A Death in Libya

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I don't really have much to say beyond the obvious -- that this is a great tragedy. Violence cannot be justified by mockery. It is simply wrong. I think we can make that observation without equivocation and at the same time observe that this is exactly what Terry Jones wanted:


In a statement on Tuesday, the pastor, Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., called the film "an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam" and said it "further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad." 

He said the embassy and consulate attacks illustrated that Muslims "have no tolerance for anything outside of Muhammad" and called Islam "a total deception."

There will be a lot of conversations in the coming days around culture and tolerance and Islam. I think that's fine. But I think we should be very precise about what we mean when we say "Muslim." There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. There are 148 million in Bangladesh. There are 23 million in China. Over 28 million in Ethiopia, 177 million in India, 204 million in Indonesia. Six million Muslims in Libya. They constitute a fractional percent -- less than 0.4 percent -- of the world's Muslims.

Perhaps the Libyan state should bear more responsibility in this discussion than the religion of its citizens. To that end, I think Fallows has it exactly right:

One of the first principles of diplomacy is that nations have a duty to protect the representatives of foreign states sent there to do international business. Today, American security forces have a duty to protect Libya's diplomats at their embassy in Washington DC and in consulates elsewhere. Yesterday, Libyan security forces had a duty, which they did not fulfill, to protect Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other U.S. representatives in Benghazi.

The killing of J. Christopher Stevens and his colleagues yesterday -- the triumph of reprehensible violence -- says a lot about the Libyan government, but very little about Islam. To shift responsibility from the former to the latter is to play right into Terry Jones's hands.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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