Intolerance, Terrorism and International Diplomacy

On Tuesday, September 11, individuals identified in media reports as armed “Islamist militants” stormed a United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three members of his staff.

The attack in Libya, which came hours after a mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag, was presumed to have been triggered by a movie, whose trailer had gone viral on YouTube. Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the US, promoted the film on his website last week. Koran burning, Florida pastor Terry Jones also promoted the film in his church.  Within days it was fuelling outrage in Arab countries horrified at the depiction in the movie of the prophet Muhammad as an illegitimate, murderous pedophile.

By all accounts Mr. Stevens was very much respected and a loved figure within the Libyan community. He had served twice previously in Libya, including as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March to November 2011, helping to save the city of Benghazi during the country’s revolution. Hours after Stevens’ death, Libyans had started an Arabic-language Facebook tribute page for him where they shared photos of the ambassador — in one picture he can be seen at a local restaurant sitting with some locals and eating local food with his hand. They also posted pictures of themselves holding candles lit in his memory.

In her official statement after the events Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that: “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith and as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”

As we grieve after yet more senseless killings in the name of religion we must ask important questions:

What do we do about religious intolerance on the part of anti Islamists, who feel they can gratuitously insult those who do not share their beliefs?

Should we continue sending diplomatic missions, that often help local people, to countries such as Libya or Egypt, knowing that their political unrest make them unsafe?

And, the most difficult question of all, what can we do to eradicate terrorism? Is that even possible to achieve?

12 thoughts on “Intolerance, Terrorism and International Diplomacy

  • September 14, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Religious disputes have evolved in our world and today. If you really look at what it comes down to, to practice your religion and faith is meant to be a personal, peaceful ritual and not a matter of debate. Today, people tend to find a means of communication in which they can publicly enforce their extremist views and beliefs implying that they are at right and other religions are wrong for the beliefs they hold, causing controversy to emerge in different parts of the world. You see many of those people as you walk the streets in many different countries, reciting phrases from the bible and expressing their beliefs to whoever walks by them – That is one way of expressing your faith and love for your religion, to have the freedom of speech, the right to be heard – it is harmless and done with good will, for those who choose to listen. But to think that burning the Koran or mocking the prophet Mohammed will express your strong views on other religious practices is wrong. This is vandalism. This is not a valid method of getting a point across – religion is a sensitive matter, and these expressions have demonstrated a great amount of disrespect to Muslims. I think its vital to show respect of one another’s religion and practices. To every action, there is an equal reaction, and that has incited violence by generating anger and hate in Muslims. I think politics is the first cause of war, religion being the second. Disputes in views and beliefs of different nations have caused situations to climax. Extremism in any form eventually leads to corruption – and that is the case today with terrorism. Everyone Is at revenge, killing innocent people in return to those they have lost. Yes, Chris Stevens was an American, but that does not make him a bad person. It does not mean that he supports George Bush for instigating war in Afghanistan, or that he hates Muslims. It does not mean that he did not have a good heart and good intentions, and it definitely does not mean that he deserves to be killed. Unfortunately today, killing has become underrated. Innocent lives are taken away in the glimpse of an eye, in the name of revenge.

  • September 14, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    And, I strongly agree with Hillary Clinton. I really liked what she said.
    The matter of diplomatic missions is a tricky one. It definitely holds a set of risks and dangers to one’s life, as does politics, which is the same situation America puts its troops in by sending them to war. Journalists too, for instance. By visiting countries such as Palestine or Afghanistan they endanger their lives, however they take those precautions because they believe they can make a difference, and are on a mission to do so.

    Everyone wants to be heard, and everyone finds a way – authors, painters, and songwriters turn their words and emotions into works of arts – and in the case of Muslim fundamentalists, they go as far as suicide bombing :p

  • September 16, 2012 at 1:43 am

    There really isn´t much we can do about people who want to deliberately offend Muslims. In the USA we have a right to free speech. This is a central part of our Constitution and also a central part of the identity of America. To erode this freedom would be to erode all our freedoms because it would take away our right to defend ourselves in the public spectrum. Thus there are going to be people who live in the USA who hate the Islamic religion and who are going to promote their views. You can try to engage these people in debate and discussion. You can try to persuade them that they ought to have greater sensitivity and that they ought to operate with more respect and diplomacy. You can try to show them that hatred only begets more hatred. This is all you can do though, and if you cannot change their minds then they will continue to promote their hateful views – and that is their right. One should note however that this same right allows people to promote the religion of Islam freely also. Islamic people in the US are protected by the Constitution to express their religion and promote it as much as they like.

