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The tragic consulate killings in Libya and America’s hierarchy of human life


(h/t: Saladin aka Big Boss)

The tragic consulate killings in Libya and America’s hierarchy of human life

by Glenn Greenwald (Guardian UK)

Protesters attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Tuesday night and killed four Americans, including the US ambassador, Chris Stevens. The attacks were triggered by rage over an amateurish and deeply hateful film about Islam that depicted the Prophet Muhammad as, among other things, a child molester advocate, a bloodthirsty goon, a bumbling idiot, and a promiscuous, philandering leech. A 13-minute trailer was uploaded to YouTube and then quickly circulated in the Muslim world, sparking widespread anger (the US embassy in Cairo was also attacked).

The anti-Islam film was written, directed and produced by an Israeli real estate developer living in California, Sam Bacile. He claimed, in an interview with Haaretz, that the film “cost $5m to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors”. Its purpose, as described by the Israeli newspaper, was to show that “Islam is a cancer” and to provide a “provocative political statement condemning the religion”. It’s hard to believe that the film – which is barely at the level of a poorly rehearsed high-school play – required $5m to make, but the intent seems clear: to provoke Muslims into exactly the sort of violent rage that we are now witnessing.

Events like this one are difficult to write about when they first happen because the raw emotion they produce often makes rational discussion impossible. A script quickly emerges from which All Decent People must recite, and any deviations are quickly detected and denounced. But given the magnitude of this event and the important points it raises, it is nonetheless worthwhile to examine it:

1) The deaths of Ambassador Stevens, a former Peace Corps volunteer and a dedicated Arabic-speaking career diplomat, and the other three American staff, are both a tragedy and a senseless outrage. Indiscriminately murdering people over a film, no matter how offensive it is, is an unmitigated wrong. The blame lies fully and completely with those who committed these murders.

2) Sam Bacile and his cowardly anonymous donors are repellent cretins for producing this bottom-feeding, bigoted, hateful “film” that has no apparent purpose but to spread anti-Islamic hatred and provoke violent reactions. But just as was true of the Qur’an burnings by Pastor Terry Jones (who, unsurprisingly, has a prominent role in promoting this film), or the Danish Muhammad cartoons before that, it is – and it should be – an absolute, unfettered free speech right to produce films no matter how offensive their content might be.

The US has steadily eroded free speech rights in the name of fighting terrorism by criminalizing pure political speech it deems dangerous and prosecuting Muslims who express those prohibited ideas. Attempts to constrain the rights of individuals to produce anti-Muslim films like the trash produced by Bacile and friends are just as dangerous and wrong as all other efforts to constrain free speech. Free speech is a vital liberty – arguably, the central one – and what it means, at its core, is that the right to express even the most repellent and inflammatory ideas is just as inviolable as the right to express inoffensive or conventional ones.

3) It is hard not to notice, and be disturbed by, the vastly different reactions whenever innocent Americans are killed, as opposed to when Americans are doing the killing of innocents. All the rage and denunciations of these murders in Benghazi are fully justified, but one wishes that even a fraction of that rage would be expressed when the US kills innocent men, women and children in the Muslim world, as it frequently does. Typically, though, those deaths are ignored, or at best justified with amoral bureaucratic phrases (“collateral damage”) or self-justifying cliches (“war is hell”), which Americans have been trained to recite.

It is understandable that the senseless killing of an ambassador is bigger news than the senseless killing of an unknown, obscure Yemeni or Pakistani child. But it’s anything but understandable to regard the former as more tragic than the latter. Yet there’s no denying that the same people today most vocally condemning the Benghazi killings are quick and eager to find justification when the killing of innocents is done by their government, rather than aimed at it.

It’s as though there are two types of crimes: killing, and then the killing of Americans. The way in which that latter phrase is so often invoked, with such intensity, emotion and scorn, reveals that it is viewed as the supreme crime: this is not just the tragic deaths of individuals, but a blow against the Empire; it therefore sparks particular offense. It is redolent of those in conquered lands being told they will be severely punished because they have raised their hand against a citizen of Rome.

Just compare the way in which the deaths of Americans on 9/11, even more than a decade later, are commemorated with borderline religious solemnity, as opposed to the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of foreign Muslims caused by the US, which are barely ever acknowledged. There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.

