“I’m sorry” Libya and the Muslim world

We at the Wisdom, Mediation and Dialogue Foundation want to offer our condolences to the families of the Ambassador to Lybia, Chris Stevens, and his three colleagues killed by a “mob in the tragic events of this last September 11.

The attack purportedly instigated by a “hate video,” uploaded to You Tube by an unknown American citizen, was later attributed to the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, a brigade of rebel fighters, heavily armed with weapons still in possession from the “violent” overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The plethora of attacks throughout the Muslim world, which were supposedly over the video, have currently subsided, and were met by the posturing of American politicians that punitive actions were immediately necessary to show American resolve.

The greater question is: What is happening to the idea of an international rule of law? Just as we Americans are understandably not willing to silence one individual for his or her misguided or hateful speech, and do not want to be identified, as a nation, with that individual, we should not categorize or punish entire populations on the actions of a criminal faction within their country.

We at the WMD are aware that the situation in many of the “Arab Spring” countries is complex, and hold that the fate of these young and fragile governments will often hinge on a compassionate, careful and calculated response to unfolding events as opposed to a poorly thought out re-action.

The best response we have heard thus far is that this is a teachable moment in which people can be helped to understand the beauty, importance and limitation of protecting free speech.

When the tragic events of Aurora Colorado occurred earlier this year, we did not call out for the collective punishment of the occupants of that state, nor did we call for the punishment of all San Diegans upon finding out that the individual was from San Diego. No, we called for the criminal to be brought to justice. We reviewed the tradition and mores of our country. We offered our condolences to the victims and expressed our sorrow for their loss.

In effect, we told the victim’s and their families, along with the community in which it happened, how sorry we were for the magnitude of their loss and suffering.

So when the embassy in Cairo did what diplomats do and offered the following apology for the content of the video: “The Embassy of the United States condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” We at the WMD view this as a courageous act in an attempt to quell an already volatile situation.

And although President Obama did not offer the “apology” for the offensive video, as Mitt Romney had mistakenly implied, what would have been the harm if he had? What harm is posed in acknowledging that we have hateful people in our country too? What is the harm in reducing the amount of pain and suffering caused by the acts of a few “misguided individuals”?

Certainly we must see the contradiction here. We ask that the countries of the Middle East acknowledge and recognize that they have hateful intolerant groups of individuals, which they must be cognizant and watchful of, but for some reason we are not comfortable acknowledging the same.

Since when has an act of understanding, i.e. saying I’m Sorry for an egregious act of cultural disrespect, become a position of weakness? On the contrary, we at the WMD would like to offer that saying, “I’m sorry” in such instances is an act of courage and moral certitude.

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