    As far as continuing diplomatic missions in countries like Egypt and Libya where there is dangerous elements, I think that these diplomatic missions should continue. I believe that what has happened in Libya, with the murder or the US diplomat, along with several other Americans, was perpetuated by a terrorist group. This is not a reflection of the people of Libya at large. It should also be noted that the kind of violence we have seen in Libya is very rare. Most every nation respects embassies. To endanger an embassy is to essentially wage war on the nation it represents. This is why almost every nation will respect an embassy as if it is the nation it represents. This is why attacks on embassies are generally uncommon. When an attack happens it is frequently the work of a terrorist group. I think that security measure should be taken. Security should be fortified, and the diplomatic missions should continue. We cannot foster good relations with a nation if we do not have a diplomatic mission in that nation. It would be a grievous error to for the US to remove their diplomatic mission from Libya or Egypt. It would essentially shut down all conversation and disintegrate all positive relations we have with these nations. Also it would send the message that the US can be easily broken. This is exactly the message the terrorists want to hear.

    What can we do to eradicate terrorism? I think that we can perhaps lessen terrorism, but we will never be able to eradicate it. There are always going to be radical and extremist believers. There are always going to be people on the fringe who resort to violence and terror to achieve their goals. Thus the real question is what can we do to lessen terrorism? I think that the best thing we can do to lessen terrrorism is to seek equity and stability in nations. When nations are stable economically and politically there is less of a chance that terrorists will be in that nation. Terrorism comes out of unstability and the lack of equity in many cases. If people are generally happy with their living conditions then there will simply be less terrorism. Religious zealotry is another problem, because it can come out of any nation – stable or not. However, the peole who follow such extremist paths will be lessened if their is general stability in nations. Thus I believe that the best way to achieve less terrorism is to seek stability and equity in nations.

    • September 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

      Dear Neil,
      Although you are correct in the general premise that the freedom of speech is one of the central pillars of the US Constitution, the freedom is not limitless. In support of this, I would call your attention to “the fighting words doctrine”, which is a clear limitation to freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
      This legal doctrine dates back to a decision by the US Supreme Court in 1942, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. In that case, in a unanimous 9-0 vote, the Court held that “insulting or ‘fighting words,’ those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are among the “well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech the prevention and punishment of [which] … have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem.”
      While watching the trailer for the disgusting, deplorable, reprehensible “movie”, I was immediately reminded of Chaplinsky from my law school days. As the days have passed i am more convinced than I was then, that this speech is not protected and is the functional equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater, which is also not constitutionally protected as stated in 1919 by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the case of Schenck v. United States.
      Thus, I think the US government would be on solid legal ground to preclude dissemination of this vile “movie” through the court system of the US, just as it has been able to stop such groups as the Klu Klux Klan from inciting others to engage in “imminent acts of lawlessness” through speeches at rallies.
      Even though the Constitutional right of freedom of speech is not limitless, it is subject to limitations in the area of hate speech, fighting words, and even in the economic sphere.
      As an aside, I do commend you, Professor Rengel and the other participants in this blog on your lively and insightful discussions–keep up the good work.

      • September 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm

        Dear Ivan,

        I haven´t studied the court cases you refer to, and it may be that the US government could be on safe legal ground to ban the dissemination of this film, but I hope they don´t go down that path. If they go down that path it is a long slippery slope. If that movie is banned, then what is next? In the 90´s an artist created a piece of “art” that was essentially a crucifix placed in a container of urine. It was clearly to antagonize Christians. Another “artist” created a image that he called the Virgin Mary surrounded by feces and pornographic images. Another attack on Christians. Should these pieces of art be banned too? My point is that there is no end to what the government would wind up having to ban if they ban this current movie. Do people have a right to not be offended? One could argue that the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian” did the same thing that this new anti-Muslim movie has done, only in that movie the bigotry and mockery was aimed at another faith. Should that movie be criminalized too? What about words that are not intended to “inflict injury” but yet injure people in some way? Who gets to determine what the alleged injury is or how severe it is in order to start banning movies, works of art, or anything placed in the public spectrum? I just see no end to what gets banned if the government goes down the path of banning this film. If they banned that film would that mean that the pastor who burned the Koran should be arrested for his “crime”? If so then does that mean that it would be a crime to burn the Bible, or the holy books of other religions? Would that then mean that nobody could ever descerate any religious item?

