A few years ago, Secretary of State John Kerry famously told a group of German students that “In America you have a right to be stupid — if you want to be.” Unfortunately, he demonstrates the need for tolerance for poorly thought out comments too often for a man in his position. John Kerry made comments today about the Paris attacks that are truly the epitome of stupid comments by a politician.
John Kerry truly stumbled in his attempt to differentiate the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday with the attack on the staff at the French satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, earlier this year. Speaking to the staff and families at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, the Secretary of State attempted to draw a distinction between the January shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices and the attacks this past weekend that left at least 129 dead and 352 wounded. He said the latest attack lacked the “rationale” of the earlier assault.
That is not out of context. According to the State Department, Kerry said, “There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that.” Then, he added, “There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, OK, they’re really angry because of this and that.”
According to a State Department spokesman, Kerry did not validate the earlier attacks, as some have interpreted his words. The spokesman, John Kirby, tweeted, “@John Kerry didn’t justify the Hebdo attacks, simply explained how terrorists tried to. As he said at time, it was a cowardly & despicable act.” (Kirby was referring to Kerry’s statement this weekend calling the attacks “heinous, evil, vile acts.”
Still, one cannot help wondering what Kerry was thinking in trying to differentiate between the incidents which all involved Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists. Yes, the shooting at the publication’s office last winter was motivated by illustrations they published. However, al-Qaeda claimed they were responsible then. The latest attacks, while not specifically retaliatory, were claimed by ISIS. (Realistically, 9/11 was not retaliatory either.) In both cases, the terrorists were striking fear into the heart and head of Western countries and the freedoms enjoyed in them, such the the freedom to say stupid things.
As Kerry said in that speech in Germany in 2013, “As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view,” beliefs that are an anathema to the ISIS terrorists. He went on to talk about how the U.S. allows people to protest and wave placards because of “freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be,” Kerry said, prompting laughter from those gathered.
Even with the freedom of speech on his side, it was unclear why John Kerry, America’s top diplomat, would make the stupid comments about the Paris attacks he did today. But, as Kerry himself has said, “The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.”
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss
Newsweek: Kerry Allows ‘Rationale’ in Earlier Paris Attack
Bloomberg: Kerry Draws Fire for Saying Charlie Hebdo Attack Had `Rationale’
TIME: Kerry: Charlie Hebdo Massacre Had Clearer ‘Rationale’ Than Paris Attacks
NPR: John Kerry To German Students: Americans Have ‘Right To Be Stupid’
Photo from U.S. Department of State [Public domain]