(This is a personal post and reflects solely the views and opinions of the author. It is in no way a product or reflection of class discussions.)
As a Marine fighting on the front lines of America’s war on terror, I observed firsthand the life changing effect of helping someone build hope for the future and the power of tolerance, understanding, and discourse in achieving that hope. Unfortunately, too many times I also observed the terrible price to be payed in the absence of tolerance, understanding, and discourse, when hope is gone. The events which occurred in Cairo and Benghazi epitomized that loss of hope.
Today, America is mourning the loss of four brave citizens who, last night, became the latest victims in a long and bloody war. Not the war on terrorism, which was launched 11 years ago in response to the vicious attacks of 9/11, but a war that Michael Collins Dunn, editor of the Middle East Journal, calls a “clash of ignorances“. A war fought between the “rabid Islamophobes” on one side and the “most extreme Islamists” on the other. In a war void of tolerance, understanding, and discourse these four brave Americans fell victims to a loss of hope.
Recently, tolerance has been confused with acceptance. It is assumed that to be tolerant of someone is to accept and excuse even their most heinous acts. This is far from true. Tolerance should not be a reactive trait, but a proactive one. Tolerance is knowing that someone believes differently than yourself and treating that difference with respect. Tolerance does not offend the freedom of speech but should act to strengthen it, to ensure that our freedom is used to better our world, not tear it apart. Certainly, the makers of the film The Innocence of Muslims were well within their right to vocalize their opinions, a right that I cherish and watched many pay dearly to defend, but we must question if their motives. The filmmakers own words lead one to assume his motives were malicious. The motives of the violent Muslim extremists who stormed the American embassy in Cairo and murdered four American diplomats in Benghazi were clear, and certainly absent of any tolerance.
Understanding does not come naturally. It is difficult to imagine ourselves in the shoes of another. As one becomes tolerant of someone else he is able to begin to understand the thoughts, motives, and history behind their beliefs. As the American public reacts to events of the past 24 hours, it is necessary to understand that the small group of perpetrators represent an infinitesimally small percentage of the world’s Muslims. It is necessary to understand the reasons why a militant faction in Libya may want to hijack a revolution by attacking an American consulate. Conversely, it is necessary for every militant extremist of any faith or creed to understand the deeply held right of freedom of speech. They must understand that the speech of one rarely equals the speech of many. When we are able to tolerate the views of another we can then move forward to understand their positions.
The outcome of tolerance and understanding is discourse. Unsuccessful discourse, due to a lack of tolerance and understanding, brings an evaporation of hope. The peoples of the Middle East and North African region have begun to see glimmers of hope. In countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, young men and women can visualize a future free from fear and oppression. Today, a new prime minister was elected in Libya, a continued signal of change brought about by the Arab Spring. American investors, eying new opportunities, visited Egypt this week as part of the largest trade delegation to the region. There are positive changes happening across the region and we must act with tolerance and understanding to facilitate a successful discourse and help keep the flame of hope alive.
Unfortunately, events like those in Cairo and Benghazi, as well as the politicization of U.S. responses and the inflamed speech of angered populations will combined to tear apart the hope still visible today. Ambassador Stevens believed in this hope, and so should we. Loved by Libyans because he arrived during their revolution and suffered beside them, Ambassador Stevens was a perfect example of the power of tolerance and understanding. The torch now passes to us. Will you stand up and believe in the power of tolerance and understanding, as Ambassador Stevens did? Will you refuse to grant this “clash of the ignorances” the ability to dictate how we will view each other?
On a personal note: A very good friend once reminded me that while America’s soldiers return home from the battlefield and are greeted with parades and parties, America’s citizen soldiers, her diplomats, foreign servants and civil servants quietly serve their tours and return home in silence. Many have sacrificed their lives with the same pride and honor as those in our armed forces. Please, take a moment to remember the thousands of Americans serving around the world who work without a uniform to spread America’s message of freedom and stand up for victims around the globe. Better peace than war.