        I don´t like that movie which is aimed at Muslims. I saw parts of it and it was hostile, and deliberately antagonizing for Muslims. Very offensive. However if that movie is banned, I see no end to the limits which will be placed on free speech, and this will endanger one of the fundamentals of the free world.

  • September 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Dear Neil,

    I respect your perspective, but i do not agree with you. Criticism of religions is not a matter of free speech – Dont abuse your freedom.

    As you said, “hateful views” – and hateful is a good word to use. Its true you have the freedom of speech (which i think is a great exercise if used in the right context), but the freedom of speech does not mean to speak out absolutely anything that falls on the tip of your tongue, without thinking of the possible consequences. I urge them to have a little more decency when they speak. Words have power, although actions speak louder nowadays. When you speak, you have to think of what message are you trying to give out, and what responsibilities you hold for feeding the minds of others with your words. The case of George Tiller in the US, for example. People were referring to him as a “baby killer” which spew hatred towards him and he was eventually murdered by an anti-abortion activist. By using such language, there were material consequences. Therefore, there are consequences to what we say, and hate filled speeches hold consequences such as terrorism (not that i support such acts of terrorism on any level, but its an instigated reaction.) If we can lessen terrorism, aren’t we initially expected to lessen one of its main causes? By “deliberately offending Muslims” Arabs are knowingly being intimidated, and terrorism refers to “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Hence, its terrorism.
    How you communicate your thoughts and ideas to people is important, and to show hate and discrimination is an effective but unhealthy way of doing it. When i look back at the Bahraini Uprising, one of the first things that flashes into my mind is people holding banners with the slogan “death to al-Khalifa”, in spite of all ive witnessed.

    And yes Ivan, i agree with you. The movie was resentful and abominable. Sometimes i wonder, how is it that people choose to put precious time into producing such distasteful works of rubbish.

    • September 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Mariam,

      I disagree with you in some of these matters. Criticism of religions is a matter of free speech. We need to have the right to criticize religions. If they cannot be criticized what is to stop a religion from becoming a tyranny? To take a rather radical example, in the 1970´s the Reverend Jim Jones took almost a thousand people (largely brainwashed) into the jungle of Guyana and had them commit suicide. There were signs early on that he was operating like a ruthless dictator, but he was powerful and people were afraid to criticize him. He should have been criticized more. He should have been scrutinized more. One could argue that he should have been mocked more in order to expose him for the buffoon (albeit a dangerous one) that he was. Thus we need the right to criticize religions, and even mock them. There is no right that I am aware of that says that people have the right to not be offended.

      That being said, I think that people of their own free will ought to generally be sensitive to other religions. I think it was reckless when that pastor burned the Koran. He should have taken into account that such an act would lead to people being killed. However, if we start limiting free speech in order to protect people´s feeling and religious sensitivities, then we simply are not going to be living in a free society. Furthermore, there will be no way for people to defend themselves from tyranny if they don´t have the right to free speech – and this right to free speech means that people have the right to offend other people. It is the double-edged sword of a free society – the same right that gives you the right to promote your views gives other people the right to express their views, even those which you determine to be offensive.

  • September 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    (My reply was aimed at your first message – I only read your 2nd response after posting mine. We must have been typing at the same time!)

  • September 16, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I am very mindful of the right to free speech, and I am a fervent advocate for the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. My comment was largely a response to the erroneous, and I think in this case, politically counterproductive message sent by the US government that it is powerless to act in the face of this so-called artistic expression.
    I disagree with your equating other nasty, offensive artistic expressions with this current “movie”. In the “art” that yoy reference no one was concerned that the christians were going to storm the US consular offices at the Vatican and kill the Ambassador. We do know and the US was apparently made aware of this “movie” before it went viral, and possibly even before it was translated into Arabic. The reaction in the Middle East (and from Muslims generally) was fairly easy to predict.
    When hate crimes were enacted to protect ethnic groups and other minorities, people said such laws violated free speech to the extent that the law should not be concerned with the hateful motivations for a crime regardless of how hateful those opinions might be. I am not aware of such legislation chilling speech (even hate speech). BUt it is one thing to say hateful things and quite annother to go out and beat homosexuals or marading through the street beating latinos.
    When someone sets out to make a film with such vitriolic and inciteful messages, there exists a mechanism for the government to balance free speech with the legitimate concerns for law and order. I am not sure where that line shuold be drawn in the sand, and I am really concerned about chilling free speech; but, I just do not think that we should not continue to sell the lie that all speech is valid speech. Hate is hate and when it is specifically spewed with the intent of causing mahem and inciting violence, as this movie was intended to do,I think the yellow paint should come out.

