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article imageOp-Ed: Attacks on embassies — The responsibility to protect missions

By André R. Gignac     Sep 14, 2012 in World
Benghazi - While the world debates the merits of free speech and condemns the violence that it sometimes unleashes in others, the principle of civilized behaviour among nations and peoples must be reaffirmed.
Only people bathing every day in crass ignorance go around insulting other cultures and cultural representations, and it is highly unfortunate that those responsible for a film so insulting to Muslims around the world – but that no one, it seems, has seen – have been able to do their dirty work under the protection of freedom of expression.
The problem with freedom of expression is that if you want to protect the right for all to speak their mind, you must also allow imbeciles to have the same right. This means that no government, nor for that matter a mob on the street of Benghazi or elsewhere, should have the power to dictate its rules to the world, especially not under threat of violence.
Because, when a government – or a mob – starts dictating what citizens can say and what they cannot, which film can be produced and which one cannot, which newspaper can be sold and which one must be shut down, who can write and who must be silenced, inevitably society then takes a plunge for the worst kind of sterile and dark life of submission. Those who are killing right now because of that 15-minute video seem to be forgetting what kind of existence they had in the years preceding the Arab Spring. Or else, it is exactly the kind of world they are longing for.
So, while this explosive mix of justifiably angered people and marauding killers bring destruction and death in the Muslim world, one emblem of civilized relations among nations and peoples suffers enormously, and it is the principle of sovereign territory of embassies and the legal and moral obligation of the host country to protect its guests.
Every single State is bound by international obligations, of which the protection of foreign visitors and representatives is an internationally accepted and time-honoured behaviour between civilized peoples. When it comes to that, governments are not supposed to let trouble brew until the kettle explodes.
But today, not many governments of the countries affected by the recent violence will succeed in convincing anyone that they could not have foreseen this Friday’s protests and actions. Their police and security forces were visibly ill-equipped, ill-prepared and were repeatedly unable to contain a few hundred protesters intent on destroying everything in their path. American embassies around the world have been attacked, even the German and British embassies in Sudan, and late reports mentioned that an American school was under attack in Tunis, and windows of foreign restaurants shattered in Lebanon.
Whatever motives are animating a people, when they start attacking and killing guests in their own house, the principle of civilisation goes out the window; fears of monsters and acute suspicion between peoples become the order of the day.
The United Nations, which in our days is the ultimate protector of the ways between nations, must act immediately to restore international law and civilized behaviour. It is not sufficient anymore for countries to proclaim their faith in old covenants between nations, while taking their responsibility rather lightly when it comes to protecting their guests. New covenants must be arrived at, and everyone must agree that when a country is found to have failed to protect foreign guests on its soil, it will pay a steep price.
Otherwise, every citizen of the world might as well remain in their country of birth, every single door should be closed even to those who are searching for a better life, and the tourism industry in every country should be left to go crashing down, while of course everyone would pray to his own god and wait, each in his corner, for the resulting apocalypse surely to follow.
It is really tragic that Chris Stevens, the American ambassador who lost his life in Libya, was actually such a friend of the Libyan people. What is also tragic is that he and three other staff members breathed their last breath because – obviously – protection was inadequate in a very volatile country against twenty or so heavily armed extremists hiding in a crowd.
Of course, some of these countries, which have always enjoyed a good reputation as hosts, will say they do not need any lessons from any one on the subject. And quite rightly so. But in light of recent events, maybe they need a reminder from time to time.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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