As one whose own religion has come in for its share of criticism, justified or not, Mitt Romney might have been expected to sympathized with all the Muslims who've taken offense at an apparently mean-spirited movie about the founder of their faith. Those expectations would have been confirmed to an extent today, when the Republican candidate for President told a reporter that "the idea of using something that some people consider sacred and then parading that out a negative way is simply inappropriate and wrong. And I wish people wouldn’t do it." Romney elaborated: "I think the whole film is a terrible idea. I think ... making it, promoting it showing it is disrespectful to people of other faiths. I don’t think that should happen. I think people should have the common courtesy and judgment– the good judgment– not to be– not to offend other peoples’ faiths." He also acknowledged that "we have a First Amendment. And under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do. They have the right to do that, but it’s not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film."
Three days ago, when the attacks on American diplomatic facilities began, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement deploring "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." Romney has criticized this statement all the rest of the week and won't retract his criticisms now. He says the statement "was not directly applicable and appropriate for the setting" -- an embassy that was eventually besieged by protesters outraged over the "Innocence of Muslims" movie. It now appears that the opinion of the embassy staff toward the provocative film was the same as Romney's, and the comments attached to one report of Romney's interview suggest that the candidate himself is now being criticized for appearing to coddle angry Muslims. Such is politics in 2012.
There's nothing inherently Republican, conservative or even Mormon about Romney's apparent inconsistency. His "appropriate for the setting" comment underscores an all-too-human failing on the candidate's part. His objection to the "setting" of the Cairo statement really has less to do with its timing -- Romney feels that it should have been taken down from the embassy website while the facility was under attack -- than with who made the statement and to whom it was addressed. While Romney claims that the President's opinion on the matter is similar to his own, and that the White House distanced itself from the Cairo statement, the embassy staff clearly represents the Obama administration in his mind. The statement itself was not addressed to an American TV reporter but to Egyptians and the wider world. Everyone involved is disgusted with "Innocence of Muslims," but Romney can't seem to acknowledge the universal agreement. If people he's compartmentalized in his mind as "other" or "enemy" appear to agree with him, their reasons can't be the same as his and are probably suspect. He can take a principled stand against offending other people's faiths, but employees of the Obama administration can't help appearing to him to be coddling fanatics while saying the same thing, while Muslims may have no right to take offense, as far as he may be concerned, if they can't do so without getting violent. It's OK for a civilized American of conservative religious values to take offense on Muslims' behalf, but anyone else is either expressing mindless rage or appeasing it. That's what partisanship (or tribalism) of any sort does to us; we can't even agree on when we agree. Of course in this case the agreement is not universal, since the Americans won't acquiesce to Muslim demands for the suppression of "blasphemy." But the Americans all seem to agree on something, except that Romney seems incapable of recognizing or acknowledging that fact.