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Christopher Stevens was neither killed by a film, nor by U.S. policy

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya was killed by Islamic anti-American fanaticism.

By now there’s no need to point out the right-wing, anti-Muslim bad guys in the story surrounding Tuesday’s attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Mitt Romney is one of those heavies, and the Egyptian Copt and American hardass in California who made the film “Innocence of Muslims,” along with all those who promoted it on YouTube, are the others. (By now it should also be known that there was no “Israeli-American real-estate developer” named Sam Bacile behind the movie, nor was it financed by “over 100 Jewish donors” – that was all a cover story made up by the Egyptian Copt “producer,” a scam artist named Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, who was assisted by a Christian anti-Muslim fanatic named Steve Klein.)

Romney and the Republicans are paying electorally for his moral idiocy in denouncing the Obama administration (as well as the besieged U.S. embassy officials in Cairo) for making what he called an “apology for American values” by speaking out against the film. The Nakoulas and Kleins of the world will be back in action soon enough, but for now at least they are in the doghouse.

So enough said about those bad guys. What does, however, need to be said about this story, and said by opponents of right-wing Muslim-haters, is that the ultimate villains were the Muslim anti-American fanatics who killed Stevens and the three others, along with their soulmates outside the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen, and their sympathizers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

They have no right to use violence against America or Americans – certainly not because of that or any other film, but also not because of American actions in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia or any other Muslim country. Agree with U.S. policy in the Mideast or not, America is not ruling any Muslim country against its will, it does not have troops in any Muslim country without the eager cooperation of that country’s leadership and much if not most of its population, it sent American troops and trillions of dollars against widely-hated Muslim leaders such as Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and it supported and continues to support the Arab Spring, notably in Libya.

I’m not saying America acts in the Middle East purely out of altruistic motives, and some of what it does – notably the 2003 invasion of Iraq – is reckless and causes more harm than good. But America is not the bad guy in the Middle East, and Muslims do not have the right to attack it.

The one spot in the region where the U.S. is consciously serving a wholly immoral cause is in the Palestinian territories, where it acts as the enabler of the Israeli occupation. But even there, the U.S. has always pushed Israel, albeit much too faint-heartedly, to end its rule over the Palestinians, not extend it. And at any rate, the rioters in Benghazi, Cairo and elsewhere weren’t rioting over the occupation.

They were rioting, ostensibly, over that racist porn film “Innocence of Muslims,” which they of course had no right to do, either, even though I can certainly understand why any Muslim would be insulted by such filth. Yet the fact is that Muslim fanatics such as those who killed Stevens – as distinct from Muslims in general, who I believe are embarrassed by the recent violence – have rioted and killed over much lesser offenses to Islam and Mohammed – and they did so once, most infamously, over a work of fiction that wasn’t meant as an offense to Islam or Mohammed at all.

By ironic coincidence, I spent part of Wednesday, the day the news came pouring in about Libya, reading a long personal account in The New Yorker by Salman Rushdie about “The Satanic Verses” and the fatwa that Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced on him in 1989. I didn’t read the novel, but I take Rushdie at his word that the only insults to Mohammed in it are spoken by the characters of Mohammed’s enemies. Writing of himself in the third person, Rushdie explains that in his book:

[T]he material derived from the origin story of Islam was, he thought, essentially respectful toward the Prophet of Islam, even admiring of him. It treated him as he always said he wanted to be treated, not as a divine figure (like the Christians’ “Son of God”) but as a man (“the Messenger”). It showed him as a man of his time, shaped by that time, and, as a leader, both subject to temptation and capable of overcoming it. …

When he was first accused of being offensive, he was truly perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation — an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a genuine one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive? The thin-skinned years of rage-defined identity politics that followed taught him, and everyone else, the answer to that question.

The riots and killings and insanity among Muslim crazies over “The Satanic Verses” were rooted not in Western Islamophobia, but in the streak of fanaticism that plagued the Muslim world then and still plagues it now. That is what we saw in the mobs in Benghazi, in Cairo, in Sana and in Tehran. You do not have to be a Muslim-basher or even just a Republican to denounce them and hold them responsible for the deaths of Christopher Stevens and the three others. (Several of the injured, incidentally, included Libyan security personnel trying to save the Americans in the consulate.)

