The attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates in Yemen, Egypt and in Libya have hurt America’s relationship with the Islamic world, especially the attacks that led to the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three others. That’s the opinion of Nasser Weddady, the Director of Civil Rights Outreach with the American Islamic Congress (AIC). He spoke with VOA’s David Byrd about what the tragic events of this week mean both for Muslims and for US relations with the Islamic world.
On Ambassador Stevens’s death and US Islamic relations
“It is a terrible blow to the relationship between the United States and the people of the region, which is precisely what those who manufactured this controversy out of thin air wanted to do, to achieve. And I am only sad to say that they seem to be well on the way to achieving that objective as we lost at least four of our service men when our embassies were attacked.”
On Anti-American sentiment over controversial video that was deemed blasphemous:
“This is a free country and the United States government cannot be held accountable for U.S. citizens or permanent residents exercising their free speech on U.S. soil…. The problem that we are dealing with here is the inability for the extremist elements to understand – or rather their unwillingness to understand – that free speech is a universal value…. The crux of the matter is that free speech cannot be curtailed, even if it is offensive.”
On whether violent response is appropriate for Muslims:
“This method of attack does not represent reason for Islam or Muslims. You cannot or should not take a human life because somebody said something unpleasant to you. The ethics of Islam would have prevented this if they had been heeded. The problem that we are dealing with is … that there is a mass media organization controlled by … groups across the Middle East that are pumping hate non-stop.”
On what it means to ‘bring the [killers of Amb. Stevens] to justice’:
“The most immediate thing is that the responsible parties be apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. For me it means also holding accountable the [Egyptian] talk show host who organized this controversy and turned it into a deadly occurrence. And it also means that ultimately we figure out a way to empower the right people in this region and stand for our own values … which are universal values of respect for human rights, for free speech and the freedom of religion.”
David Byrd is a journalist, writer, video editor and photographer. He is also the host of VOA's American Cafe, a weekly show covering life and culture in the United States.