This is a vital process for enabling and justifying endless aggression. It is a way of dehumanizing those who are killed by the US while venerating American lives above all others. As the media watchdog group Media Lens put it today:

“A crucial task is to perceive how our compassion is channeled towards some and away from others. It’s the foundation of all mass violence.”

The death of Ambassador Stevens and the three Americans who died with him is as tragic as the constant killing of innocent people by the US, but not more so.

4) The two political parties in the US wasted no time in displaying their vulgar attributes by rushing to squeeze these events for political gain. Democratic partisans immediately announced that “exploiting US deaths” – by which they mean criticizing President Obama – “is ugly, unwise”.

That standard is as ludicrous as it is hypocritical. Democrats routinely “exploited US deaths” – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and from 9/11 – in order to attack President Bush and the Republican party, and they were perfectly within their rights to do so. When bad things happen involving US foreign policy, it is perfectly legitimate to speak out against the president and to identify his actions or inaction that one believes are to blame for those outcomes. These are political events, and they are inherently and necessarily “politicized”.

It’s one thing to object to specific criticisms of Obama here as illegitimate and ugly, as some of those criticisms undoubtedly were (see below). But trying to impose some sort of general prohibition on criticizing Obama – on the ground that Americans have died and this is a crisis – smacks of the worst debate-suppressing tactics of the GOP circa 2003. (To his credit, one of the Democrats making those claims today subsequently acknowledged his error and wrote: “Obviously there’s nothing wrong with criticizing the president, even during a crisis.”)

But in this case, what the GOP and Mitt Romney did is substantially worse. As the attacks unfolded, Romney quickly issued a statement, based on the response of the US embassy in Egypt, accusing Obama of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks” (the Obama White House repudiated the statement from the embassy in Cairo). The chairman of the GOP, Reince Preibus, unloaded on the world this disgusting tweet: “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic”.

These accusations were all pure fiction and self-evidently ugly; they prompted incredulous condemnations even from media figures who pride themselves on their own neutrality.

But this is the story of the GOP. Faced with a president whose record is inept and horrible in many key respects, they somehow find a way to be even more inept and horrible themselves. Here, they had a real political opportunity to attack Obama – if US diplomats are killed and embassies stormed, it makes the president appear weak and ineffectual – but they are so drowning in their own blinding extremism and hate-driven bile, so wedded to their tired and moronic political attacks (unpatriotic Democrats love America’s Muslim enemies!), that they cannot avoid instantly self-destructing. Within a matter of hours, they managed to turn a politically dangerous situation for Obama into yet more evidence of their unhinged, undisciplined radicalism.

5) Drawing conclusions about Libya, and the US intervention there, from this situation would be unfair and far too premature. This does, however, highlight the rampant violence, lawlessness, militia thuggery, and general instability that has plagued that country since Gadaffi’s removal from power. Moreover, given all the questions, largely ignored, about who it was exactly whom the US was arming and empowering in that country during the intervention, and what the unexpected consequences of doing that might be, it is vital to know how the attackers came into possession of rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry.

This event also serves as a crucial reminder, yet again, that merely removing a heinous dictator is not proof that the intervention was successful, just or worthwhile. To assess that question, one must know what will follow in that country, for its people, once the intervening powers have removed the government. Declarations of victory and vindication over the intervention in Libya have always been premature, self-serving and baseless – precisely because that crucial fact is yet unknown. We can only hope that Tuesday’s events do not presage a depressing answer to that question.

In sum, one should by all means condemn and mourn the tragic deaths of these Americans in Benghazi. But the deaths would not be in vain if they caused us to pause and reflect much more than we normally do on the impact of the deaths of innocents which America itself routinely causes.

UPDATE: There are two developments in this story which, though they do not affect any of the observations I made, should be noted as they are at odds with some of the earlier reports: (1) although the Haaretz report was (and remains) quite definitive that the filmmaker is an Israeli named Sam Bacile, doubts have now been raised about the identity of the actual filmmaker, and (2) an anonymous US official claims that the attack was preplanned to coincide with 9/11, and the attackers exploited the protests over the film as a diversion. Neither of those claims is proven.

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  • NorskeDiv

    Ontop of that, the comparison between Jubair Ahmed and the KKK is fallacious. The KKK in Brandenburg v. Ohio advocated hate speech, racism and a march on Washington – not the violent killing of people. If Jubair Ahmed had restricted himself to virulent hatred of America and Jews, he would have been fine. By attending a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp and posting videos encouraging violent action he crossed the line into direct incitement to violence against America. Such speech is not protected in any country, anywhere.

