NOTE: I’ve made several changes to this post from earlier this afternoon. Unlike professional journalists or media outlets I am not equipped to follow a breaking story like this throughout the day. Thus, some of the information in the original post was in need of qualification or correction. In particular, three points:

  • The attacks in Libya may have been preplanned and coordinated for the 9/11 anniversary. The YouTube video may be cover for the premeditated actions which were conceived well before the movie. We don’t know all the details yet.
  • Terry Jones involvement may be little more than a lurching for the spotlight after things began to escalate. This “pastor” should not be given more credit than he deserves.
  • It’s become clearer to me after I first published my post that the remarks from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo came before the attacks in Libya and before the full scale protests arose in Egypt. This puts the “cowardly” comments in a different light. Even if observers think they were too apologetic (which is probably why the White House didn’t want anything to do with them), they should be seen in their proper context. The previous iteration of this post was too quick to cast a harsh judgment, when a more judicious criticism (or saying nothing at all) was in order.

I’ve decided to keep the bulk of the post the same because I think the overarching points are still valid. The tensions between the West and radical Islam are worth commenting on. The big picture problem is not going away, but as a pastor I’m not in a good position to comment on all the specific issues in real time. Lesson learned.

******

What we are seeing unfold is terrible, uncalled for, and has to stop. All the way around.

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya along with three embassy staff were killed by al-Qaeda linked gunmen in a raid on the consulate building in Benghazi. Meanwhile, in neighboring Egypt thousands of protesters tore down an American flag, burned it, and raised a black Muslim flag in its place. Reportedly, the reason for this international upheaval is a video on YouTube which criticizes Islam and mocks the prophet Mohammad (though increasingly it seems the 9/11 anniversary may have more to do with the violence). The film was reportedly produced by an Israeli-American property developer and has been promoted by Florida pastor Terry Jones.

Everything about this ordeal is monumentally unfortunate and unnecessary.

Let’s start with Terry Jones. I wrote about him two years ago when he threatened to burn the Koran (a stunt he dropped and then later carried out). What I said then I’ll say again now: Jones’ actions are stupid and selfish. He puts American troops at risk, American dignitaries at risk, and American church workers around the world at risk. He certainly knows how to get attention. But he doesn’t seem to know how to make a difference for the good of the gospel, or even the good of his country. And as for the video, by all all accounts its depiction of Islam is unsophisticated, undignified, and unwise.

However insulting and detrimental Jones and others like him can be, however, the response of the gunmen in Libya is positively deplorable. To murder an ambassador over a YouTube video–or even over the pretense of a video–is wicked and evil. As I also pointed out two years ago, Muslim extremism cannot be laid at the feet of Western aggravation. No pastor or cartoonist or novelist is responsible for the outrage and violence carried out by some extremists Muslims and by terrorist-affiliated groups. Some may tempted to say, “Well, who can blame them when their prophet or holy book is desecrated.” But we can still blame them, and we ought to. Jesus is mocked in a thousand public ways every day in this country (and in most countries). This is wrong and deeply offensive to Christians. But it gives us no right to riot and threaten and murder. Every Christian should agree that killing people is not an acceptable response to religious offense. Every human being with a little common grace and a functioning conscience should agree with this principle. Muslims included.

This incident underscores one of the most significant challenges facing the Western world in our day. Will peoples who believe in free speech and freedom of religion sacrifice both when faced with the angry shouts and gunfire of those who don’t? As long as top ranking officials plead with crazy pastors every time they are itching to be annoying, the aggravating people among us will wield astronomically more power than they deserve. Citizens in this country have freedom of speech, which means they have the right to be annoying. Our authorities ought to protect that right, no matter whom they offend, including Muslims. No country can apologize (nor should they try to apologize) every time one or ten or three hundred of her citizens do something outrageous.

We don’t yet know all the details of who, what, and why. And, no doubt, we haven’t heard the last word on the matter from our government or our politicians. But we should not hesitate to restate and defend our first principles. In a democracy people are allowed to say and create things others don’t like. What they can’t do is perpetuate crimes that are deplorably wicked and violent. To act like the former offense is the real problem and not the latter is a foreign policy blunder, not to mention a moral one.

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Comments:


41 thoughts on “How to Think About the Embassy Violence”

  1. gary hendrix says:

    The unprincipled attempt to assuage the anger of militant extremists could become the occasion for curbing free speech in the USA, which some in power very much yearn to do.

