The U.S. State Department has just confirmed that the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed yesterday in Benghazi, Libya. A mob, angered by a movie supposedly made in the U.S. that they considered offensive to Islam, attacked the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city.
As a retired Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department, I can’t help but feel a personal involvement in this tragedy, though I didn’t know the victims. The ambassador apparently was an able diplomat, serving his country previously in Libya and other Middle Eastern posts.
I thought back to a sudden demonstration before another U.S. consulate in an Arab country, one where I served. I remember the chants of demonstrators against some perceived wrong that the U.S. government had done. I remember the prickle of fear as we listened to those chants on the other side of our consulate walls and scurried to secure documents and prepare as we had been taught to do in such a situation, should consulate security be breached.
Fortunately, the government of the country where I served was intact, not like the Libyan one, still struggling to form after the overthrow of a dictator. In our case, government troops appeared, and the demonstrators scattered and left.
Another reason for our more fortunate ending, I believe, was that the demonstrators were not organized. Though the Internet was rapidly expanding, Facebook and Twitter did not yet exist to fan flames of anger and to pinpoint a place to release that anger. The Internet and social media bring us the usual double-edged sword of blessings and curses.
Any people can be incited to commit acts of violence. African-Americans have been murdered by mobs in the not too distant past in our own country. Recently, worshipers have been killed in religious gatherings.
One news article focused on anger points in political campaigns. The purpose is to arouse citizens to such anger that they will vote certain ways. Yet anger, once incited, sometimes catches fire in the minds of deranged or immature individuals, leading to the taking of lives.
In a previous blog I pointed out that the anger and frustration of the German middle class after World War I led them to choose Hitler and the Nazis. They had reasons for their anger, but they were wrong to accept Nazism as a solution. Angry people have, at best, made stupid decisions and at worst, committed murders and terrorist actions against innocents.
We carry grave responsibilities for the handling of our anger, especially in this age of connectedness. In this case, both the mob that killed in Benghazi and the maker of the movie that incited them need to ask if they handled their anger in a responsible manner.