    • September 16, 2012 at 9:36 pm


      What is this mechanism whereby the government can balance free speech with the legitimate concern for law and order? Would it be the job of the Attorney General or a government agency to determine exactly what is dangerous hate speech and what is legitimate free speech? I am not sure of how anything like that could be regulated. Anyone can put an inflammatory video on the web, and then once it is out there it can be passed across the globe almost immediately. Another problem I see with such regulation is that one person´s hate speech is another person´s art or free expression. The book The Satanic Verses created mayhem and rage in the Islamic world and to many Muslims it would be regarded as hate speech, whereas to many other people it is regarded as a legitimate exercise in literary expression. Also another question I have is should such alleged hate speech be shut down only when it ascertained that it will lead to violence? For example, would it be OK to for a director to make a hateful video about Christianity because it is a safe bet that Christians won´t riot and kill people as a result? If it is not potential violence which dictates that hate speech should be banned, then what is? Also I am curious what you think of the cartoons which were printed in Denmark where Muhammed was was characterized. It created rage and destruction in Islamic countries. Do you think those cartoons were hate speech and would it have been prudent for the Danish government to disallow newspapers from running them?

  • September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    This discussion is very interesting, and I would like to share my perspective on the issue, which is very limited, as you know I left Cuba just three years ago and that means, I was 33 years without exercising the right to freedom of expression and I have not no religious beliefs.

    However, I have always thought that the liberty of a person in general ends when infringes or violates someone else’s freedom, this happens with nations, companies and in general, behaviors that violate rights of other individuals should be banned.

    Now, responding to an offensive act, with violence, and even more, with premeditated using extreme violence as the case of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya is a cruel, hideous, miserable and extremely disproportionate act.

    Nothing justifies the use of violence, even when you suffered, this is not the way to defend any belief, this is the way to keep people away, and make them disrespect religions. If we talk to someone who does not know about religions and witness an event like this, obviously will feel a great disrespect for this religion, I honestly think that whoever murders in the name of God, does not believe in God and I also believe that tunder no circumstances can blame the U.S. government for not blocked the video because honestly with nowadays technological globalization is almost impossible. Of course, if there were one way to prevent such material published embarrassing, I would agree to implement these restrictions, and the speech freedom can “go for a walk”, but I think it can’t be done in practice.

    However, there is one point that is very important and goes beyond freedom of expression in this case, first the video was not the cause of the attack on the embassy, was a premeditated act of terrorism, was an act born of hatred that has reached horrific levels between arable world and the U.S. and its allies.
    You can not eliminate terrorism, because it will take generations to forget some of the horrifies consequences of war or army conflicts. The victims of terrorist acts have for sure another perspective, and some of them can’t forget. But I think there is a to reduce terrorism to a minimum: each country have to avoid interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Behind every conflict, there are strong economic interests and behind every provocation, the owners of defense industry are very happy, because war means money for them. I’ve always been curious because why the Arab world is always a place of conflict, and the reason is simply the natural resources it has, they are rich in resources so there are very strong interests behind.
    In foreign arena, the countries cannot use a policy of double standards, if stronger countries want to help the weak, and want to promote democracy in those countries, should not be interventionist, should not create conflicts or military occupations who finish in a war, or should not unbalance forces within each country, because what it results in is hatred, is lack of sovereignty, military spending- which by the way is afforded by the taxpayers, who are against war-, and ultimately did not solve any problem because governments come to power “democratically elected” in the end turn out to be worse than before. Libya’s case is a sad example, a country completely destabilized, as with Egypt, these countries were invaded, its sovereignty were violated at some point in the name of democracy, what is the result they are still completely unbalance, im not defending dictatorships, but if you going to intervene in a country you should be more responsible with the future consequences. Now I wonder, why nobody invade Syria?, whether much or more crimes and lack of democracy as at the time existed in Libya or Egypt to cite the same two examples, and the answer is very simple, because Russia and China are oppose, then what we’re talking about?, we care about democracy for some countries and not others, or we intervene in only those countries that we can control and where there are strong economic interests. I think to eradicate terrorism, some countries should give up the arms race and to respect the sovereignty and self-determination of other peoples, and in an open state of dictatorship, the international community, not just a few countries, should use economic measures and policies to isolate undemocratic country until lack of resources have to listen and abide by internationally recognized standards of democracy.


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