  2. Ryan says:

    Firstly, the order of events is important. I’m not 100% sure about this, but from my understanding, the first statement by the embassy in Cairo was before any violence had broken out. This is important, because it would mean that there was no violence yet to condemn. Secondly, one of the significant responsibilities of the embassy is to ensure the safety of Americans in the country. One way to do that is to try to mitigate the outbreak of violence, which would certainly include condemning irresponsible and inflammatory actions, such as the YouTube video. I have no problem with the fact that the order of events (to my understanding) went:
    1) murmurs of potential outbreak of violence
    2) embassy releases statement condemning inflammatory and irresponsible video
    3) violence breaks out
    4) embassy and US government unambiguously and strongly condemn violence.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Kevin,

    I’m not sure which response of the embassy in Egypt you’re referring to, but if it’s this statement that says, in part:

    “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

    It’s important to note that this statement was released earlier in the day, after protesters began to gather in front of the Cairo Embassy. But this was before the attack in Benghazi, and before Egyptian protesters scaled the walls of the embassy in Cairo.

    More on the political chronology here, and a correction by Breitbart here.

  4. AC says:

    Kevin,
    I very much agree with your condemnation of unnecessary comments and demonstrations that selfishly and irresponsibly place others in danger while preserving free speech.

    One factor that is often ignored is that these violent crimes don’t exist in a vacuum restricted to “free speech people vs anti-free speech people”. The circumstances are complicated by the fact that American military intervention in the Middle East is as much or more offensive (not only for extremists, but also secularists) than incendiary remarks. I think you would agree that a statement like, “they hate us because we are free” is a woefully shallow understanding of violent extremism.

    I don’t mean this as a critique, but to highlight the complications of this scenario.

  5. Rick says:

    Free speech is already being curbed. When was the last time a TV show, an art exhibit or a major movie was done depicting Islam in an offensive manner? It happens every day with Christianity, but not with Islam. Those who produce such works know that many in Islam wish to “behead those who insult the prophet”, so they self-censor. Self-censorship becomes political correctness and then enforced censorship. Someone once said the Islam is the ‘religion of the perpetually aggrieved”. No amount of tolerance and understanding from the West will satisfy them. Apart from the Holy Spirit redeeming their hearts, this will never change.

  6. It’s an Muslim problem. Islam is inherently hostile to freedom. Christianity is the foundation for it.

  7. Tim says:

    I’m not saying everyone who has made an offensive depiction of Mohammed was right to do so, but I hope that a lot more people do it. Not because I find Muslim jokes to be particularly funny, but this is about a lot more than whether or not we can make jokes about Muslims. If Muslims can declare themselves above public reproach and say you cannot make depictions of Mohammed, it will not end there. If I thought we could just say don’t make offensive depictions of Mohammed and it would end there, I’d be ok with that, but it will not end there.

  8. Neo says:

    There is something troubling and unsettling of this happening right at the 9/11 anniversary, and also right at a timeframe when the president has been very quiet about the Chicago teachers strike. Oh there I go sounding all conspiracy-theorist again…

  9. Ron says:

    Have to agree with Ryan, it’s all about the order of events. Certainly an apology from our state department after the violence in Benghazi would effectively be justifying the actions of the extremist. If the order is reversed, then the actions of a diplomatic office to condemn a video that was inflammatory to the people they are sent to work among would be reasonable.

    I have to add, I am surprised to see the political overtones in this post. Perhaps I have not been reading long enough, but I have never noticed the straying from gospel emphasis to the role of secular government like this. I hope its not the start of something.

    I appreciated AC’s comments as well. This stuff is much more complicated than “they hate us because we’re free”.

  10. Juan says:

    Anyone who truly believes in the cause of offending Muslims in the name of feee speech and religious tolerance, should go over to a Muslim nation and insult Muslims all they want over there.

    It’s very easy to offend others when other people have to pay the price for your actions.

  11. MBrown says:

    Worth noting that it appears that the attacks were planned before the protests about the movie, and the movie protests were used as a pretext for the attack and a diversion during the attack.

  12. Andrew says:

    Thanks for this blog Pastor Kevin! Only thing, “deplorable” in your title is misspelled. I thought you may wish to correct this.

  13. Ryan says:

    I don’t want to make this partisan. But it is important to also note that the foreign policy community is *fairly* united in their condemnation of Romney’s response, including a number of Republicans:

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/foreign-policy-hands-voice-disbelief-at-romney-cai

  14. Laurette says:

    Not to diminish the seriousness of the situation or to criticise the response to it, but I have to chuckle at how a post titled “Stupid, Deplorable, and Cowardly” follows “The Pastor as Peacemaker”. :P

    That is all. Please continue.

  15. Tyler says:

    Ryan and Jonathan are making some important points that make this post seem very reactionary.

    The statements you’re so upset about appeared to have been issued *prior to* any violence taking place.

    Which means that any critique that you have about them (Stupid, deplorable, and cowardly) must fit into this framework. Is it stupid, deplorable, and cowardly to condemn hate speech in any form? Is it stupid, deplorable, and cowardly to attempt to maintain peace in a troubled region by going on record discouraging bigotry and hatefulness?

