Deadly attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi have led to the deaths of 3 embassy staffers and the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The 52 year old was killed by asphyxiation from smoke inhalation after an angry mob attacked the embassy with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The attack was in response to a film made in America that insults the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, an act that is very offensive to Muslims. The Libyan President apologized for the attacks on Wednesday.
The embassy in Cairo, Egypt was also attacked, with ultraconservative protesters taking down an American flag and raising a black Islamic flag in its place. No one was killed in Egypt, but it underscores the hostility that still plagues the region despite Democratic reforms in both countries. The Libyan attacks are extremely disturbing considering the US hand in freeing that country from former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. US efforts were instrumental in rebels successfully overthrowing the long time dictator.
The attacks have caused a bit of controversy on the political front in the US as well. Prior to the attacks, the US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning the anti-Islamic film. Once news of the attacks spread, Mitt Romney’s campaign issued a statement condemning the Obama administration for apologizing to the attackers. The embassy statement was not vetted by the White House, nor was it an apology to the attackers. President Obama later came out with his official statement, condemning the attacks.
Mitt Romney is playing a dangerous political game by playing hard and loose with the facts. Pundits have come out today hammering him for the statement, especially since it was made on the anniversary of 9/11. The campaigns had agreed to a truce on the day with no negative campaign comments, which Romney promptly broke last night. He is only furthering the image that he is not very knowledgeable on foreign policy.
Despite the spread of democracy in the middle east after the Arab Spring, these attacks prove that the region has still not embraced two critical freedoms that America and the West in general long ago adopted, and that is freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Islamic countries have a long way to go before they have caught up to the West in terms of freedom. Their religious sensitivity is still off the charts. These attacks were in response to a movie they didn’t like, one that was neither made nor endorsed by the US government. These brazen attacks were committed by criminals, and justice must be done, else we may need to rethink our allegiances in the area.