U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) on Wednesday said he mourns for the Americans killed during riots at American diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and he condemned the video that sparked the protests.
Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday morning, Ellison said he is "deeply disturbed," termed the attacks a "terrible, terrible tragedy" and said protesters "could have written letters and could have registered their disapproval in a number of ways, but they resorted to murder."
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed Tuesday during attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Violence also erupted at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, in response to a short American-made video called "Innocence of Muslims" that mocks Islam's founding prophet, Muhammad.
(See Ellison's short speech Wednesday on the floor of the U.S. House above. You can watch a clip from the movie that sparked the attacks by clicking on the second YouTube thumbnail. NOTE: The footage may be considered offensive.)
Ellison released the following statement:
I am deeply disturbed by the attacks on our diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt. Four Americans have now been killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. My heart goes out to their families. They were brave public servants working tirelessly to improve relations with Egypt, Libya, and the rest of the world. This is a tragic loss.
The amateurish and stupid video that sparked these riots was deeply offensive not only to Muslims but also to anyone who respects the faith of others. It was designed to provoke, and sadly, the provocateurs successfully induced some people to take the bait. Instead of ignoring or peacefully condemning the film, they resorted to violence and mayhem.
Yes, the film’s creators hatefully attacked what so many people hold most dear: their relationship with the Divine. But responding with violence is never justified. And those who think they are doing so in the name of Islam are wrong and ill informed. The abuse of free speech rights, no matter how offensive, does not give license for senseless acts of violence.
People need to understand that the United States government had no role in creating this film. In fact, the government has condemned it and the American people have rejected it; it violates the American value of religious tolerance. The vast majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths live in peace and harmony in the United States, and reject the hateful expressions in the film. No one should confuse the tiny group who made thisdisrespectful and deliberately provocative film with the American people or the U.S. government. The United States Constitution protects religious freedom, but it also prohibits the government from silencing misguided individuals who abuse their free speech rights.
Hateful provocateurs will always try to stir the pot, but it’s up to us to remain calm and not let it boil over. Now innocent public servants who dedicated their lives to building bridges between people are dead. What we need is more understanding and tolerance, not conflict and bloodshed.
Ellison's Republican opponent, Chris Fields, released the following response:
Today I join with many Americans who mourn the savage murder of four innocent American diplomats who lost their life, including U.S. Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, in the attack on our embassy at Benghazi, Libya.
I join Congressman Ellison’s condemnation of the attacks. I do not however share his view that the attackers were provoked by a “stupid video.” Intolerance of American values provoked these brutal murders.
Many people thought that the election of the first Muslim to Congress would show the Islamic world that America was not only a free country, but a tolerant one as well. They hoped that Congressman Ellison would enhance the efforts of our country to reach out to the Islamic world. His shocking statement on this matter sadly indicates that he believes American values were the chief instigator of this violent attack. Such a statement is shameful and disgraceful.
It's an outrage that a sitting U.S. Congressman would try to convince Americans that our values and constitution provoked the murders of those who served our country.
I believe we must work with Libyan officials to ensure these murderers are brought to justice. We must also work to ensure the safety of those who serve our country abroad.
Americans have a constitutional right to free speech. It is long past time that radicals in the Islamic world reconcile themselves to that fact. When they do the world will be a much better place and these senseless acts of violence will no longer occur.
America is a good place and we have no reason to apologize for our values or our constitution. We are a free society and must remain that way.