9/11, Chris Stevens, and Proportionate Response
by Benjamin Studebaker
Late last night in Benghazi, US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed by a mob angered by a film called Innocence of Muslims, promoted by the famous American pastor Terry Jones, notorious for his burning of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The film mocks Islam and Muhammad. Having viewed the trailer, it is clear that the film is not only quite intellectually vacuous, but the acting and production values are all very poor. It is the sort of piece that reflects more poorly on its creators than it does on those it cricitises. Yet, for all this, an embassy was stormed and an American ambassador killed, and on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, of all days. There is a lesson in all of this–proportionality. That is today’s topic.
Innocence of Muslims is a bad film. It is bad art. It is offensive to Muslims, but it is also clearly the work of a small number of ignorant, hateful, Islamophobic people. Perhaps it should be criticised. Perhaps the people who made the video or support the video should have their beliefs and character called into question. However, it should be utterly clear to everyone, regardless of nationality or religious background, that killing the US ambassador because some ignorant Americans made a bad video is disproportionate. It not only punishes a man and a government who themselves had nothing to do with the making of the video and who have never expressed support for the video, it entails killing a human being over a bad video. Were Terry Jones himself to walk into Tripoli and be attacked and murdered, it would still be a disproportionate, ridiculous response. No one should ever be killed for saying, writing, thinking, filming, or in any other way expressing an offensive or unpopular sentiment, no matter how vulgar or distasteful. The reaction on the part of the mob was childish. It demeans them and it makes their religion and beliefs appear barbaric to other people. It encourages more people to adopt Terry Jones’ ignorant, hateful beliefs. It encourages more Islamophobic videos, cartoons, and writings to be written. It is immoral and counterproductive to their goals. What they did was not only wrong, it was stupid.
9/11 was a terrible atrocity. It resulted in the deaths of 2,996 people, but it was also clearly the work of a small number of ignorant, hateful, anti-American individuals. Perhaps everyone involved in it or in its planning should have been arrested or captured by police or intelligence services. Perhaps nations that funded or protected them should have been hit with economic sanctions and internationally shamed. However, it should have been utterly clear to everyone, regardless of nationality or religious background, that invading multiple sovereign states, overthrowing their governments, and executing their leaders because a small club of murdering nitwits committed a comparatively small yet horrible atrocity was disproportionate. It not only punished governments and entire peoples who themselves had nothing to do with 9/11 and who never expressed support for 9/11 (many people in the Islamic world expressed sorrow at the time), it entails bringing mass war, suffering, and death to millions of people when initially only a few thousand had suffered. Were all the people in the world who had any sympathy for the terrorists at all to hold a convention in Kansas, it would still be an entirely disproportionate, ridiculous response to bomb that convention off the face of the earth and kill all in attendance. No nation or ethnic group should ever be attacked, invaded, or bombed because some small number of them are murderers or sympathise with murderers, no matter how gruesome the murders or how many people the murderers manage to kill. The reaction on the part of the United States was childish. It demeaned America, and it made America’s beliefs and culture appear barbaric to other people. It encouraged more people to adopt the terrorists’ ignorant, hateful beliefs. It encourages more terrorist attacks, murders, and expressions of anti-American sentiment. It was immoral and counterproductive to the American national interest. What America did was not only wrong, it was stupid.
Four Americans died because a few people didn’t have the maturity to respond proportionately to a bad, hateful movie.
Over 50,000 Americans and over 1 million foreign civilians have been estimated killed at a cost of over 2.5 trillion dollars because some Americans didn’t have the maturity to respond proportionately to a horrible, hateful mass murder.
Whether you live in New York or Benghazi, if we want a peaceful, happy world, where we don’t have to live in fear of our fellow man, we must learn to act always with proportion. Since 2001, 9/11 has been teaching the world this lesson. I guess some folks in Benghazi didn’t get the memo.