Eleven years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the world is reminded how far we have yet to come. In Cairo today, protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy, tore up the American flag, replaced it with a flag reminiscent of that used by al-Qaeda, and graffitied the wall in front of the embassy with anti-American and pro-radical Islamist statements. On - of all days - September 11th.
In Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. consulate was also attacked and there are unconfirmed reports of a fatality.
Both protests were in response to a highly offensive filmed produced by American Quran-burning pastor and religious wingnut Terry Jones. The film portrays the Prophet as deranged and refers to goats as "the first Muslim animals."
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement today condemning the film and those "misguided individuals" who "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." As the protests began to rage outside, the embassy and its staff kept calm, cool, and professional. Condemning the exercise of the first amendment is a concerning constitutional position. However, the embassy's conduct overall today has reflected well on the United States. In response to a highly offensive and dangerous protest outside, the embassy was empathetic, nuanced in its thinking, and thoughtful. On today of all days, when emotions were high and no American was inclined to be sympathetic to radical Islam, the embassy responded calmly to the protest. The fact that it did not overreact opened the political space to regular Egyptians who have roundly condemned the attacks as insensitive and foolhardy. These reasonable, decent Egyptians also deserve a huge amount of credit for their empathy and sensibility today.
The September 11th attacks were not just an attack on the United States. They were also an attack on all decent and peaceful individuals. While differences and grievances remain, our remembrance of 9/11 should serve as a stark reminder of the pain and suffering which result when radical extremism dominates. Out of the Arab Spring comes a new opportunity to unite those who do not see eye to eye politically but agree that progress is better than stagnation. Facilitating that progress is the charge of a generation, and the challenge which lies ahead.
*note: an earlier version of this post linked the embassy's statement to the protest. It was in fact issued before the protests began.