The U.S. awoke this morning to learn that our Ambassador to Libya, J. Chris Stevens, along with three of his colleagues had been killed in an attack on our consulate in Benghazi. It was the first time that an Ambassador had been killed while in the Foreign Service in over thirty years, and only the fifth time that it has happened in our history. Violence of this sort is always a tragedy, but even more so when it targets the diplomats who are so vital to stability and conflict resolution around the world. Indeed as we mourned Ambassador Stevens today, we heard time and again of how he had supported and worked with the Libyan rebels in their pursuit of a more just country. The religious community was further horrified to learn that this attack was purportedly in response to an American video that distorted the tenets of Islam and made mockery of the Prophet Mohammed. The U.S.’ understanding of what happened, who is responsible, and what their motives might have been, however, continues to evolve and it may be some time before we can fully understand the events of last night.

Rabbi Saperstein joined the Islamic Society of North America, the Libyan Ambassador to the United States and several other faith groups in a press conference this afternoon to express their outrage at this violence and the hateful movie that precipitated it. The Libyan Ambassador, Ali Aujali, avowed the need to continue a strong relationship between the United States and Libya. The Director of ISNA, Imam Mohamed Magid, sought a stronger relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims and mutual respect and understanding on both sides.

Rabbi Saperstein spoke powerfully: “We must all oppose efforts to divide people – in the United States, in Egypt, Libya and around the world – along religious lines. Small violent groups of extremists, no matter their religious identity, cannot be allowed to define their religions or their nations. Instead, let us lift up those who appeal to the best in humanity, those who seek to build bridges over longstanding divides, and those who speak the language of peace and tolerance.”

Read Rabbi Saperstein’s full statement here.

Photo courtesy of Carina Lee