There’s nothing like the death of a good man to prompt a festival of moral and political stupidity. If Twitter is any guide, then the Islamist attacks on the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of American ambassador Chris Stevens along with three of his staff, are going to yield variations on the following arguments:
• The US should never have got involved in Libya because crazy Muslims don’t care if we helped liberate them, they still want to kill us;
• Here’s more proof that we have no business trying to sort out Syria. Foreign and domestic Islamists are gaining ground there all the time and surely similar unpleasantness will occur once Bashar al-Assad is toppled, so maybe it’s time to do a deal with him;
• If religious fascists riots and rocket sovereign American territory and murder American diplomats, then the fault lies with redneck pastors and wealthy bigots in California who mock Islam and its prophet.
It might be pointed out that we don’t yet know for sure if the attack on the Benghazi consulate and Ambassador Stevens’s car was perpetrated because of an anti-Islam film, or because it was the anniversary of 9/11, or because Salafists in Libya have been trying to harm secular institutions and American diplomats for months, or because today is the day the newly elected (non-Islamist) Libyan government is set to select its prime minister. Perhaps all four motives conspired at once.
But we do know quite a bit about Ambassador Stevens, particularly the fact that he was a loud and principled proponent of the Libyan revolution from early on. He acted as the US envoy to the Libyan National Transitional Council and may have been among the key voices to persuade President Obama to back a no-fly zone to protect the civilian population from the depredations of Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Stevens spent a lot of time in the Middle East and North Africa and grew to love that part of the world, having taught English in Morocco for two years. His legacy will surely be as a staunch defender of the Libyan people’s right to self-determination. And while no one has the right to speak for him now, it would only compound the misery of his murder to read in it some grim irony about the comeuppance of America’s pro-democratic foreign policy.
Fanatical enemies of the United States are not in short supply these days: they include not just those who believe in “no god but God” but those who profess themselves to be god. I see the pro-Assad media outlet al-Mayadeen has already seized upon Stevens’s murder as a propaganda victory: they’ve posted the first photograph of his corpse (no, I won’t link to it). Remember this the next time some idiot tells you that America’s true interest lies in backing the mass-murdering tyrant who, lest we forget, ran a conveyor belt of jihadists into Iraq to blow up American and British soldiers and plenty of Iraqi civilians.