It is sadly ironic that the horrible news out of Libya, where the ambassador and three consular employees were killed after mob violence engulfed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, comes this morning as I travel to Washington for two days of conferences on the contemporary challenges to international religious liberty. The killing of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens seems an especially tragic and enormous loss, to his family obviously, but also to the Libyan people, even to those responsible for his death. Fluent in Arabic and French and a career diplomat who went from the Peace Corps into public service, Stevens had been a true friend to the people of Libya and his influence directly contributed to their liberation from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The senseless murder dramatically punctuates the urgency of efforts to improve inter-religious understanding and tolerance that might have given pause to irresponsible voices within U.S. borders and mob passions overseas. It is hard to believe this level of violence could be inspired by such a moronic exercise as the YouTube release at the center of this turmoil and it is likewise hard to understand people who insist on such useless provocation when they know fully well what might result and that others will likely pay the price for their self-indulgence. There is no excusing the violence that led to the ambassador's death, but neither does the plain right of free speech liberate individuals from the obligation of using it responsibly, especially in such tension-filled times.
There is also somewhat better news on the larger issue as in Pakistan a 14-year old Christian girl (her age is in dispute) Rimsha Masih has been released after being held for weeks under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and in Iran Yousef Nadarkhani, a Church of Iran pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, has likewise been released from prison and is at home with his family. Faint glimmers of hope on what is an otherwise dismal day for religious pluralism and tolerance.
UPDATE: The Obama administration is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike to mark the anniversary of 9/11 and not a spontaneous mob action.