President Barack Obama on Wednesday “strongly condemned” the Islamist attack that killed four American diplomats in Libya, but he also used the same statement to condemn Americans’ criticism of Islam.
“While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” he said in a 7:21 a.m. statement.
The attack in Libya came as Islamists also broke into the U.S. embassy in Egypt, and marks the growing clout of popular Islamist groups following the U.S.-backed removal of those countries’ authoritarian governments.
Obama’s two-sided message came only a few hours after Gov. Mitt Romney accused him of sympathizing with the Islamists who attacked the U.S diplomatic sites on the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2011 attack by other Islamists that killed 3,000 Americans.
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt,” Romney said. But, he added, it “is disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” said his late-night Sept. 11 statement.
Romney’s sharp statement came after news reports revealed that the Cairo embassy tried to appease a planned Sept. 11 protest which was called by Islamists who oppose any criticism of Islam in any country.
The Islamist protesters occupied part of the embassy, and tore down the U.S. flag. They said they were angry about a movie being shot in California that highlights many damaging statements and actions attributed by orthodox Muslims to Islam’s 7th century prophet, Muhammad.
Shortly before the protest began, the embassy condemned the movie’s Californian producers for “abuse” of the United States Constitution’s First Amendment.
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” said the embassy statement.
That statement was reportedly repudiated late last night by a White House official. “The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government,” an administration official said, according to Politico.
However, Obama has previously condemned U.S. critics of Islam.
In 2011, Islamists in northern Afghanistan went on a rampage and murdered several locals and aid-workers after a U.S. pastor, Terry Jones, burned a copy of the Koran book. Earlier, the President of the United States used the power of his office to deter the pastor of the little-known church in Florida from burning copies of the Koran book.
“The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else’s religion … is contrary to what this nation is founded upon, and my hope is that this individual prays on its and refrains from doing it,” Obama said during a September 2010 press conference in the White House.
“We’ve got an obligation to send a very clear message [to Americans that this kind of behavior or threats of action put our young men and women in harms way … this is a way of endangering our troops, our sons and daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives,” he insisted, without condemning people who threaten to kill Americans if their favored books are burned.
In recent years, Islamists have threatened and attacked numerous critics of Islam. For example, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris went underground in 2010 after Islamists threatened her for urging cartoonists to defy Islamic objections to the ridicule of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. In 2012, an American Muslim convert was sentenced to 11 years in jail for threatening to attack the producers of the “South Park” cartoon.
Around the Mediterranean, the growing role of popular Islamist movements is eclipsing the threat posed by the non-government al-Qaida Islamist group, and seems set to spur many conflicts with the U.S.
However, the attacks on the embassies may also create difficulties for Obama’s reelection, just as the rise of Islamists in Iran during President Jimmy Carter’s term helped cause his loss in the 1980 election. Carter did not oppose the Iranian Islamists’ power grab, and they subsequently took hostage the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.