Our Responsibility to Continue Ambassador Chris Stevens' Mission

The U.S. diplomat, killed in Libya, embodied the important effort to engage the moderates of the Middle East.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens leaves a June meeting with Libyan officials. (Reuters)

Whoever murdered Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff in Libya this week is our enemy. And so are the bigots who made a lurid amateur video denigrating Islam.

Whether the video prompted the deadly attack in Libya is not yet known. Militant groups may have planned the killings. And the two acts are not equivalent: murdering four people is unjustifiable and incomparably worse than making an insulting video.

But both acts are the products of delusional extremists trying to drive a wedge between the United States and the Islamic world. Muslim and Christian extremists may seem to have nothing in common, but they are united in their desire to divide us. Stevens, an affable 52-year-old diplomat famed for his humility, integrity and willingness to listen, would not want us to help them, according to colleagues and friends.


Mark Ward, a senior USAID and State Department official who worked with Stevens in Libya, said his wishes would be clear. "He would say to the American people please don't turn your back on Libya," Ward said in an interview Wednesday. "They've been through 40 terrible years, they've just held elections and they've rejected extremism. This is absolutely not the time to let a couple of lunatics throw us off our resolve."

According to Ward, Stevens' message to Libyans would be to arrest the suspected perpetrators, provide them with defense lawyers and give them a fair trial. ''Do the right thing,'" Ward said of the way to honor Stevens. "If there is one thing [his] life should stand for, let it stand for the rule of law."

Fred Abrahams, a senior advisor with Human Rights Watch who frequently met with Stevens while working in Libya, agreed. He said the ambassador wasn't naïve about the country's vast problems but saw Muammar Qaddafi's overthrow as an historic opportunity to establish the rule of law Libyans yearned for after 42-years of chaotic Qaddafi rule.

"Just as the U.S. should not be blamed for the offensive film of a few deluded whackos, Libya should not be blamed for the unjustified violence of a few ignorant extremists," Abrahams said in an email Thursday. "And maybe this will spur the Libyan government to rein in the militias that have troubled Libya since Qaddafi's fall -- Chris would have wanted that."

Abrahams and Ward pointed out that the Libyan government condemned Stevens' killing and that many Libyans - including Islamists - have as well. He and Ward both pointed to the country's July elections as a more accurate expression of the country's popular will.

At the ballot box, conservative Islamic religious parties fared comparatively poorly in Libya after sweeping post-Arab Spring elections in Tunisia and Egypt. A coalition of Libyan liberals led by war-time opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril won 39 of the 80 seats reserved for political parties in the new national assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party came in second with 17 seats.

To the surprise of many observers, Jibril's liberals won seat in areas considered conservative strongholds. Thirty-two women won seats as well. The ultimate balance of power, though, will be decided by 120 candidates who won seats reserved for independents.

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David Rohde is an investigative reporter for Reuters and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. His latest book, Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, was published in 2013. More

He is also the author of Endgame and, with Kristen Mulvihill, A Rope and a Prayer. He lives in New York City.

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