This is a sad time for Americans and global citizens who desire a more peaceful and tolerant world. The events of the past two days in Libya, Egypt, and now in Yemen, have tarnished the prospects for political stability in a region on the brink of realizing a brighter future.
The tragic death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, an unnecessary and heartbreaking consequence of unbridled anger and hatred, came amidst a wave of violence directed at U.S. diplomatic outposts in the Middle East, sparked, at least in part, by an amateurish anti-Muslim film depicting prophet Muhammad as a desert-wandering imbecile, preoccupied with homosexuality and pedophilia.
But ordinary Libyans should not be swept under the rug with the terrorists, which carefully planned and carried out the Benghazi attack.And to smear Libyans as the “usual suspects” — freedom-hating, anti-American, violent-prone Muslim extremists — is to ignore that reality and buy into the cosmic war narrative that the Islamophobes and terrorists alike hoped to spread in the first place.
Drowned out by rampant political posturing and speculation are the stories of peaceful Libyans who held up signs renouncing the violence in their country, saddened that their religion had been abused and that their faithful ally, Stevens, had been taken from them. “Sorry people of America, this is not the behavior of our Islam and Profit [sic],” read one young boy’s sign. “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans,” read another.
Many in the mainstream media were more obsessed with tracing down nebulous links between the film and a Florida-based pastor than they were with reporting that dozens of Muslim organizations all over the world — from Minnesota to Singapore — condemned the violence in public statements or press conferences.
And, more interesting to some were the film’s supposed “100 Jewish donors” (who allegedly gave $5 million to produce the flick) than the citizens of Benghazi who were resolved in their commitment to raise money and rebuild the U.S. Consulate. While politicians tiptoed lightly around the whole affair, careful not to offend their November voting bases, Libyans declared that they would march through the streets of Tripoli to demonstrate against violence and extremism.
The voices of hate that hope to fracture our society along religious lines should have no place in our public discourse. Though they see themselves as entrenched on opposing sides of a growing faith divide, extremists of all religious faiths are actually the crack that runs down the middle, splitting a unified and united world into two warring fragments.
It is the responsibility of all peace-loving citizens to respond to this senseless division with consistent and amplified calls for tolerance and inclusion. Refusing to partake in sensational and broad-brushed narratives — and acknowledging the differences between the violent fringes and the non-violent majority — is a necessary first step. For if there was anyone who knew of the distinction between terrorists and ordinary, peaceful Libyan Muslims, it was Stevens, who in the end gave his life for a country and a people he believed in and loved.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post on September 14, 2012.