Of violence and silence

Of violence and silence

Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, and three of his aides were killed Tuesday night during a vicious attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The reason for the attack: outrage on the part of many Muslims sparked by a disgusting depiction of Islam’s founder, Muhammad. Among other things, the film depicts him as a misogynistic bisexual adulterer and pedophile.

There is nothing redeeming about the “film,” a word we use loosely here because it is far too noble to describe this work.

There also is nothing surprising about the violence the film has generated – violence that led directly to the deaths of Stevens and his aides.

It is exactly the same reaction that some years ago followed the publication of a Dutch cartoon depicting Muhammad. Many years before, the late Syrian-American film producer Moustapha Akkad (himself a victim of an al Qaeda suicide bomber in 2005) produced a film biography of Muhammad that never showed Muhammad and never even allowed his voice to be heard, because Akkad knew to do so would provoke violence.

As it turned out, it nevertheless did provoke violence- and death -because of a rumor that the film’s star, Anthony Quinn, played Muhammad in the film. (In fact, he played Muhammad’s uncle.) Terrorists seized the Washington, D.C., headquarters of B’nai B’rith, threatening to blow it up with all their hostages still in it unless the film was withdrawn. A journalist and a police officer died in that terror incident.

We do not condone such violence or justify it in any way, yet we must ask: Given the certainty of vioence, why produce such a travesty?

That a Jew may be behind the project, and an Israeli at that, makes this even more unintelligible to us. Whether “Sam Bacile,” a supposed pseudonym, is Jewish or an evangelical Christian from an Arab land, or something else entirely, was unclear when this was written on Wednesday afternoon. Up in the air, too, was the claim that he raised $5 million from Jewish donors for the project.

We urge both California and federal authorities to launch hate crimes investigations against this man and his colleagues, for crimes against Muslims and – if as we hope, he is not Jewish – against Jews, as well, because violence will find us thanks to his film. The ADL, in fact, already issued a security alert. We also would like to know whether causing Muslim-Jewish clashes was the point.

Muslim leaders worldwide must publicly and forcefully condemn the riots as violating the very Islam the riots purportedly uphold. They either condemn the violence or they must be seen as complicit in it. There is no middle ground.

Jewish leaders, meanwhile, need to condemn this vile “production,” regardless of who “Bacile” turns out to be. They need to do so – we need to do so – very soon and as convincingly as possible.

Political leaders, meanwhile, need to hold their tongues. We are disturbed by how quickly Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, turned the deaths in Benghazi into a campaign issue. Americans pull together in times of crisis. Bipartisanship is standard operating procedure. At least, it used to be.

There will be plenty of time in this campaign to criticize the administration’s response. Now is the time to stand together against a vicious enemy – hatred of the other.