Killed were Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American civilian employees. Lesser violence happened in Indonesia.
The Religion News Service was one of the credible sources reporting that at least some of the attacks stemmed from the Internet distribution of an at-times obscene film about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s central figure.
The film, called sarcastically “The Innocence of Muslims” was translated into Arabic by a Coptic Christian from Egypt living near Washington, Morris Sadek, who describes himself as a human rights attorney.
However, some fellow Copts say he is a fringe figure in their ancient faith and is well known for his “Islamophobic invectives” which his detractors say do not help the cause of full religious freedom in Egypt.
Such religious intolerance is alien to most Americans, thriving as we do in a free and tolerant religious culture guaranteed without regard to personal preference by the Constitution.
That intolerance is practiced in the Middle East is no surprise and sadly remains the rule.
Because the film came from U.S. sources the fury was aimed at official American symbols – consular structures and personnel.
American policy under a long stream of presidents in both parties has in fact condemned salacious commentary and demeaning depictions of all religions.
Details about the film’s makers remain sketchy, but The Associated Press reported that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian who lives in Southern California, managed logistics for the production company. Nakoula also told the AP that he is concerned about Muslims’ treatment of Coptic Christians, which has been undeniably bad and destructive.
The independent and respected Pew Research Center reports that Egypt’s 7 million Copts – about 10 percent of the population – have been barred from building churches and applying for government jobs, among other restrictions. Since the onset of the “Arab Spring” of 2011, Coptic churches have been pillaged and burned.
The Dallas Morning News, in a Wednesday editorial, offered sage reminders about the realities from two perspectives:
“The ... killing of America’s ambassador to Libya and three more of our fellow countrymen reminds us why the war on terrorism remains the central challenge of our times.
“Mostly this struggle remains a clash of values. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, talk surfaced about America and its allies needing to win the hearts and minds of those who do not understand – or simply loathe – Western culture. That campaign remains as important today as when it began.
“Indeed, the tension that has spread across North Africa and the Middle East is yet another clash between religion and free speech.
“... But what is clear is that one side believes its religious values trump the right of others to express themselves. And another side believes the right to free speech protects even cheap-shot films.
“We naturally don’t think the simple expression of a religious offense justifies violence. At the same time, we’d ask those who inflame with their words whether their desire to oppose another’s religion is so important that they would risk the lives of fellow Americans.
“One way to defuse this conflict of values is for representatives from Judaism, Christianity and Islam to continue talking about their differences. In Dallas on Wednesday, people from those three Abrahamic faiths gathered at Thanksgiving Square to discuss theologian Brian Brown’s ‘Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran.’”
No religion and few if any of the Christian traditions, can claim exemption from acts of violence and bloodshed, whether recent or more deeply in history.
Intentional good will and dialogue are possible and essential, even in the face of stark differences.