Friday, September 14, 2012

Christopher Stevens, and faith-based violence

The big news this week has been the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Libya. They were killed in an attack on the embassy by radical Muslims offended by a highly amateur film from America that portrayed the prophet Muhammed in a negative light. As an agnostic humanist, maybe I'm not the right person to comment on religious matters. But this is simply an appeal to common sense. What mere film could be so offensive as to make members of a religion believe that they had the right to attack the country the film came from? Just as many Libyans banded together after the diplomats' deaths to condemn the attacks and hail Stevens as a hero who helped their country, the majority of Americans view the film in question as inflammatory and grossly irresponsible in its blatant hatred (there are also reports that the filmmaker lied to the actors and others involved about the movie's subject). The country is not accountable for the actions of one person. Most Americans didn't even know the movie existed until the embassy attack. I'm sure the irony will be lost on the extremists who stormed the embassy in Libya and the extremists continuing to protest across the Middle East, but, they're upset by a movie that portrays Muslims as violent, and they respond with violent behavior that so far has murdered four people who were only trying to help. Religious or personal beliefs are not an excuse for murder. I don't know why we have to keep reminding people of that. Hillary Clinton gave an excellent speech in response to the attacks. She condemned both the movie and the murders, and pointed out that all religions in the world have been subject to insults and bigotry, but these insults are no reason to become violent. Faith, she said (and I'm paraphrasing), is strongest when it can ignore and overcome these insults, not respond with extreme violence. Again, I'm not religious, but it seems that those who rage against anyone who denigrates their religion is not particularly strong in their faith. If a poorly made film can shake your faith to the point where you kill someone over it, how strong can it be? Isn't the definition of faith believing in something without question? Though I have no religious faith, there are several things that offend me: Fox News, governments at home and abroad that deny basic rights to women and minorities based on sheer prejudice, the Catholic Church's refusal to accept that the world has changed since the Middle Ages. But none of this offense is enough for me to kill anyone. I can just voice how I feel, do what I can (peacefully) to try and change laws or policies I believe are unjust, and continue living my life based on my personal code of ethics. The term "personal code of ethics" can just as easily be applied to religion. If anything can be taken from the death of the diplomats in Libya, it's that the peacemakers put their lives at risk just as much as the soldiers fighting the wars. Yet the diplomats have no holidays, no memorials, and we aren't urged to support them as we are to "support the troops." But just like the soldiers, the diplomats are putting their lives on the line in the hopes of making the world a better place. It's a shame they sometimes have to die violently in their quest to bring peace.

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