Tuesday night, the U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens was killed during an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Three other members of staff are also thought to have been killed. The perpetrators of this assault are not yet known, but it is thought they may be Gaddafi supporters hoping to disrupt Libya’s fragile stability, or members of an extremist Islamist group protesting against a film which insults the Prophet Mohammed, the launch of which sparked similar scenes in Cairo on Tuesday night.
The shockwaves of these senseless killings have traveled swiftly across the Atlantic where the reaction has understandably been one of sadness and anger, with Obama describing the attack as ‘outrageous.’Many in the U.S. have been quick to assume that the Libyan population do not feel the same, tarring all Libyans with the brush of the tiny minority of violent thugs who carried out this shocking assault. In reality this could not be further from the truth. Ordinary Libyans are horrified, saddened and above all shocked that such a crime has taken place in their newly liberated nation. Social media pages have been flooded with messages of condolences for the families of those killed and the overwhelming message is one of anger against the attackers, and frustration that the attack was not prevented.
This evening protests have been scheduled across Libya to condemn this act of violence and loss of life, as well as to call on the Libyan government to provide the country with security and rule of law. Libyans fought long and hard to be where they are today and they are not prepared for the actions of a few misguided, violent individuals to destroy what they have achieved so far. People are taking to the streets to exercise their right to protest, to show that the government must act to prevent anything like this from happening again. Libyans do not believe that these attacks were permitted by their religion; they do not want their country to be controlled by violent militias or dogmatic extremists; and they certainly do not want a situation where foreigners no longer feel safe in their country.
For some in the U.S., the opinion seems to be that the ‘violent minority’ line is just an excuse, an attempt to pacify those for whom the killing of the U.S. ambassador is merely confirmation of Libya as a hotbed of religious extremism, tribal divisions and anti-Americanism; a nation ungrateful for U.S. military support. But I will stress again that this is not the case. What happened in Benghazi was a heinous crime and that is the way it is viewed in Libya. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ordinary Libyans or the Libyan government would support this attack just because it was carried by out compatriots, or coreligionists.