I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.
There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.
There’s the incredulous anger over the loss of life, intentional or not. Though some claim that Libyan rebelas had been planning such an attack on the embassy for months in response to the September 11th anniversary, the preponderance of evidence suggests it was a crime of collective passion, conflagrated by the amateurish “Innocence of Muslims” video produced in America. While I understand some who express exasperation with the Libyan people’s response, saying the violence is inordinate when compared to some overblown home movie, this turns a blind eye to deeper issues of justice. Basically, we have bought the compliance of the Libyan government with aid money, and some in the Middle East would argue that, despite our tenuous peace with that north African country, the net impact of our presence in the region has boon nothing short of catastrophic. So when we jump to cast blame for such a bloody mob response, we have to consider the context in which the entire relationship is set.
I was heartened by one report on National Public Radio that pointed to video footage shot after the embassy attack. The Libyans sorting through the wreckage found a still-alive Ambassador Stevens, which elicited cheers of joy from them and shouts of “God is great!” He was beloved by many in the country, and some libyan leaders have since contended that his death was entirely accidental, and that he was not a target. Though this does little to assuage the anger over the senseless loss of life, it is hopeful to know that, though there are those in Libya intent on violence and division, there are also those who long for peace, reconciliation and healing. There were those employees in the hospital where they took Stevens who approached other American officials, head lowered, clasping their hands between their own, to offer deep regret and sincere apology. There is an ethic in Libyan culture of taking collective responsibility for one another’s actions: something that we in the west could well benefit from emulating a little more.
Then there’s the irony of Stevens’ death. As I mentioned, he was still clinging to life when the first people on the scene found him in the embassy. One of Stevens’ primary tasks in Benghazi was to help implement an emergency first responder system within the city. As it is, there are no fire trucks, ambulances or emergency doctors in place to treat any life-or-death case any differently than any other medical need. Without this, those who found Stevens only had the option to place him in a private car and take him to a hospital, with the hope of connecting with the right people so spare his life.
But by the time he reached the hospital, it was too late.
Had the services he was seeking to implement been in place, it’s possible he would still be alive. And although his particular death is tragic and worthy of attention, analysis and mourning, it’s only one of far too many lives lost due to the lack of basic infrastructure for those who live with such deficiencies, every day.
It is my hope that this incident will not regress into a rallying cry for retribution, for justification to cut of support or as an opportune political talking point in the current election cycle. The majority of Libyans simply want peace, a safe place to raise a family and the basic resources to provide a decent quality of life for those they care about. Not unlike all of us. When we think in these terms, there is no “us” and “them;” there is only “us.”
God, help us all.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He is Director if Church Growth and Development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.
Photo credit: A portrait of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens is placed along with a condolence book outside the room of Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the U.S. Capitol September 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)