    Assuming the comments did take place prior to the attack (and several sources [including this one: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/09/12/us/politics/libya-statements.html seem to suggest that it did) than your blog is due for a retraction. Probably an apology.

    Instead, you include this: “It’s also worth noting, as a few commenters did, that the Cairo embassy’s weak-kneed response was issued prior to the killings in Libya.”

    Which to me suggests that you don’t particularly care whether or not it happened before OR after the violent attacks, you’re just against the statement as it stands. Here is the statement in full:

    “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

    This response is weak-kneed? Would you prefer rampant mocking of all religious faiths? Or just ones that aren’t Christian.

    Your initial response was reactionary and unhelpful, even if it had been true. Which it wasn’t. Your “update” was even worse, as it acknowledges that you might have been wrong, and yet still condemns the response as weak-kneed. This is shameful.

  16. jigawatt says:

    I never would have heard about the movie if it weren’t for the attacks. I guess the attackers aren’t familiar with the Streisand Effect.

  17. Jay says:

    While one can disagree with the direction taken with the State Department comments, I think calling them “cowardly” and “weak-kneed” is not warranted, at least without providing some support for why you think that is the case. To me, they may seem cowardly from my desk in the United States, but for a diplomatic embassy working to represent US interests to a country which is rebuilding its government after years of dictatorship, can it categorically be said it is wrong to choose tactful words?

    For the record, here is the statement issued prior to the attacks taking place:
    The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

  18. Mark says:

    I think a retraction is in order, Kevin. You clearly let your political leanings get you ahead of the facts. And no matter what the facts, this is no time for political point scoring. Let’s honor the people who are the tragic victims of this attack, condemn the murders, and leave the politics and history writing for another day.

  19. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the revisions, Kevin. This is an incredibly bizarre and complicated situation, and you’re far from the only one to have to revise, retract, or correct in these last couple days.

    Stranger than fiction, and sadder too.

  20. Greg says:

    I appreciate the humility and honesty you display in your writing, Mr. DeYoung, particularly in that you are willing to acknowledge when you may have spoken in haste. Your frank attitude about the truths of Scripture in general is also refreshing.

  21. Matt says:

    How exactly does this statement issued by the US embassy in Egypt “act like the former offense is the real problem”?

    “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

    It is biblically and morally wrong to intentionally try to hurt or offend the religious feelings of anyone. To imply that this statement is a moral “blunder” or in any way cuts back on free speech in the United States is nonsense.

  22. student says:

    Is Terry Jones a Christian? If so, that would be news to many people.

  23. Theo K says:

    “It is biblically and morally wrong to intentionally try to hurt or offend the religious feelings of anyone.”

    No, not when these ‘religious feelings’ are false and antichristian. It is always biblically right to expose satanic religions for exactly what they are: satanic.

  24. Phil says:

    While I appreciate the “NOTE” that proceeds the blog post now, I find the last two paragraphs dripping with political overtones that are inappropriate.

    Indeed, the last sentence of the post is simply wrong, insofar as NO ONE is “acting like the former offense (i.e. saying and creating things others dont like) is the real problem and not the latter [offense] (i.e. perpetuating crimes that are deplorable and wicked).”

    Indeed, to state boldly that people (here, our current politicians) are engaging in “moral blunders” by getting the “real problem” wrong, is actually pretty offensive, seeing as how no one is doing what you are accusing them of.

  25. melody says:

    Phil I find your post offensive but I don’t matter.

  26. melody says:

    This situation appears to be of the same type with the disabled Christian girl. A Muslim burned the Koran and planted it. The person that made this video was not an American Israeli at all.

    It is all an excuse for violence against people.

  27. Phil says:

    Melody,

    Ok…you seem to be asserting that anyone can take “offense” at anything (and thus somehow I don’t have a valid point). So let’s try another word. How about “shameful” ?

    It is “shameful” to knowingly assert that someone is engaged in morally wrong actions when they are not, in fact, doing so?

    And “shameful” when you append a “NOTE” to your blog post that doesn’t fix the problem, but instead perpetuates it?

  28. Jay says:

    You clearly let your political leanings get you ahead of the facts.

    Exactly.

  29. Andy says:

    Your posed question, “Will peoples who believe in free speech and freedom of religion sacrifice both when faced with the angry shouts and gunfire of those who don’t?” hits right on.

    As things continue to unfold, I was caught by perhaps the most absurd development of the entire thing: Arab Israeli Muslims protesting (be it peacefully) outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, objecting to the very principle of free speech that entitles them to assemble in protest!

