In the wake of the tragic attacks in Libya, people of good will around the world have to ask ourselves how we are going to handle ourselves during this delicate moment in human history.
It is time for people from every nation to take responsibility for our actions and interactions with people of other cultures and religions, and do our own part to proceed with respect whenever possible, and to disagree without being disagreeable.
Unfortunately, Sam Bacile made a film meant to denigrate Islam and he succeeded. And, unfortunately, his success is a setback for the world. (Update: the identity of Sam Bacile is uncertain at this point. He may be a fabrication. Will update as we find out more)
I have only seen the trailer for the film facetiously titled "Innocence of Muslims." However the AP described it this way:
The film claims Muhammad was a fraud. The 14-minute trailer of the movie that reportedly set off the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons.
Once the trailer was seen in the Muslim world, a violent, fringe mob in Libya attacked and killed the U.S. Ambassador. Reuters described the scene this way:
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats were killed as they rushed away from a consulate building in Benghazi, stormed by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for the film that they said mocked the Prophet of Islam.
(UPDATE: AP is reporting that the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya may have been premeditated and used the protests as cover for the killings. The attack on the Cairo embassy is unaffected by this update.)
The Associated Press reported that Bacile believes his movie will help his native land of Israel by exposing Islam's flaws to the world: "Islam is a cancer, period."
No, Mr. Bacile, Islam is not a cancer, and Muslims are not evil. And your assessment of Islam and Muslims is un-American.
In this country we embrace the idea of a religiously pluralistic society that welcomes people of all faith traditions and American Muslims are an important part of our democracy. And American Muslims are standing up for American values. Since the attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo and Libya the Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison and every major American Muslim organization has condemned the attacks.
It is well known that within the Muslim world there are extremists and fanatics who can be provoked and incited by irresponsible media and self-serving religious leaders. We have seen this before. Terry Jones burns the Quran and the results were riots in Afganistan and the loss of more life.
This is not excusing the deadly response to the film -- it is inexcusable. Violent reactions to any kind of art or thought, no matter how lame, are disgusting and unacceptable in decent society.
Yet creating a film such as "Innocence of Muslims" is akin to shouting fire in the movie theatre. Sam Bacile and his Islamohating cohorts appear to have created a symbiotic relationship with the violent Muslim extremists -- each give the other a sense of self-righteousness and victimhood with a perfect circle of destruction.
Bacile and his film are part of the problem, not the solution. His actions have put America and Americans in danger, and his film should be condemned for its bigotry and irresponsibility.
Fortunately, most Americans have done just that. As President Obama said in his statement on the Libyan attacks:
While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
And Rabbi Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism condemned the attacks and added:
I also stand here today to condemn the video that apparently spurred these incidents. It was clearly crafted to provoke, to offend, and to evoke outrage. The denigration of religion and religious figures and the intentional framing of religious texts and tenets in this manner must likewise be condemned.
These are precarious times. We have to make extra effort to reach across divides and try to work with others, even when we do not agree with them. We cannot be identified with the most extreme positions of our nations or religions.
As Rabbi Saperstein said in a press conference today: "Small violent groups of extremists, no matter their religious identity, cannot be allowed to define their religions or nations."
It is up to those of us who know that there are good people of every faith tradition to rise above the goading and violence and attempt the much harder work of building bridges that unite rather than bombs that destroy.
Follow Paul Brandeis Raushenbush on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raushenbush