by James McGinnis
Bucks County Courier-Times
Lawmakers in Washington and closer to home were struggling Wednesday to make sense of the growing international political unrest resulting from a YouTube video, which portrays the Muslim prophet Muhammad as an incompetent philanderer leading a band of goons.
President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice the murderers of U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed during protests against the film “Innocence of Muslims.”
Stevens reportedly died of smoke inhalation after crowds, possibly reacting to the film footage, stormed the consulate in the city of Benghazi. Three other Americans were reported dead on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks. Clips from “Innocence of Muslims” were first posted on YouTube more than two months ago.
The violence against American embassies both in Libya and Egypt “serve as a stark reminder of the challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead as this historically volatile region undergoes rapid and dramatic changes,” said Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, in a statement released Wednesday.
The murdered ambassador and other “peaceful messengers of American democratic values must be protected from the designs of those seeking to silence the voice of free people around the world,” the congressman added.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., described Ambassador Stevens as a “stellar diplomat and extraordinary representative of the United States.”
“This senseless act of violence should not go unpunished and I urge the administration to make every effort to ensure Libyan authorities bring the perpetrators to justice,” Casey added.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, D-13, described Tuesday’s attacks as a “direct affront to America and the values of freedom and democracy that we hold true.”
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., expressed disgust with the violence abroad as well as the statements by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“At a time when we should be standing together against these senseless acts of violence, Mitt Romney offered an atrocious political response that undermines our unity in the face of threats to Americans around the world.”
The Republican candidate for president has criticized the White House for a statement released by the American embassy in Egypt. In the statement, embassy officials attempted to apologize for the film and any who “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
Romney said it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
“Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy,” the statement continued. “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Amara S. Chaudhry, civil rights director for the Pennsylvania Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she was concerned the attacks would be used “for political gain” at the expense of Muslims.
“People keep asking me to respond to this event in my capacity as an ‘American Muslim,’ but, in truth, I’m not responding to this event as either an American, or as a Muslim. I’m simply responding to these events as a human being who is mourning a tragic and unnecessary loss of life,” said Chaudhry, of Collegeville.
“This video itself does not affect my life at all,” said Chaudhry. “But I am concerned when elected officials and people who aspire to be elected officials make anti-Muslim remarks,” she added.
Meanwhile, the writer and director of the two-hour film, Sam Bacile, has reportedly gone into hiding after the release of a 13-minute movie trailer on YouTube sparked protests through the Muslim world.
Muslims find it offensive to depict the prophet Muhammad in any manner and the movie depicts him as a feckless philanderer who approved of child abuse and whose followers are a band of goons.
Bacile, a California real estate developer, said his film cost $5 million to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors. As of Wednesday afternoon, the film trailer had been viewed more than 300,000 times, according to YouTube.