“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Last Friday and Saturday, tens of thousands took to the streets in Benghazi to protest the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was widely recognized as a friend of the Libyan people. A Libyan man, shocked by the violence, commented, “Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had a saying about not killing an envoy, a diplomat,” he said. “But every religion has its extremes.”
When it comes to Islam, the ongoing complaint is that we never hear from the moderates. They are silent and invisible. But last weekend in Benghazi the moderates were out in large numbers. Writing in the New York Times on Tuesday, Thomas Friedman commented, “It is not clear whether this trend can spread or be sustained. But having decried the voices of intolerance that so often intimidate everyone in that region, I find it heartening to see Libyans carrying signs like ‘We want justice for Chris’ and ‘No more Al Qaeda’ — and demanding that armed militias disband. This coincides with some brutally honest articles in the Arab/Muslim press — in response to rioting triggered by the idiotic YouTube video insulting the Prophet Muhammad — that are not the usual ‘What is wrong with America?’ but, rather, ‘What is wrong with us, and how do we fix it?’”
The critical commentary was not limited to Benghazi. Throughout the Muslim world, voices were raised in protest. Friedman quotes a brutal critique from Imad al-Din Hussein, who writes for Al Shorouk, the leading Cairo newspaper: “We curse the West day and night, and criticize its [moral] disintegration and shamelessness, while relying on it for everything. ... We import, mostly from the West, cars, trains, planes ... refrigerators, and washing machines. ... We are a nation that contributes nothing to human civilization in the current era. ... We have become a burden on [other] nations. ... Had we truly implemented the essence of the directives of Islam and all [other] religions, we would have been at the forefront of the nations. The world will respect us when we return to being people who take part in human civilization, instead of [being] parasites who are spread out over the map of the advanced world, feeding off its production and later attacking it from morning until night. ... The West is not an oasis of idealism. It also contains exploitation in many areas. But at least it is not sunk in delusions, trivialities and external appearances, as we are. ... Therefore, supporting Islam and the prophet of the Muslims should be done through work, production, values, and culture, not by storming embassies and murdering diplomats.”
In every country and in every culture, the loudest voices are always the extremists. And they always have influence disproportionate to their numbers. It is good to remind ourselves that they are not the only voices.