It didn't take long for the brouhaha to spread to the political arena. Candidate Romney, ignoring years of precedent enjoining those on the stump from criticizing Presidential actions during international incidents like these, lambasted Mr. Obama's State Department for apologizing.
Here's what caused the controversy.
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.
Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.(http://tinyurl.com/8t8eq5v)Probably not the strongest condemnation of an assasination, I must agree. An anonymous source said that the statement had not been vetted by the State Department before it was issued. The NYTimes has a timeline, which makes it obvious that the Embassy was trying to forestall a firestorm, rather than apologize after the fact.
Later in the day, Mr. Obama was much clearer:
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.(http://tinyurl.com/8t8eq5v)Religious freedom is right up there with the things I love the most about America. I learned about the Quakers founding Pennsylvania and Roger Williams fleeing Massachusetts's Pilgrims and founding Rhode Island as an island of religious liberty in elementary school and was fascinated by the power of religion to create political divisions. I worried about the non-believers and the dis-believers and the un-believers and the mis-guided-believers living in the wrong part of the colonial expanse. There were so many opportunities for missteps.
I think that's what the Cairo Embassy's statement was trying to say. The First Amendment doesn't abrogate your responsibility to be respectful of individual differences. You have to be polite. That's what grown ups do.
After the attacks, the President took it one step further. He spoke about the violence.... the senseless violence ... and the outrageous attack. Because what happened in Benghazi wasn't freedom of religion vs freedom of speech vs political weakness. Nope, it wasn't that at all. It was four people going in to work, assuming it was going to be a regular day, and ending up dead.
That's not the way we solve problems here in the USofA, at least not now, 223 into a constitutional government. Without that tradition, with a government based on sand and whim, with damaged institutions and an uneducated populace, throwing rocks at an Embassy probably makes some sense. The guys who showed up later, the ones with the mortars and the rocket propelled grenades, they are the ones to whom we are all unequivocally oppose(d).
And so, on and on it goes. Politics intervenes, high horses are ridden, postures are assumed, and, in four families tonight, there is sorrow.
Rest easy, those who lost loved ones that day. Beyond the noise and the vitriol, there are those of us sending you healing vibes and warm thoughts. Those four Americans were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. That is what we will remember.