J. Christopher Stevens was an accomplished diplomat, with real expertise in the Middle East and North African, along with fluency in Arabic. His involvement with Libya ran deep, ever since he landed in April 2011 on the shores of Benghazi, intent on fostering a positive relationship between the U.S. and the emerging Libyan authority. He was, for all intents and purposes, part of the fabric and narrative of the new Libya, as it emerged from the decades of oppression of Gaddafi’s rule.
This friend of Libya, and of the Libyan people, was killed last night during an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, by persons as yet unknown.
The first reaction of many will be shock. Shock that this happened, shock that this was allowed to happen, and shock at the brutal, senseless murder of a diplomat. President Obama was absolutely correct to describe this event as ‘outrageous.’
However, a second reaction, especially in the U.S.,must be swiftly cast aside: namely, the desire to depict Libya and Libyans as being responsible for this heinous act. They are not. Neither does this act define Libya as a place of death and destruction, nor its people as murderers. To do so is unjust.
This act underlines that, barely one year after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya is still awash with weapons and armed militias. As such, it makes the country volatile, and allows incidents such as this to escalate into murder. The immediate priority of the Libyan authorities has got to be fostering a stabilization and disarmament period. Efforts to do so have, in the past, been lacklustre and ineffective. This can no longer be allowed to occur.
Additionally, the murder of Ambassador Stevens cannot be allowed to become a negative turning point in U.S.-Libyan relations. Libya still needs the help and support of the U.S. and this episode should see this bond strengthened, not weakened. It is vital that the work Ambassador Stevens was undertaking be continued.
If it emerges in the next few hours and days that this attack was motivated by the shoddy and false video circulating about Islam in the U.S., then it only serves to portray the attacker(s) as gullible fools. The views on Islam expressed by those who peddle this intellectually-void film are not those of the mainstream in the U.S. The murder of Ambassador Stevens is not only, therefore, callous, but also senseless, because he himself held views at polar ends of those expressed in the film.
Libyans are a proud and intelligent people, who fought bravely to overcome the apparatus of a dictatorship. They will all undoubtedlybe overcome with disgust at this event. Indeed, marches against the killing are already planned this evening. It is they, not the attackers, who matter. It is they who Ambassador Stevens could relate to, and it is they who need the U.S. to stand by them so this event becomes an exception, and not a hallmark of, modern Libya.