Washington — Despite anger and grief over the deaths of U.S. diplomats in Libya, U.S. officials reaffirmed their commitment to religious tolerance and expressed gratitude for Muslims both inside the United States and around the world who have spoken out to say that violence has no place in religion.
Speaking in Washington September 13, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Islamic faith “respects the fundamental dignity of human beings,” and that it is “a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents.”
The secretary rejected efforts to denigrate the Islamic faith and to provoke rage among Muslims, but said there was no justification for violent responses such as the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats September 11.
“We condemn the violence that has resulted, in the strongest terms. And we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue,” Clinton said.
Violence “has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion,” she said. “As long as there are those who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of religion, the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”
The United States has “the greatest respect for people of faith,” Clinton said. All leaders, whether political, civic or religious, must stand up and accept their responsibility to “draw the line at violence.”
In remarks at the State Department September 12, Clinton blamed the death of U.S. diplomats on “a small and savage group,” not the Libyan people or their government.
When the American mission in Benghazi came under attack, “Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety,” she said.
Ambassador Stevens and his team had been “hailed as friends and partners” by Libyans. The 52 year-old envoy began his relationship with the Middle East region as a young Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Morocco, she said.
“In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition. He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya’s revolutionaries. He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya,” she said, adding, “The world needs more Chris Stevenses.”
Sean Smith, the other U.S. diplomat who was identified as having been killed, was a father to two young children and spent 10 years in the State Department before arriving in Libya for what was supposed to be “a brief temporary assignment,” she said.
Clinton said the friendship between Libyans and Americans that strengthened after their cooperation against the regime of Muammar Qadhafi “will not be another casualty” of the attack in Benghazi.
“The mission that drew Chris and Sean and their colleagues to Libya is both noble and necessary, and we and the people of Libya honor their memory by carrying it forward,” she said.
HATEFUL, DIVISIVE MESSAGES DO NOT REFLECT U.S. VALUES
In remarks at the Catholic University of America in Washington September 12, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, told a conference on international religious freedom that it is "absolutely clear that hateful and divisive messages do not reflect the United States of America or our values.”
He thanked the Catholic archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for issuing a statement saying “we need to be respectful of other religious traditions at the same time that we unequivocally proclaim that violence in the name of religion is wrong.”
McDonough said that message “is being echoed by faith leaders across our country, and we call on religious and community leaders, and all people of good conscience, to continue speaking out publicly so we make it absolutely clear that hateful and divisive messages do not reflect the United States of America or our values.”
The freedom of religion is central to the American identity, McDonough said. He quoted from President Obama’s 2009 inaugural address describing the United States as “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers,” and that this “patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.”