This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community.
Last week, stupidity triumphed over bravery, courage and common sense. The slain U.S ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, represented all the latter, while the producers of the insipid and hate-filled anti-Islam trailer that led to Stevens' death symbolized all the baseline features of the former.
Americans take free speech seriously, as well they should. It's usually heartening, in fact, when the citizens of repressed rulers and emerging democracies and otherwise downtrodden people adopt that most American of values and express themselves in new and unfamiliar ways. And even when these actions are aimed at us, Americans generally take dissent like this in stride. It's part of our makeup.
Think back to December 2008, when an outraged Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a Sunday evening news conference in Baghdad. The gesture was inflammatory, yes, but it was also a natural extension of the man's world view. Muslims generally consider shoe bottoms insulting, and the Iraqi journalist, livid at what Bush's policies had done to his country, was, well, expressing himself, in a manner of speaking. When American troops and Iraqi citizens pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein during the invasion, television footage captured images of Iraqis gleefully beating on Saddam
The producers of the film "Innocence of Muslims," on the other hand, meant to cause harm, to provoke, to injure in the most insidious and hateful way. Why is it different? I believe they deliberately set out to inflame the passions of millions of people, including fellow Americans about whom they know very little, care about even less, and seem eager to demonize. Their actions -- indeed their entire world view -- seems to me to be the opposite of what it means to be an American -- everything, in other words, that Stevens worked so hard to promote in the Middle East. Where he promoted tolerance, they spouted ignorance and hate. Where he ventured out into the world to confront and understand it, they hid behind aliases and went into hiding.
Stevens braved the front lines of Benghazi for about eight months during the height of the revolution, the only senior American on the ground to have direct and constant contacts with the Libyan rebels. He survived a bomb attack on his hotel, and chose to stick it out. At the same time, he insisted that the Libyan rebels understand the gravity and importance of adhering to minimum standards of international human rights. He seemed to believe the best about other people, and that raised the bar for everyone. Upon hearing of his death, Libyans paid tribute to his work and the ideals he represented.
However much the makers of the vile "Innocence of Muslims" try to invoke our First Amendment and tie it to their cause, their actions were deeply unpatriotic. What can the makers of the vile film that led to Stevens' death say about their own contribution to American values, at home or abroad? Unlike the provocative but clever Danish cartoons that also inflamed many in the Muslim world, this film lacked any kind of political subtlety, any intellectual curiosity or nuance, even any attempt at truth-seeking. Its makers, with all the tools of modern communication at their disposal, must have known it would find its way to a receptive audience. It's what they counted on. It was un-American and cowardly. And Stevens paid for their stupidity.
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.