) find so offensive. Variations of this headline appear in many places across the Web, and much of the coverage of the ongoing crisis assumes that it was a film that caused this violence. But the film did not cause violence. Violent men caused the violence. The movie did not spark the embassy attacks. The embassy attacks happened because groups of Muslim men decided that they would attack American embassies. The belief on the part of an unknown number of Muslims that the appropriate response to blasphemy is violence is what caused the violence to erupt.

I've been getting a lot of mail from Muslims who are condemning the violence, and I'm getting a lot of mail from Muslims who are justifying and rationalizing the violence. One such e-mailer asked me the following: "How would you feel if a Muslim made a movie saying that Moses was a pedophile?" I wouldn't care. My faith is strong enough not to be imperiled by idiotic trolling. And my faith doesn't allow me to hurt a person because another person has offended my sensibilities. The thing is, Islam doesn't allow such a thing, either. And yet, it happens.  

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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