By Jack Jenkins
If you turned on the news anytime this past week, you were probably greeted with at least one of the following images: angry people shouting and burning American flags, an American pastor making snide remarks about Islam, or the charred, graffiti-covered remains of the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
The images, of course, documented the recent killing of Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and other American diplomats by militants, and the uproar in the Middle East over an allegedly American-made film mocking the Prophet Muhammad. In response, right-wing pundits were quick to weigh in with an old narrative: the social and religious differences of the West and the Middle East are insurmountable, and will inevitably lead to violence.
But you might not have seen this: hundreds of Libyan men, women and children assembled in the streets of Benghazi, holding up signs with slogans that read: “Thugs and Killers don’t represent Benghazi or Islam,” “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans,” and “Sorry People of America this not behavior of Islam or profit [sic].”
You also probably didn’t hear about the Coptic Christians who joined Muslims in expressing peaceful disapproval of the film, or an Israeli Rabbi who condemned both the film and the attacks on the American diplomats.
You didn’t see or read about these people because they weren’t considered “newsworthy” – explosions tend to capture national attention more than peaceful protests. But just because these events didn’t attract journalists doesn’t make their message any less important: in the midst of violence and anger, these faithful people represent the majority of Muslims, Christians, and Jews whose beliefs and voices are being held hostage by the hateful bellowing of an angry few.
In fact, the actual perpetrators on both sides of this tragic incident represent only a tiny minority of fringe activists and militants, not the norm.
The poorly-made film that sparked the protests in Egypt and violence in Libya, for instance, is completely unknown even within the United Sates, where it has only been shown once to a mostly-empty theatre in California. What’s more, the film’s alleged creator, Sam Bacile, is virtually unheard of, assuming he even exists.
In addition, anti-Islam activist and self-professed pastor Terry Jones, who raised the profile of the film by promoting it, has long been condemned by almost every American political and religious leader, including President Obama, Pat Robertson, and even current GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
Those who took the lives of U.S. diplomats are equally out-of-step with their country and their faith. A recent Gallup survey found that citizens of Libya, a 97 percent Muslim nation, expressed the highest approval rating of the U.S. ever recorded in the Middle East. In addition, the vast majority of those polled responded that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups — who are believed to be behind the attack on the U.S. Consulate — were a major threat to Libya’s future.
Even Egyptians, many of whom are deeply skeptical of the U.S., have so far stopped short of outright violence; The Egyptian government condemned the film and the attacks in Libya with equal fervor, and has urged protestors to use “self-restraint.”
The fringe status of provocateurs on either side of the conflict is also exposed by members of their own faiths: the Vatican, for example, called the film and actions like it “unjustified offense and provocations” against Islam, and Muslim scholars declared that attacking embassies is actually illegal under Islamic law.
Muslim-American organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic relations have also called on Muslims to simply ignore the “trashy” film, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, said the movie was “stupid” and strongly condemned the attacks on the House floor.
These are the voices that often go unheard, but are nonetheless representative of those caught in the international crossfire.
Countries and religious groups are bound to disagree — there is nothing new about that. But we must not let our nations, our foreign policies, and our faiths be dictated by an angry and vengeful minority. Our countries, and especially our faiths, are much bigger than that, large enough to navigate difference and disagreement with understanding, not violence.
Perhaps the words of the Qur’an, Surah al-Hujurat (49:13), are as poignant now as ever: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).”