The killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya is unconscionable.

The blame for the murders falls squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators. It’s unclear to what extent reaction to the anti-Muslim movie was behind this attack, but I saw a couple of minutes of the trailer (the New York Times has linked to it) and the film seems to be painfully bad (with actors in brownface!), as well as a deliberate insult to Islam. Even then, so what?

Ironically, if the assailants in Benghazi were taking revenge against the movie, they were acting contrary to the very traditions of the religion they were claiming to defend. Forgiveness is a prized virtue in Islam, especially when Muslims are angry. The Prophet Muhammad, when he reentered Mecca, a hallowed event in Islam, set an example by declaring the whole of the city a sanctuary: “There is no censure from me today on you (for what happened is done with), may God, who is the greatest amongst forgivers, forgive you.” He is also said to have stated, “God fills with peace and faith the heart of one who swallows his anger, even though he is in a position to give vent to it.”

A related prized quality in Islam is mercy: God is “the most merciful of the merciful ones,” states the Qur’an. [7:151] “He is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” [39:53]

“Muslims are commanded to exercise self-restraint as much as possible,” states Abdullah Yusuf Ali, author of a respected translation of the Qur’an. “Force is a dangerous weapon. It may have to be used for self-defense or self-preservation, but we must always remember that self-restraint is pleasing in the eyes of God.”

By ignoring such precepts, the Benghazi attackers—if indeed engaging in retribution for the anti-Islam film—committed an outrageous act that has given worldwide fame to a little-known amateurish project.

Professor Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East, provides some political context.

“The victory in the Libyan elections of nationalist rather than fundamentalist forces, and the rise to power in Egypt of the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood has marginalized the militant strain of Muslim activism,” he writes on his Informed Comment website. “One way the fundamentalist vigilantes can hope to combat their marginalization and political irrelevance in the wake of the Arab Spring is to manufacture a controversy that forces people to side with them.”

As Cole points out, the crowds in Libya and Egypt demonstrating against the United States were quite tiny, indicating their lack of popular support.

Professor Marc Lynch, author of a new book on the Arab Spring, similarly warns Americans not to generalize: “We should have learned after 9/11 to not let actions of small radical fringe shape our view of entire societies. Have we?”

The Obama Administration has thankfully not fallen into this trap, with both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasizing that Libyans helped defend the Benghazi consulate and aided in transporting Americans to a nearby hospital. And prominent Muslims here such as Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, and Eboo Patel, head of the Interfaith Youth Core, have condemned the murders, showing that the worldview of the attackers has little resonance among Muslims in this part of the world.

Fortunately, even some Republicans are warning Americans not to paint with a broad brush.

“Despite this horrific attack, we cannot give in to the temptation to believe that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (along with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman) said in a joint statement. “We cannot resign ourselves to the false belief that the Arab Spring is doomed to be defined not by the desire for democracy and freedom that has inspired millions of people to peaceful action, but by the dark fanaticism of terrorists.”

Had Mitt Romney issued such a sensible statement, he wouldn’t be in hot water right now.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Rock Star and Activist Salman Ahmad Still Going Strong."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter



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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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