    While Muslim countries generally do not value or protect free speech like the US does, Israel is different. Thus, the Muslim minority in Israel has free speech and constantly says things which are extremely offensive to the Jewish majority. While Israel could, theoretically, revoke Israeli Muslim’s right to free speech as is done to non-Muslims in Muslim countries, they do not. AND YET, Israeli Muslims gather to protest free speech. This is absurd.

  30. Phil says:

    Andy,

    I don’t follow. The Israeli Muslims are gathering to protest the content of someone else’s “free speech.” They aren’t there to protest free speech itself.

    Or are you (somehow) asserting that the mere fact that you can gather to protest the content of someone else’s free speech means that you should never gather to protest the content of someone else’s free speech? THAT seems absurd.

  31. Andy says:

    Phil,

    You would be correct if the protest was against the content of the others “free speech”. (With Kevin, I also protest the content in this case that was just crude.) However, that was not the case. The protest was against the US for permitting such free speech. One protester’s sign read, “Freedom of speech ≠ insulting prophet Muhammad”. Freedom of speech does not equal insulting Muhammad, but it sure includes it. It is, after all, FREE speech.

    See the JPost article (with video in which the protest spokesman speaks) here: http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=284994

  32. Phil says:

    Andy,

    I think your interpretation of why they are protesting is highly debatable. First, if you read the article you linked to, it seems to clearly state that the protesters are there to protest the film, and U.S. policy in the Middle East. There is no indication that they are specifically protesting the U.S.’s failure to stop the film.

    Now, if you watch the video, it is a best ambiguous that the protesters believe that it is the proper role of the U.S. government to prevent the film. Again, it seems to be more of an opportunity to protest the U.S. government’s role in the Middle East, along with some accusations that it is the USA’s attitude toward the middle east that allowed the film to happen.

    Moreover, even if you are 100% correct, and they are there solely to protest the U.S. Government’s failure to censor the film (which they clearly aren’t doing–it is more complicated than that), it still isn’t obvious to me that their actions are inherently absurd, as it is not merely Israel’s commitment to U.S.-style free speech that allows them to protest in the first place. Nor is this the same commitment to U.S.-style free speech that allows the producers of the film to make the film.

    It is certainly possible to believe that speech should have different levels of “freedom” depending upon what the speech is about. (And, actually, we do this to. We don’t have “pure” free speech in this country. For example, you cannot threaten the President. You cannot shout fire in a crowded theater. Many people think you should NOT be free to burn the flag as part of a protest. Indeed, the parallel between those who think free speech should not involve burning the flag and those who believe free speech should not involve critizing Mohammad seems fairly strong to me.)

    In this regard, there is nothing inherently self-contradictory about believing that speech should be free in some areas (say, with regard to politics), and believing that speech should not be free in other areas (say, with regard to certain (even “sacred”) things–like the flag or Mohammad). Now this is not U.S.-style free speech, but I don’t think there is anything inherently contradictory about it. (Even though I may disagree with it).

  33. Andy says:

    Phil,

    The absurdity of the protest of the 50 Israeli Muslims that stood outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv today can be seen in giving an example of a protest that I could hypothetically do that is on par with their thinking. In the same line of logic, I could protest the fact that Israel or the US or Saudi Arabia does not ban the printing of the Quran on the basis that Muhammed defames Jesus by denying his claim to be Son of God and rewriting history to say that he did not die on the Cross, a fact which Jesus himself stated to be his primary purpose in coming and which was the most painful and loving act in history. Muhammed defames Jesus to the utmost in his “free speech” recorded in the Quran and so I could theoretically demand that Saudi burn all Qurans.

    But I do not, because that is not the New Covenant blueprint laid out for us, and has been demonstrated to be foolish in enough “Christian” history of the last 2000 years. True that threatening someone’s life or screaming “fire” in a crowded theatre are restrictions on the physical act of free speech, but not on its principle. They are clearly in a different category. Saying that you cannot be allowed to express contempt for my prophet is absurd.

  34. melody says:

    And you all ignore that God said Ishmael would be a donkey of a man. How would you propose getting along with people that cannot be reasoned with? They do not get along with each other. Without the Holy Spirit there is no hope of peace with them so it is silly to argue about it.

  35. Paul ST Jean says:

    melody
    I like the sound of that, I always thought we cannot reason with unreasonable people. We have them in this country. Ignoring the problem will not work either.
    Give them Grace is all we can do, (I am speaking in a personal way not as a government) Governments have the responsibility to protect us from other groups who want to do harm. Our government needs to use every means necessary to keep the enemy at bay and protect every citizen, including those not in the mainstream. Of course we have this freedom to be responsible.
    We need to respect other people as we proclaim the gospel. Proclaimation is our responsibility as a christian, not bashing other religions.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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