I’ve held off on commenting on the events this week in Egypt, Libya, and at other embassies and US missions overseas, partly to get my thoughts in order, and partly to prevent myself from ranting nonsensically. But this is my blog, and therefore my soapbox, so I’m climbing up. I’ll reiterate my disclaimer here, which is that anything expressed in this blog is my opinion and mine alone, I do not speak for the State Department or any other part of the government. Also, if you disagree, feel free to share your views, as I enjoy healthy debate, or stop reading because that’s also under your control.
First off, I think the events of this week, the protests in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and especially the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and security personnel Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty are a true tragedy. These men were helping Libya rebuild, and lost their lives when those they were there to help reacted violently to the actions of other Americans half a world away, who were exercising their constitutionally protected rights. This is not the first instance of Americans safe and warm in their comfortable US homes, making statements (verbal or though their actions) that have caused violence on the other side of the world, and cost people their lives.
The other element for me is that this happened on September 11th. We all have our 9/11 story, it is one of those days we will all always remember. I think we often feel that if there is another attack, symbolically timed to fall on the anniversary of 9/11, it will be another large scale attack, like the one 11 years ago. But the events this week feel different. Because it wasn’t just one isolated protest, it has turned into a series of protests, not just against the US, but at our embassies overseas, the piece of America that is reaching out to build relations with other countries. It feels like a slap in the face. And even though I’ve not yet joined the Foreign Service, I feel like I’ve joined that community through what I’ve read in others’ blogs, through the stories shared in the Yahoo! groups, and through conversations I’ve had with current FSO who have been so encouraging to me joining their ranks. That being said, I take these protests and attacks on our embassies personally. And I’m not deterred from this career path, I don’t question it; on the contrary, I’m ready to get out there now. And from what I’ve read, others feel the same way.
On the other side, I am disappointed in those who chose to make the movie that set off these protests. And I’m disappointed in those who promote it. I fully respect their right to free speech, and to express themselves. But I think that common sense, and more than that a sense of decency and civility dictates that we consider the ramification of our actions. Just because you can say or do something doesn’t mean you should. The folks who wanted to make this movie and express their views, that’s fine. They wanted to make it and they did. It was posting the trailer to YouTube that I question. The Internet is still a novel invention in the grand scheme of things. We are still figuring out how our laws apply to it. Privacy, free speech — how these are affected by a world wide web is something our founding fathers could never have even imagined when they declared these fundamental civil liberties. I wonder if they would have considered these rights so inherent if they knew what we know now.
Okay, with that, I’m getting off my soapbox. That did get a little more rambly than I intended, so I apologize for that. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me, I’m not advocating censorship nor am I condoning the actions of the filmmakers, or the protesters at the embassies. I just feel a general frustration at what is going on, compounded by the fact that it happened on 9/11, and hurt the foreign service community. I’ll end with a quote and a link.
The quote I’ve thought of a number of times in the past couple years when the actions or statements of Americans who themselves hold fringe beliefs have caused uproar and violence overseas; I’ll credit Stan Lee’s Uncle Ben character in Spiderman because that’s more my speed than actually quoting FDR: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The link is to the blog of a foreign service officer who served with Ambassador Stevens and knew him personally, and shared her memory of serving with him.