Just as Israel and America are responsible for their sins, and for their bad guys, so is the Muslim world.

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    1. aristeides

      And it is also true that even if the Islamophobic film had sparked no violence, it would still be a despicable instrument of hate.

      The film and the riots are only tenuously connected, and both should be judged only on their own demerits, not used to make excuses.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Larry, I think every informed observer now realizes that the Benghazi attack had little to do with the film. See, for example, today’s Independent:

      “Senior officials are increasingly convinced, however, that the ferocious nature of the Benghazi attack, in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, indicated it was not the result of spontaneous anger due to the video, called Innocence of Muslims. Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.

      “There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa’ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.”


      Might I suggest you spend more time following “the news [that] came pouring in about Libya,” at least if you’re going to write about it, and less on literary essays about Salmon Rushdie?

      As for US policy, well, we’ll see, won’t we? If it turns out that the rocket-propelled grenade launchers that killed Stevens and three others were stamped “Made in USA,” that will certainly be something.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The killing in Libya had nothing to do with the film. Didn’t anyone notice that earlier that day Al Qaeda announced that it #2 man – Abu Yahya al-Libi – had been killed in an American drone attack earlier in the summer. Al-Libi (“the Libyan”) home town is Derna – just 200 km done the road from Benghazi.

      In its announcement of his death Al Qaeda asked it followers in Libya to extract revenge.



      Reply to Comment
    4. mohammed

      “Who I believe are embarrassed”
      On what basis, Larry, do you hold this belief. How many “Palestinians” do you actually know.
      Name ONE Mohammedan who is embarrassed. Name her. And Taqiyya-style “I condemn violence but we need to understand the exquisite religious psychosis of the ‘Palestinians'” doesn’t count.
      Stop projecting your liberal values onto the ummah. Your Mohammedan allies do not share your values, Larry.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mohammed, above, is somewhat right. There is a socio-economic portion of Islam which cannot abide attacks on the faith; there was once, too, in Christianity–consider the Reformation. But there is tension in the Ummah as well. Will those opposed to this violence act publically? Can they? And how to act effectively?

        The attack hovered around 9-11; reports indicate too much organization of fire power to have been spontaneous. Al-Qaeda, which is effective partly because of its diffuse networks, again shows a kind of brilliance, this time turning a dull hate film into a flag.

        As to Rushdie’s shock, salvation does not admit critique by origin. Salvation is a place of repose, where the precarious nature of thought stops. Another’s salvation can be a very dangerous tool.

        Reply to Comment
      • Brendan

        Derfner’s partial criticism of the protests is slightly satisfying in that it’s so rare to hear a powerful voice of the Left come out against the Islamic world’s explosive over-sensitivity and total ignorance of the concept of free speech.

        The effect of the last few days of violence is entirely predictable: the Western world will overwhelmingly see the absurdity of the protests and our leaders bending over backwards to apologize (yes that’s the proper word) for something they had nothing to do with, and anti-Muslim bigotry will grow along with increased support for Israel/less opposition to its policies. I’m not saying that it’s a rational response, but it will continue to happen until the Left opposes Islamic violence and bigotry with the same zeal as it criticizes US/Israeli transgressions.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      I think you’re conflating two very different sets of people: “the rioters in Benghazi, Cairo and elsewhere” and “Muslim fanatics such as those who killed Stevens.” It’s still being reported that the murder was planned in advance and carried out by some organized group. The mob violence was relatively spontaneous, compared to that.

      I haven’t read what incited the mobs, but I’m still presuming that it really was the movie. If so, then it was not strongly related to American foreign policy, any more than earlier mob violence was related to Danish foreign policy.

