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What Happened In Libya?
For those of you who received our statement earlier this week, we wanted to update you on the situation in Libya, and how we can reflect together towards a better world.
On Wednesday, we shared with you our statement (full text here) condemning the violence and attacks on US Embassies. Protests and violence began in Egypt and Libya and have now spread to Yemen, Sudan, and beyond. Initially the media reported that an Islamophobic film in the United States fueled a protest that led to the violent attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. That attack left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff dead. However, it appears increasingly likely that this was a planned attack inspired by Al Qaeda. The situation is still evolving, but we felt it necessarily to update you with the most accurate information possible. Also, we hope to reflect with you on how we can work together for a better world through this tragic experience.
The filmmakers don’t represent America, and the attackers don’t represent Islam
Regardless of whether this attack was associated with the coinciding protests about the Islamophobic film, it still is a revealing moment. Once again, both sides are tempted to subscribe to the idea of the clash of civilizations, which can only lead us to more hate and violence. However, in an unprecedented manner, Americans (including American Muslims), Egyptians, Libyans, and the world at large have fought the urge to point the finger at each other and instead have each looked inwards to condemn the extremists in their own communities.
American Muslims know that there is no greater offense to Islam than to kill the innocent
American Muslims, both frustrated by the misrepresentation of their faith by the attackers, and hurt as Americans for being attacked, have loudly condemned the attacks in unison. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) released a statement sharing that “Leading American Muslims and senior representatives of other faiths join together to condemn the murder of U.S. diplomats in Libya and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” It continued:
“The making of this video presents an extremely false narrative of American society and of American values. It does not represent the views of the American public as a whole, nor does it represent Jews, Christians, or people of any other faith…As horrific and offensive as the video might be, nothing justifies the sort of violent acts we have heard reported in Egypt and Libya.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) also released a statement, saying, “These attacks were not just an attack on our embassies but on our nation as a whole.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) proposed that “the only proper response to intentional provocations such as this film is to redouble efforts to promote mutual understanding between faiths and to marginalize extremists of all stripes.” The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) shared:
“We are disturbed that the perpetrators of these attacks are claiming to defend the Prophet Muhammad’s honor. The Prophet was a man of peace and mercy; to engage in such violence and senseless killing is to truly defile his legacy. We implore Muslims in the region and around the world to remember the Prophet’s teachings and honor his life by following his example of kindness and love in the face of hostility.”
Countless others have joined the chorus of condemnation, while thousands of Muslims took to Twitter to share their shock and horror at these senseless actions. The American Muslim community is diverse, from South Asians to Arabs and Africans, wealthy to poor, coast to coast, from Shia to Sunni. Those from among the community recognize the rare importance of this unity, when together we not only condemn evil, but call for wider dialogue and common action among the faith communities.
Libyans reject violence and condemn the attack
There is another important development that gives us hope: the response of the Libyan public. Libya’s interim leader Mohammed Magarief shared in a statement, “We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world.” The Libyan public, from Tripoli to Benghazi, demonstrated against the attacks, with signs saying “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam” and “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans” (see photos), and a PSA of Libyans condemning the violence was released soon after. Dr. Laila Bugaighis, Chair of the Libyan National Protection Against Violence Committee issued a statement saying, “We the citizens of Benghazi denounce the barbaric actions of attacking diplomatic delegations of all countries, and above all, those of the countries that stood by us and helped us win our war against the terror of the previous regime,” further calling on the Libyan government to “take strict and serious actions against such barbaric acts.” She continued:
“Chris Stevens was a brave man. He remained with us in Benghazi when all others fled during the war, he connected with our people, he did his best to help our civil society prosper and grow, promoting several cultural and educational programs, and he showed us what tolerance means. He certainly did not deserve to die this way, even if no one meant to hurt him personally, the consequence of the action touched him and his family and his friends. Our deepest condolences go to Chris’s family and his friends, and to the families and friends of his fallen countrymen who died in Benghazi.”
Just as Americans reject the extreme message of the filmmakers, the Libyan people reject the violence from the attackers. This fact needs to be shared widely across both America and the Muslim world.
How we can end the cycle of hate and violence
We know there is hope. We at Islamic Networks Group (ING), in partnership with our affiliates in 22 states and multi-faith partners, are doubling our efforts to transcend the cycle of hate and violence. We’ve increased our capacity for providing speakers about Islam & Muslims and religious literacy to schools, colleges and civic groups. We are actively providing seminars on cultural diversity for law enforcement agencies, companies and healthcare professionals, as well as educational institutions. We’ve opened up to grow our speakers bureaus, expanded the affiliate network, and are about to release online curricula and and new resources to counter bullying. We will continue our work with renewed efforts, never losing the vision of a religiously plural America.
But we can’t do it alone. We urge you to engage in your own families, communities, and houses of worship to address words of bigotry or calls of violence, no matter the reason or religion. Furthermore, we can all stop, pause, and reflect the next time we hear something that disturbs us, angers us, or makes us afraid. Fear and anger betray our values – not only our values as Muslims, Christians, Jews, or Atheists, but as Americans.
Photo courtesy of Libya Alhurra