Attack in Libya fueled by religion
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 15:09
The American consulate in Libya was attacked on Tuesday, leaving four killed including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and up to 10 Libyan security personnel dead or wounded. It is speculated that militant Islamists in the northern sector of Benghazi planned the attack well in advance.
At the center of the chaos is a film produced by an Egyptian man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The Coptic Christian’s low-budget trailer for the film depicts the prophet Mohammad in an unsavory and offensive light, which ignited backlash and protest throughout the Arab world. Nakoula was taken in by California police for questioning Saturday regarding possible probation violations. Despite the uproar the film has made, it is imperative to remember Nakoula’s right to free speech and that regardless of the film’s offensive content to Muslims, his right to make it must be protected.
“I have made it clear that the United States has a profound respect for people of all faiths. We stand for religious freedom, and we reject the denigration of any religion — including Islam. Yet there is never any justification for violence,” President Barack Obama said in response to the attack. “There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates.”
Pictures of Libyans holding apologetic signs to Americans that read “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans” and “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam” have circulated on the web this week in an effort to forge peace between citizens of the two countries. The consensus of the Libyan people cannot be clearly promoted without technological advances within the country, yet a quick look at Google search results reinforces the desire for the name of both Islam and the Libyan people to be cleared of associations with this act of violence. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated, the actions of a “savage and small group” would not force the U.S. to turn its back on Libya.
The issue is marred by a troubled relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East that stretches far back. However, this specific attack was undoubtedly spurred by Nakoula’s trailer, in which case, the question asked by Washington Post columnist Fouad Ajami must be answered: Why is the Arab world so easily offended?
As previously examined, this attitude is not indicative of the status quo in Libya, as far as one can tell. But the status quo is not what has flooded our news feeds and television sets for the past week. It is the militant, the pious. This has little to do with “acts of terrorism,” but rather the religious fundamentalism that fuels these acts. Violence, as anyone can understand, is certainly not confined to these groups, yet last week’s attacks are indicative of an existent pattern.
Ajami’s column extensively illustrates examples throughout history in which this type of violence has been condoned not just by militants, but influential figureheads as well. A well-known instance is that of Salman Rushdie’s fiction novel The Satanic Verses, which was seen as blasphemous and sparked controversy. Iran’s ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989. Many associated with the book have also suffered violent attacks for their involvement, including translators and publishers.
Religious fundamentalism of any flavor is toxic to a successful society. How many have been slain in the name of gods throughout history? Too many to count. There will never be a unilateral agreement between cultures and nations on a religion, a sacred text or a deity. The work that spurred the attacks in Libya was primitive and ridiculous and must not be taken seriously, nor should any criticism of a particular faith. However, that utopian vision is far from being put into practice. With regard to the line between freedom and order, Ajami cautions: “In the Muslim world, that struggle is more fierce and lasting, and it will show itself in far more than burnt flags and overrun embassies.”