      Reply to Comment
      • I think you are right, Aaron FT. Those rioting because of the movie have not seen it. Social media must have been used to ignite the crowds–and that was organized. Hovering around 9-11. Now the riots must burn themselves out, kept aflame a while by social media. A brilliant move for these types; the rioting faithful, who want a certainty, a place for their anger and loss, cardboard soldiers of the gamers.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      The last sentence: “Just as Israel and America are responsible for their sins, and for their bad guys, so is the Muslim world.”

      This blame thing is kind of a hobby horse of mine, so apologies in advance. The murderers are fully responsible for their actions, but that doesn’t absolve the US of responsibility either. Acts like this are a foreseeable result of a stupidly interventionist and excessively pro-Israel US foreign policy. And at the level of policy making, stupidity is a moral vice: the US policy makers are culpably stupid.

      To anticipate an objection: I don’t believe in any Law Of Conservation Of Blame. To ascribe some degree of responsibility, and blame, to the US is not to diminish the responsibility of the murderers one iota. You’re right that “the ultimate villains” were the ones who planned and committed the murders. But the distal villains, so to speak, include US foreign policy makers.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Kolumn9

      There are many people in the Muslim world that haven’t gotten used to the idea of there being a difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘illegal’ because no such distinction exists in Islamic fundamentalist ideology which has gone mainstream throughout the Muslim world. Thus, the American government’s condemnations of the movie are seen as insufficient because no punishment has been meted out to the wrong-doer. No long-winded explanation of the freedom of speech is going to have any effect whatsoever on people who think there is something that is ‘very wrong’ happening somewhere and no one is doing anything about it. They really do hate freedom.

      Reply to Comment
      • K9, obviously “throughout the Muslim world” is too strong; while I think you are right in many locales, those opposed to violence like this will remain silent until things subside.

        Both Judaism and Christianity are replete with episodes of intolerance where, as you say, “wrong” meant death, this view in fact the “legal” view of some times. Martin Luther would have been executed if turned over to the Catholic Church of his day. And all there, mostly, thought themselves quite civilized; and fearful of God. If there is to be an effective Reformation in Islam it must come from within; but I do not think any “apology” is in order. Islam must begin to face itself.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Throughout the Muslim world is entirely accurate given the reaction to this stupid movie. The condemnations have been of violence, not of the sentiment that drove it.

          Yep, culture in Muslim countries has some catching up to do in terms of tolerance.

          Reply to Comment
          • Nor could more be expected of some thought in both Judaism and Christianity. When roads to salvation are singular, sentiment is often singular as well. But denial of violence is no small gain.

            Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      It was reported today that a Libyan airport was closed today because militants were firing rockets at US drones.

      The fact that US drones are operated freely in Libya is part of the problem, part of the reason US embassies will be attacked.

      Reply to Comment
      • Track this down with links, Aristeides. I have no doubt there are costs associated with the drones, and that the US is at least using some for surveillance; but a direct link with attacks on an airport is less clear–and those attacking, if true, want more attacks.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          Greg – I’d say those who are attacking want US drones out of their national skies.

          And consider the attacks on US stations in Yemen. The US has been conducting military operations in Yemen for years. What American would tolerate Yemenite drones killing Americans on our home soil?

          The problem at the core is US imperial exceptionalism, not bad amateur hate films.

          Reply to Comment
          • No links, Aristeides, no links. Your statements cannot be confirmed. The people attacking the US ambassador have no claim to represent even a majority of Libyans. Many people want many things. No need to hyjack this event to new causes.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Links to what? What are you talking about? The issue is the causes behind the violence against the US presence in Libya and other mideast nations. My comment is perfectly relevant, not hijacking.

            Reply to Comment
          • Aristeides, above: “It was reported today that a Libyan airport was closed today because militants were firing rockets at US drones.” If reported, there should be a link to such. I am no fan of drones. But a claim that a general feeling against drones is cause of this protest/violence is unwarranted without further evidence.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            There is a general feeling of resentment of US interference in the region, and drones are part of it. Particularly, as I said, in Yemen, where drone attacks have caused numerous deaths. This is hardly an unwarrented comment. It would be foolish to deny it.

