Hillary Clinton’s response to the Embassy Attacks

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This is a bit dated now, but in her remarks at the opening plenary of the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue on Thursday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton skillfully represented, I believe, the proper response of the United States to the recent embassy attacks in the Middle East and the video that sparked them.

Clinton navigates numerous thorny issues of politics and religion here, successfully avoiding offense while offering a political assessment of religion and violence that is substantive and meaningful. It’s worth reading this whole excerpt (all italics are added by me):

I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries. Let me state very clearly – and I hope it is obvious – that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims. And we have the greatest respect for people of faith.

To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage. But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence. We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms, and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.

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.

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.

Now I understand that some Christians would take issue with a description of Islam as a “great” religion, as well as with the claim that Islam “respects the fundamental dignity of human beings.” But there is no question that any charitable description of the world’s second greatest faith would be able to affirm these points. Remember, this is a political statement, an assessment of the proper balance between freedom of speech, human security, and religious liberty. It’s basic message, brilliantly put, is that the United States is committed to all three.

Of course, level headed leaders in the Middle East, including the Islamist leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, share Clinton’s desire to reduce the tension. On Friday Khairat El-Shater, the Deputy President of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood wrote in the New York Times,

Despite our resentment of the continued appearance of productions like the anti-Muslim film that led to the current violence, we do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.

In a new democratic Egypt, Egyptians earned the right to voice their anger over such issues, and they expect their government to uphold and protect their right to do so. However, they should do so peacefully and within the bounds of the law.

The breach of the United States Embassy premises by Egyptian protesters is illegal under international law. The failure of the protecting police force has to be investigated.

We are relieved that no embassy staff in Cairo were harmed. Egypt is going through a state of revolutionary fluidity, and public anger needs to be dealt with responsibly and with caution. Our condolences to the American people for the loss of their ambassador and three members of the embassy staff in Libya.

We hope that the relationships that both Americans and Egyptians worked to build in the past couple of months can sustain the turbulence of this week’s events. Our nations have much to learn from each other as we embark on building the new Egypt.

Right he is. But who will the average Muslim on the street believe? And what about those prominent leaders who are willing to denounce the film that started all this but will not denounce the violence that has followed it? For all concerned, I hope the leaders who understand what’s at stake here – and manage to keep cool heads about it all – are able to win the day.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on September 15, 2012, in Islam, Politics, Religious Liberty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Hillary Clinton’s response to the Embassy Attacks.

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