In the late hours of September 11, the Office of the American Consulate in Benghazi, Lybia, came under attack from several hundred militants. These extremists, masquerading as protesters, fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the compound, setting fire to the building.
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, at least three fellow Americans and several members of the Libyan security forces were killed as a result of the attack.
That night in Cairo, upwards of two thousand civilians staged a non-violent protest outside the US Embassy. The protest ended with a group of twenty protesters scaling the Embassy walls, removing the US flag, and setting it ablaze.
Both events occurred in response to an anti-Islamic video, “Innocence of Muslim”, popularized by xenophobic Christian fundamentalist Terry Jones. Mr. Jones made international headlines September 2010 for hosting “Burn a Koran [sic] Day.”
The heart of this issue is something that still challenges Americans; the balance between freedom of expression, and the extremes of that extent.
We have no amendment against flag burning, nor laws against hate groups. To be American is to question, to challenge and to disagree.
We treasure the unwavering strength of our convictions; yet we accept, without a shred of doubt, the right of each to hold their own, and our collective resolve to never deprive our neighbors of that inalienable right. It is on days like this, in the aftermath of an attack on such freedoms, that I am most proud to be an American.
September 11, 2001 stood as an attack on the very fabric of the American spirit, our reverence of pluralism and our civil duty to defend it.
This September 12 was marked by two events of consequence indicative of a changing Middle East: the death of a faithful American diplomat at the hands of extremists and a difficult yet peaceful protest over an offensive depiction of a religious idol.
Egyptians showed the true measure of their character that morning. It is a character of deep religious reverence, temperance and an acceptance of condemnation, without the need for destruction. It is in that plurality that extremisms, at home and abroad, will find its end.