            Reply to Comment
          • The US deployed many, well over 30 I’m sure, cruise missles into Libya after Gaddagi said he would go “door to door” in Benghazi. Each missle cost, I think, about one million US$. The US ambassador to Libya is dead. The use of drones in Yemen does not influence a majority or even plurality of Muslims in Benghazi. You are hyjacking this event for political righteousness. You are not asking how this well supplied attack began. Nor do you offer any evidence that drones in Libya have done anything at all. Shame.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            It’s totally perverse to ignore the factors related to US military activity in the mideast when considering the ongoing unrest. It’s totally perverse to ignore the use of drones in Yemen when considering the attacks on US installations in Yemen, and perverse to suppose that militants in Libya aren’t well aware of this activity.

            I have no idea why you choose to minimize or deny the effect of the ubiquitous US military presence in the mideast or challenge the widely-reported news that the Benghazi airport was closed following militants firing at US drones. It’s just perverse.

            But the reports are consistent with others that allege the militants behind the Libyan violence are pro-Qadaffi forces that oppose the US for its role in toppling the dictator.

            You can keep blindly denying these reports or take them seriously, I don’t care.

            Reply to Comment
          • One does not tailor policy to militants; nor do militant acts necessarily reflect a Muslim majority. To claim that drones should be eliminated to appease militants is perverse as well. As is asserting that a militant position leading to the Libyan attack samples Muslim belief, and that Yeman determines thought in Benghazi. You show no evidence that drones hae been used in attack in Libya now, which is not to say it hasn’t happened. No doubt they are used in survalience; no doubt some don’t like that. This does not condone what happened to the ambassador. Why should the violent determine all thought?

            Reply to Comment
          • This has to be struggle within Islam, Aristeides, not just American guilt. It is time for that struggle now. Sorry for being so aggressive. Time to evoke my gettng crazy rule and not return to this thread.

            Reply to Comment
          • litvac120

            Reply to Aristeides
            In the near future America will begin to withdraw. It’s
            way too overextended, but I am
            sure when this happens you and
            your friends will scream about abandonment of some of your favorite causes.What you want is to control where
            and how to get involved.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      the only Occupation I see in the Middle East, is Arabic-ists stomping all over indigenous tribes. Larry Derfner’s silence about the (for example) cultural genocide of the Berbers…. is deafening. But we are closing in on totally liberating Jerusalem from non-Hebrew-speaking colonists. Haifa will be next…..

      Reply to Comment
    10. Niz

      I am ashamed of this as I am ashamed of harrasment in our streets. Two wrongs don’t make a right. At the same time, I think the Americans should take a good look at what is happening in the Arab world. America has become in the Arab collective memory something repulsive and demonic. The process of ‘othering’ is a two way street. Your reference to Salman Rushdie is in place, because it eliminates the assumption that it was against American policies in the region. That is correct, it’s much more than that. We bare the responisbility of fanaticism, partly after the collapse of Nasser and nationalism. America has the responsibility of enabling those movements (support of Saudi Arabia)…

      Reply to Comment
      • Rakiba

        A free and equal exchange has to be free and equal. The rest of the world owes the Middle East a fair chance for equality in government, arts, science, human rights. That means less meddling and probably less cash support but more open markets. The Middle East and North Africa get to sink or swim on their own ability and if they elect authoritarian governments, if sexism and discrimination are rampant, and intolerance of free ideas remains, that would be no ones fault but their own.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Sharon Ellis

      The ambassador was killed by ignorance; nothing less and nothing more. This is what happens when neither side is informed; they aren’t informed about one another and culture, nor are they informed about the source of the evil, which is NOT Islam.

      The US has blundered about the world, stealing resources and destroying the environment (the US military is the world’s largest single polluter, and the face of America is that of her armed forces) and using heavy-handed tactics to ‘destroy terrorism.’ It used to be ‘communism,’ remember?

      The empire needs an enemy. The problem is that the enemy often strikes back. It’s time to stop the drone attacks and to promote peaceful educational initiatives…if that’s possible after the hatred and anger agains the US that American policies have instigated.

      Reply to Comment
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