On Wednesday 12 September 2012, I joined the Libyan People and Muslims all over the world in unequivocally condemning the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and his staff. Although I agreed that the YouTube film depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a negative and profane manner was a clear provocation, I argued that the sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life.
Four days later on Sunday 16 September 2012, a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan killed eight women and girls who were out gathering firewood in the remote Laghman Province in the east of the country. After initially denying the fact, but with the evidence staring in their face, NATO was subsequently forced to acknowledge the killings and to apologize.
The proximity of these two events made me hyper conscious of the fact that, in my capacity as chairperson of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, and Imam of Claremont Main Road Mosque, I was approached by more than one media source to make a statement on the events at the Libyan embassy, but none of the media sources invited me to make a statement on the NATO killings four days later. It highlighted once again the selective way in which the media responds to and reports on events in which innocent people are killed. There is always an outpouring of rage and condemnation whenever American or European citizens are killed abroad, while responses to the more frequent killing and deaths of innocent men, women and children by US and NATO forces in all parts of the world, are much more muted. The latter killings and deaths are dismissed as ‘collateral damage’ and justified as ‘wars of aggression’ against ‘forces of terror’ and in the name of ‘restoring democratic regimes’.
In our responses we must guard ourselves against becoming complicit in regarding deaths of innocent Americans or Europeans abroad as being more tragic and senseless than the deaths and killings of innocent Iraqi, Afghani or Yemeni citizens. We should be expressing our outrage equally if not more, at the deaths and killings of the many men, women and children who have lost their lives violently at the hands of US and NATO forces in the ongoing illegitimate ‘wars of invasion’. Under international law those responsible for the mass killing of innocent people must be prosecuted, whether the wars are legal or not.
The death of the Libyan Ambassador and his staff is as tragic and senseless as the killing of the eight Afghani women and children by NATO forces. There is no ‘hierarchy of human life’ and there can never be any justification for the killing of innocent human beings.
Rashied Omar, research scholar of Islamic studies and peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is the coordinating imam of Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa. He issued this statement today from Cape Town, where he spends the fall semester each year.