WASHINGTON— American Muslim leaders are condemning the killing of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Egypt as well as the anti-Islamic video that apparently sparked the attacks. They say violence is not the answer to criticism of their religion.
The violence in Benghazi and Cairo has shocked Americans -- including American Muslims.
A group of U.S. Muslim leaders joined other clergy at the National Press Club here in Washington on Wednesday to condemn the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
"We mourn the loss of a champion of freedom," said Imam Mohamed Majid, President of the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America.
Stevens was killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in protests that erupted over the release of a film mocking Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Majid says it offended him.
"It's okay to be angry; it's okay to be upset because we love the Prophet. But the way we respond is in the prophetic way, in his way, not the dictated way from other people who tell us we're going to incite you to commit violence so you can distort the image of your prophet furthermore," he said.
The film also offended Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism here in Washington.
"It was made to insult, to degrade, to denigrate, to mock religion in a way that common sense would have told them it was likely to evoke violence, and to do at such a time, to release it just at 9/11 [i.e., September 11, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington] was a particularly repugnant act by those who were involved with the film," Saperstein said.
Similar protests have erupted before. In 2008 in Indonesia, violence erupted in response to a film by a Dutch politician that attacked Islam's holy book, the Quran.
Haris Tarin, Washington Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group that promotes the integration of Muslims in American society, says there is a small, but committed segment of U.S. society that is trying to defame Islam.
"They're not in the business of trying to promote understanding, better relations, democracy. They're in the business of demonizing, of hate mongering and trying to marginalize American Muslim communities and incite U.S.-majority Muslim country relations," Tarin said.
Tarin says the protesters in Libya and Egypt were incited by the film to riot, but that they are wrong if they think that America is anti-Muslim. "And the last message that I want to send to our brethren in the Muslim world is that Muslims in America are a vibrant community who enjoy religious freedom to its utmost," he said.
These religious leaders say this is not a conflict between Islam and America, but between fringe groups who want to incite one.