Peace, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness. All religions and faiths are based on these basic moral standards. When I heard yesterday and today about some self-proclaimed religious groups in Libya and in Egypt attacking the embassies of the United States in response to an amateur film made by some bigots somewhere in the U.S., I find myself wondering what basic moral standards their faith is based on. I find myself perplexed that their acts of violence, encouraged by small-mindedness, are carried out in the name of peace, tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness.
Leaders in Egypt and Libya are at a very defining moment. They must come out aggressively against these attacks and use this as an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to democracy and freedom.
In Egypt, President Morsi, who has been shockingly silent so far, must seize this moment to solidify his declared allegiance to democracy and rights of all peoples, and to send a signal to peoples all around the world that the values of a nation are its greatest strength. It is clear among many that U.S. policy in the region has not historically been on the side of the people, and the U.S. itself has failed to uphold its own values of freedom and democracy in many of those policies. Some argue that the U.S. is on the wrong side of history in the region, others argue that it is trying to use the opportunity provided by the Arab Spring to realign its policies to be on the right side of history. Regardless of this debate, and despite any bad policies, there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for the murders in Benghazi and the violent protests in Cairo.
What baffles me the most, however, is how these violent protests were not even about U.S. foreign policy in the region! These events were about what a few ignorant filmmakers in America said about Islam, and the reaction was to murder the U.S. ambassador in Libya and scale the embassy walls in Cairo. This shows how this is really about what a free and democratic society should look like.
Just as the intolerant in America blame all Muslims for the violent acts of a few crazy people, the intolerant in Egypt and Libya blame the United States as a whole for the non-violent but hateful acts of a few crazy people. There will always be intolerant people at any given time or place, but the key to having a free and democratic society is recognizing that everyone has a right to their own views regardless of how crazy or hateful they may be (see An Egyptian Society). In the more experienced and established democracies of Western countries that have Christian majorities, there are countless examples of anti-Christian and anti-Jesus rhetoric that is hateful and that many are offended by, but there is a system in place to protect the security of all citizens, and a cultural understanding that each person has the right to their own beliefs.
This is not about religion either. Religions around the world are rooted in a universal morality. Some Sheikhs and Rabbis in the Middle East preach basic moral standards to end the vicious cycle of bitterness, resentment, and ignorance between their two respective groups. Some Nuns in the West work in prisons to reach out to the souls of individuals who had committed horrible crimes. Many Monks in the East seek true enlightenment and full comprehension of situations that surround them, elevating them above the frictions of life that many succumb to.
Peace, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness. None of these values I see in the acts of the few people who claim to act in the name of such values. Egyptian and Libyan leaders must recognize the significance of these events, because it is about more than policy – it is about what their countries stand for.