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A Libyan burns the U.S. flag during a protest in Benghazi on Sept. 14. Protesters chanted, 'Obama, Obama, we are all Osama.'
AP PHOTO /MOHAMMAD HANNON
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PHILADELPHIA--The violent attacks on the U.S. missions in Cairo, Egypt, and Benghazi, Libya--where a top U.S. diplomat was killed, are far too important to be reduced to fodder in a campaign debate.
We should be focused on a question that many Americans are probably asking about the tragic death of
The answer provides some clues as to how the United States should respond to such outrages now and, inevitably, in the future. And it illustrates a perplexing problem that will confront whoever wins the presidential race.
Stevens' death is perplexing because of the lead role the United States played in the overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and the fact that NATO intervention saved the rebel capital in Benghazi from being overrun by regime soldiers bent on slaughter. The question is especially poignant because Ambassador Stevens was an Arabic-speaker with long experience in Libya, who had served as U.S. emissary to the Libyan rebels.
Yet Stevens was killed, on the anniversary of 9/11, in a violent demonstration against an obscure, and bizarre, 14-minute film, in Arabic, that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. How could a ludicrous video, showing Americans lumbering around in Arab gear--a video that looks as if it were made by drunken teenagers as a sick joke--cause such
WHY THE IMPACT?
For several reasons: Because radical salafi groups deliberately advertise such films to manipulate crowds who would never otherwise know these videos existed. Because poor Muslims in Third World countries are vulnerable to anti-Western diatribes and have no grasp of constitutional principles such as freedom of speech: They believe any film that insults Islam has government backing.
Because many Muslim leaders are too fearful--or too weak--to crack down on the hard-line salafis on their far-right flank.
And because, in the YouTube era, hard-line salafis can instantly reach thousands. Ditto for flame-throwers such as the maker of the Web film, who said he wanted to showcase hateful Islam, or Florida pastor Terry Jones of burn-the-Quran fame, who helped him. Both men were eager to stir up violence, cloaked in their free-speech rights. They share in the blame for what happened in Egypt and Libya.