American ambassador killed by Libyan protesters

Barack Obama reacts furiously to news of the death of America’s ambassador to Libya © Getty Images

On Tuesday, violent protests erupted in Libya and Egypt over an American film that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a perverted buffoon. Yesterday, four US diplomatic staff were killed.

The American ambassador to Libya has been killed amid violent protests over an anti-Islamic film produced in the USA. Ambassador Chris Stevens and two other US diplomatic staff died after the car they were travelling in was hit by rockets in the Eastern city of Benghazi. The attack came less than 24 hours after another American had died in the city’s US consulate.

The disturbances were triggered by an obscure film entitled Innocence of Muslims, financed by a group of anti-Islam Israelis and promoted in Florida by a Christian preacher notorious for his aggressive intolerance.

There is no doubt at all that Innocence of Muslims is a nasty and offensive film. A ‘satirical’ feature on the life of Muhammad, it portrays the Muslim prophet as a sexually perverted dimwit and a child molester.

But it is also poorly scripted, incompetently produced and bizarre; without this week’s riots, it probably would have sunk without a trace. Until now, the film has been shown only once in a cinema, to an audience consisting mostly of empty seats.

But when the film was translated into Arabic and circulated in the Middle East, it was an explosive provocation. On Tuesday protesters in Cairo, Egypt stormed the walls of the American Embassy. Meanwhile, riots broke out in Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi.

So far the disturbance has claimed at least thirteen lives – the four murdered Americans, plus several Libyan protesters and security forces. And there could be more to come. Already, US President Barack Obama has hinted at repercussions: ‘Make no mistake,’ he declared, ‘justice will be done.’

With just eight weeks to go before a precariously poised presidential election, rivals in the right-wing Republican Party were leaping to attack Obama for the government’s initial response to the protests, which criticised filmmakers and rioters equally. In the middle of the campaign, the president cannot afford to seem weak.

Who is to blame?

It is clear, say furious Republicans, who is to blame for this tragedy: the killers themselves. Those who led the violent mob must bear some of the responsibility; those who fired the rockets, far more. The only thing Americans should regret, they say, is its government’s failure to guard their embassies against mindless hooligans like these.

This was a murderous act of brutality, others agree – there are no excuses for that. But, they go on, the bigots who created Innocence of Muslims must bear some responsibility as well. This poisonous film was a deliberate slap in the face of Islam and everyone who follows it. America must cease to tolerate such hateful messages as these.

You Decide

  1. Should a film ever be banned because its message is too offensive?
  2. Can words ever be held responsible for murder?


  1. Research the life of Muhammad and write a brief paragraph explaining what Muslimsreallybelieve.
  2. Write an open letter to the protesters in Libya and Egypt pleading with them to end their attacks on the American Embassy. Deal with the issue of the offensive US-made film.

Some People Say...

“Free speech should not include the freedom to preach hate.”

What do you think?

Q & A

You mentioned repercussions. Does that mean another war?
No. At least, not immediately and not in Libya. The US supports the new democratic governments of Egypt and Libya. However, the consequences of these killings could exacerbate tensions in the Middle East.
The area is already fraught with tensions. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Islamists have risen to power in much of North Africa – a fact that worries the US and Israel. Talk has resurfaced of a conflict between Israel and Iran, while civil war in Syria sucks in combatants from across the region. Any of these situations could escalate into a serious international conflict.

Word Watch

Chris Stevens
The US Ambassador was a hugely respected figure in American diplomatic circles, and in the Middle East. He had been hugely supportive of the Arab Spring, and was excited to be leading the American mission in Libya immediately in its wake. His death has been greeted with shock by US politicians.
Portrays the Muslim prophet
In many traditions of Islam, any depiction of God or other sacred figures is prohibited, although this rule is not explicit in the Qur'an itself.
Significantly, both Libya and Egypt were at the forefront of last year’s Arab Spring. The tyrants that previously ruled over the two countries were swept out of power by a surge of popular protests, and replaced by democratic governments. But the subsequent story has not been a simple ‘happily ever after’. Authorities have struggled to retain control, police have committed acts of brutality and Islamists have become increasingly prominent.
Cease to tolerate
Many countries, including the UK, have laws that prohibit the incitement of religious hatred. In the USA freedom of speech tends to be treated as more absolute: films, books or speeches can freely be made attacking somebody else’s religion.

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