  • NorskeDiv

    Actually there is a major difference between the killing of civilians and the killing of the ambassador. First of all, an ambassador is a person afforded special protections above and beyond a normal civilian, on that count alone his killing is more egregious. If you don’t like that face, take it up with all the countries who signed on to the Vienna convention, including Libya and most other Islamic countries.

    Secondly, there is a difference between intentionally killing a non-combatant, as happened in the case of some enlisted US military personal who were rightfully charged as criminals, and the accidental killing as a result of a war to contain a brutal aggressive fascist movement such as the Taliban. In a simple human sense, it makes no difference, they are dead either way, but the rules of war do indeed differentiate. For example, the civilians killed by terrorists in Iraq were mostly the target of those killings, far outnumbering even the accidental killing of civilians by the US military. I opposed the invasion of Iraq, but the breakdown of responsibility for deaths is simply factual.

    Thirdly, you are asking people to treat the lives of foreigners of a different culture and language as equal to those of compatriates. That’s a nice idea, but equivalent to pissing in the wind. Furthermore, a good place for Muslims to start on this idea would be in their own community – encouraging all Muslims to treat the lives of Shi’a and Coptic Christians as equal, instead of standing aside as they did when thousands of Hazra Afghans suffered Genocide at the hands of the Taliban in the 1990s.

    And if you deign to use google translate, you will find plenty of Islamic forums where people wish the deaths of all Christians and Jews. If you look through MEMRI’s archives you can find prominent Muslims doing the same.

  • Franczeska

    @”livingengine”: Put the brakes on and get yourself an overhaul. Nobody here hates America.

  • NurAlia

    Awsome…you are awsome.

    Actually, the Benghazi incident was a planned an purposeful attack directed by militants against the Consolate, as described by witnesses and recorded in the Guardian (newsource) and the non English papers I read.

    Witnesses sayed that ‘there was NO PROTEST OF ANY KIND’, but did say that 4 vehicles bashed in a gate in the consolate complex, and men began shooting at ramdom, killing also 10 Libyan citizens inside this compound. They attacked one particular building, (translated to something like a cafeteria) seized it, and then launched RPG’s at the building that caught fire where the 4 people who were murdered were trapped. Witnesses said this incident went on, exchanging gunfire between the attackers, the security of the complex, and the Benghazi police brigade for about 2 hours.

    What Mr Romney responded to, and combined the incident in Cairo Egypt with the attack in Benghazi was a plea from someone (no one knows the capacity of the person who ‘tweeted’ the message) trapped in the American Embassy in Cairo, condemning the movie and asking for tolarance…in possibly a desperate attempt to calm the situation and save thier lives from the savage mob outside.

    The only link between the two incidences is…Mr Romney’s responce, and the western media using Mr Romney’s responce as an attack on President Obama.

  • livingengine

    Loonwatch never takes a day off from hating America. Cowardly garbage.

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  • Nice Person

    Sometimes you have to wonder:

    Do you blame the fire that caused the destruction, or the spark that caused the fire? Which has the most responsibility towards the destruction?

  • Awesome

    Given how quickly Mitt Romney responded to this incident, it is almost certain that he knew something was going to happen beforehand. Therefore, it was either orchestrated by him and/or elements within his party to give him more leverage against Obama, or he was simply privy to the information, and decided to exploit it for his advantage. In either case, he’d still be an evil, opportunistic scumbag.

  • Lexus

    This is horribly sad and uncalled for…. I question why anti-Islamic instigators do their very best to push people over the edge to commit horrible acts such as this. Constantly on message boards and jihad watch type web sites, you see “Islam is evil” or “Muslims should be nuked” etc and it more and more common place to proceed unfettered with these hateful views open in the public. I have yet to see ONE web site where muslims are posting let’s kill all Christians or let’s eliminate all Jews. If I went on CNN’s message boards and posted something stupid like that, I would be banned from ever posting there again. If I posted the same thing about muslims… I would get numerous “thumbs up” and follow up postings agreeing with me.

    Violence goes both ways whether it be this horrible bombing or the Sihk temple shooting rampage.. It’s time to hold the Pam Gellar of the work responsible for these violent acts just so they are able to line their pockets with money from all this hysteria they are creating

  • mindy1

    This whole thing is so sad :'(

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