Hillary Clinton lost more than most when Ambassador Chris Stevens, and staffers Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods, died in Libya on Tuesday. She lost four employees. Countless other diplomats for whom she is responsible, are also at risk in countries that have been swept by anti-American protests.
With this heavy weight on her shoulders, Clinton undertook the task, twice in one day, of putting the raging storm of events into perspective for Americans, and for the world. In both instances, she sought to strike a balance; forcefully condemning efforts to incite religious hatred, and just as forcefully condemning violent reactions to such insults. Her heartfelt words transcended all the political posturing that erupted from Republicans while the attack on our embassy was still underway.
On Thursday afternoon, Clinton called a press conference in Washington aimed at quelling the protests that broke out across the Middle East and Northern Africa. In that conference, she disavowed any official association with the anti-Muslim movie trailer that inflamed the feelings of Muslims, eloquently laying out both the official position, and her own.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation, and as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including of course, millions of Muslims, and we have the greatest respect for people of faith.
“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose — to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage…But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.”
Clinton then firmly condemned the destructive mayhem that was tearing through much of the Muslim world, pointing out the contradiction between the use of violence and the tenets of faith.
“Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents.”
That evening, at an event to honor the end of Ramadan, Clinton appeared before a group of Muslims with Libyan ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali, who was a friend of Chris Stevens. After Aujali paid tribute to the fallen American ambassador and offered condolences to the American people, Clinton spoke, picking up again with resolute criticism of the violence being perpetrated in the name of religion and with an admonishment that those who commit such acts are not true believers.
“There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” she said. ”Think about it. When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”
Clinton affirmed that she is a person of faith and that people of faith must hold each other to a higher standard than by meeting insults with violence. She pointed out what might seem to be obvious, but which stands in contrast to the saber-rattling of our country’s more conservative elements.
“You cannot respond to offensive speech with violence,” she said, “without begetting more violence.”
But the crux of Clinton’s stance lies in this appeal to reason:
“I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries. Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”
From that position of restraint and unshakeable faith, she issues a call for unity in confronting ignorance and fear. Clinton is eloquent in an appeal that could well be to her own countrymen:
“We must come together and recommit ourselves to working toward a future marked by understanding and acceptance rather than distrust, hatred, and fear. We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer. They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult, answering ignorance with enlightenment, answering hatred with understanding, answering darkness with light; that if one person commits a violent act in the name of religion, millions will stand up and condemn it out of strength.”