Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Middle East experts and Ohio State students are speaking out and condemning the violent attacks carried out by Islamist militants targeting U.S. consulates, that have resulted in the death of the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans Tuesday evening, and continued violent protests Thursday.
“I’m very saddened by the news, it’s a shock to all of us, it’s a painful and tragic event,” said Esam Omeish, director of the Libyan Emergency Task Force in Washington, D.C., and friend of the late ambassador Christopher Stevens. Omeish also said he believes Stevens was “in the forefront of the Libyan revolution.”
Just like Omeish, Libyan-American Dr. Elmahdi Elkhammas, professor of Clinical Surgery at Wexner Medical Center, said Libyans admired Stevens for his role in freeing Libya, saying that “the average Libyan will not bite the hand that helped him.”
Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador since 1979 to be killed by terrorists.
Elkhammas’ most recent visit to Libya was in May, working to perform kidney transplant surgeries on Libyan civilians. He described the atmosphere as relatively safe.
“I was faced with young, polite people, I didn’t feel any danger on my life,” he said.
Hannah Tyler, government affairs and communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Columbus (CAIR-Ohio), told The Lantern that given Steven’s integral role in Libya, she found the news of his death troubling.
“Christopher Stevens was formerly in the Peace Corps,” Tyler said. “He played a significant role in protecting citizens in Libya during the uprising. So it was sad to see that this was his treatment by this select group.”
She also said that American-Muslims are aware that these violent actions “would never be condoned Islamically.”
“It was contrary to our beliefs, we have this person claiming to be Muslim kill a fellow citizen and it puts American Muslims in this really perplexed situation,” Tyler said.
The string of violent protests in the Arab world stemmed from a video posted on YouTube several months ago in the U.S. which depicted the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, as a false prophet among other offensive claims.
The video was later dubbed in Arabic and aired on an Egyptian TV program, which sparked the protests in the Arab world.
But despite this theory, several Middle East experts believe other factors led to the killings of U.S. citizens in Benghazi.
Alam Payind, director of the Middle East Studies Center at OSU, said he believes the short film was used as a diversion by extremist groups, such as al Qaida, to carry out their own personal agendas.
“Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed last year by American drones in Pakistan, and I’m certain this guy has supporters in Libya,” he explained. “So this could be his supporters taking his revenge from the Americans.”
Protests carried out in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo resulted in injuries. Protesters pushed against barbed wires and set two police trucks on fire Thursday.
During a televised statement, President Barack Obama denounced the attack against American diplomats.
“We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats,” he said. “I’ve also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”
Muslim students at OSU spoke against the use of violence during protests.
Basheer Kayali, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering and a Syrian-American student, said that emotional overreactions never go well.
“Everyone has their own opinions and I respect peoples’ rights to express their opinions,” Kayali said. “But I’m not going to give anyone that wants to say something bad about the prophet that power over me.”
Similarly, Amro Ahmed, a third-year in microbiology, said Muslims should emulate the prophet’s actions by dealing with anti-Islamic views.
“If you know his stories, he’s been through way worse, and his reactions were way less than this,” Ahmed said. “So I thought to myself, ‘You know what, let him (the filmmaker) do his thing and talk his talk.'”
Omeish stressed the importance of remembering Stevens’ work in the Middle East and to continue working toward a stable Libyan state.
“No tribute would be a better tribute than to continue on the path that Chris, God bless him, did and to see to that Libya becomes a democratic country with the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity,” Omeish said.