Yesterday Chris Stevens, Ambassador to Libya, was killed by armed men, fundamentalists offended by a video produced here in the United States. It was a horrible act, one that deserves condemnation.
The Ambassador, by all accounts, represented the best of our foreign service. He did not get his job because of his contributions to the administration. He was a career diplomat, someone who served the country through the challenging work of diplomacy. It’s not an easy job, but it is crucial. We do not appreciate these sorts of men and women enough. A good diplomat often earns the respect of the country they serve. Chris Stevens did.
Good diplomats are truly the first line of defense against aggression.
The initiating cause was a hate-video written for the incendiary purposes of terrifying non-Muslims and insulting the faithful. They’re excuse: to inform. It’s like crying “fire” in a crowded movie theater in order to see if the exit signs work. The authors are now in hiding – as they should be. They are cowards.
We are fortunate to live in a country with free speech. But in an interconnected world what we say gets heard in the rest of the world. We should be prepared when what we say takes a knife into the hearts of others.
But we need not lose heart. Plenty of Muslims in the world understand that this is not the American Government. They also, however, have opportunists who benefit from harnessing violence. And so the cycle of hate continues.
We need not agree with glib statements that religion causes violence. In many places throughout the world in history religions have existed together. But when people in power are themselves fearful and society is anxious, it’s easy to light a match under the feet of the worried and watch the world burn to distract attention upon themselves.
We are one of the few countries where religious tolerance, with some exceptions, is part of our DNA. Yes, although the Mormons, Amish, Catholics, Atheists and Jews have all experienced hardships, by and large they were each able to carve out places in our public life. That we have been able to do this is in part because of our beginnings. John Locke, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson showed no intellectual favoritism; and this was shared by many of their countrymen.
So what we do matters. It matters that we have protestants and Roman Catholics living side by side. It matters that Hindus go to Indian restaurants owned by Muslims. It matters that Jewish institutions finance interfaith works here in Westchester. Because it reminds the world that different religions can live in peace.
But opportunists know how to fan the flames. And that’s who we’re talking about. Opportunists made the video. Opportunists stormed the embassy. Most Americans would find the video, itself, scandalous; and few Libyans would support the murder of innocents. Even now, they are protesting the murders.
The world watches. If we permit interfaith hatred, it illustrates to other countries that diversity of faith is a threat to social order. But when we visit and trust our neighbors, we show a better way. When anyone in our country encourages Islamophobia, we should be clear: those are not our values. It was appropriate for the president to say that America does not seek to insult people of different faiths – because it’s true. Even George Bush called Islam a “noble religion.” “Nobility” aside, insulting others won’t bring peace. Showing how we live together might.
We can demonstrate a different way.