If you want to know how peaceful protestors who took to the streets in the Middle East feel, imagine that a photo of a black Jesus was in your church.
Or that “In God we trust” was removed from our coins.
Or that “God” was omitted from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Tell me that those changes wouldn’t lead to denunciations from American Christians claiming they are being persecuted for their beliefs.
Or maybe you don’t even know there were peaceful protests in that region of the world in response to a crude anti-Muslim video, because the spotlight has been on those who led deadly riots or used the unrest as a shield for darker interests.
But there were peaceful protests, including in Libya.
According to a report by Time Magazine, about 30,000 Libyans marched through Benghazi “in an unprecedented protest to demand the disbanding of powerful militias in the wake of last week’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.”
“Friday’s march targeted in particular Ansar al-Shariah, a militia of Islamic extremists who officials and witnesses say participated in the consulate attack. The group is also accused of attacking Muslims who don’t follow its harsh interpretation of Islam.”
The participants carried banners mourning the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“The ambassador was Libya’s friend” and “Libya lost a friend,” the signs read.
It’s easy to sit on this side of the water and shout with righteous indignation about the choices people make over there.
It’s a casual callousness born of comfort, an easy way to otherize people most of us don’t even try to understand.
But their reaction is not all that dissimilar from displays of passionate faith we experience.
We don’t riot when an artist uses animal dung or urine in a portrayal of Jesus. We advocate for laws to be changed and funding to be cut.
We don’t throw bricks; we harden hierarchies to assure our point of view will dominate and the voices of those who have no faith are drowned out.
We don’t attack embassies; we marginalize those with whom we disagree and reserve the highest offices for those of like mind.
We threaten to boycott JC Penney when it hires a spokeswoman who happens to be a lesbian or send one-day sales through the roof for a company that publicly adopts the only meaning of marriage we say our faith should ever accept.
Libya is less than a year into its democratic experiment after suffering 4 decades of oppression from a dictator whose relationship with the United States had been normalized during the previous administration.
Egypt isn’t much further along in its journey after a decades-long rule by a despot subsidized by our tax dollars.
We can lecture them about the honor of dissent because we are protected by a Bill of Rights and the most powerful military the galaxy has ever known.
We’ve forgotten that it took more than a decade to get from all men are created equal to an effective constitution; another 8 decades to fight a civil war and end slavery; and another century to guarantee that minorities could vote without having to face growling police dogs and a firefighter’s water hose, or a fear of being lynched by law enforcement officials hiding under white sheets.
And even after all of that, occasionally there comes along a man who believes himself Christian who blows up a federal building in Oklahoma City or shoots an abortion doctor in the head or plants a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics or mows down a half dozen Sikhs.
We are quick to separate the actions and beliefs of those fanatics from those of real Christians, a distinction many of us don’t extend to Muslims living in a Middle East that may appear to be in a constant state of chaos.
And still, despite our myopic callousness, thousands took to the streets of Libya to march against those fanatics, knowing their protests might lead them to the wrong end of grenade launcher.
Still, many risked their lives to protect those of Americans in that consulate attack.
Still, they thanked us for giving them a chance – just a chance – to establish the type of freedom and security we too often take for granted.