Watching the assault on the American embassies in Cairo and elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, viewing the trampling of the flag of the United States, learning of of the murders of Ambassador Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi, one is filled with feelings of impotent rage, of humiliation, of indignation. I find virtually nothing of the feelings of average Americans reflected in administration statements. Here was the single operative sentence in Obama’s statement on the murder of Ambassador Stevens:
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
As soon as he was able to calm himself down, he took Air Force One for a campaign spin to Vegas. Has he been able to find the time to make a statement on the attacks on American embassies in Cairo and elsewhere the past few days?
Secretary of State Clinton also issued a statement. She had this to say:
It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the death of four American personnel in Benghazi, Libya, yesterday.
But wait! There was more:
We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.
In another statement Clinton referred to the murders as a “senseless act of violence.”
Clinton’s statement warrants close reading in its entirety. Here she instructs Muslims on the tenets of their faith:
Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents. As long as there are those who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of religion, the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace. It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These are places whose very purpose is peaceful: to promote better understanding across countries and cultures. All governments have a responsibility to protect those spaces and people, because to attack an embassy is to attack the idea that we can work together to build understanding and a better future.
And here she instructs Muslims on the tenets of America’s faith, so to speak:
Now, I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day. Now, I would note that in today’s world with today’s technologies, that is impossible. But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.
There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable. We all, whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders, must draw the line at violence. And any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line.
One can’t help noticing that in her statement Clinton is less equivocal on the putative tenets of Islam than on those of the United States.