Transcript of Interview with U.S. Ambassador Alexander A. Arvizu By Ilva Tare, host of “Tonight,” Ora News (September 18, 2012)
Ilva Tare: Mr. Ambassador, do you think the movie “Innocence of Muslims” was the only reason that sparked the violence in the Muslim world, the or was it just an excuse for extremists?
Ambassador Arvizu: It is difficult to speculate. I think there are multiple reasons for this. I do want to take this opportunity to thank you for introducing this topic, for giving me as the U.S. representative here an opportunity to address this issue, which has preoccupied us. You can imagine the toll it took on us here at the Embassy. It was a very difficult time personally, professionally. I didn’t know Ambassador Stevens, I certainly knew of his work, but it hit all of us pretty hard. We were really struck by the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity by the Albanians; certainly from the political leaders, spanning the political class, but also ordinary Albanians who sent us messages, posted notes on our Facebook page, or called to express their condolences. That was all very touching and moving.
With your permission, I wanted to read just very briefly a couple of statements that the President made and that Secretary Clinton made last week. These were covered widely in the press, I think you did, but to me they are very short and succinct and they really sort of encapsulate what needs to be said about this. Let me read the President’s message first. He said, “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
And then, the Secretary’s message was very complementary to this. She expanded a little bit and addresses the issue of the video, which you raised, “I hope it is obvious that the United States Government had nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And, as you know, we are home to people of all religions, including of course, millions of Muslims. We have the greatest respect for people of faith but there is no justification, none at all for responding to this video with violence. We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world – (including in Albania, of course) – have spoken out on this issue. Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents.”
Ilva Tare: In your opinion, could the U.S. Government have prevented this new wave of protests in the Muslim world? Do you believe these protests are more against freedom of speech or more anti-American protests, what is your comment on this?
Ambassador Arvizu: Protests have broken out in several countries. I have been reading the commentary, the accounts. I think it is difficult to speculate or analyze. I suspect that although there are some common threads, there are circumstances, situations unique to each country. Some of them are experiencing upheaval as a result of the Arab Spring. I think it is safe to say that there is a complexity of issues; not one explanation or description that would cover all the situations. Obviously, we strongly believe in the freedom of expression, but to the extent that violence is part of that expression is something that we find reprehensible and that we’ll continue to speak out against.
Ilva Tare: How can this divide between the Muslim and the Western world be overcome? Or in other words, do you think Islam and democracy can cohabit together?
Ambassador Arvizu: They absolutely can not just cohabitate, but prosper, flourish, and reinforce one another. There has to be greater efforts to promote understanding and tolerance. Again, for the United States, it is painful to me, it is painful to many Americans because as the President and the Secretary of State said. The United States was founded and one of our founding tenants was freedom of religion. The earliest travelers from the West to the U.S. were fleeing religious persecution. And that has, since the inception of the U.S., been a hallmark, a tradition of our state. So, for people to suggest anything other than the U.S. is a champion of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity is not just flat wrong; I find it to be an insult. There’s a passage from Scripture, it’s the New Testament, it’s Mathew. I think it is something that could probably be found in the Kur’an or any of the other world’s great religions. It’s a very simple passage. It says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” I think the simple answer is – there need to be more peacemakers, more people willing to speak out for tolerance, because that is what faith really is about.
Ilva Tare: Muslim clerics have also declared in Shkodra, the Imam of Shkodra said that they are offended by the video. Does this give you some concern and has the level of security increased because of these concerns?
Ambassador Arvizu: On security questions in general, it is standard practice not to comment, suffice it to say that our cooperation with Albanian State Police and other state authorities is excellent. They have responded as they always do, in a remarkable fashion, to heightened concerns. Specifically, in response to the sermons, no, there has been no change, no change at all in our security posture. With regard to the Imam of Shkodër and his comments, you know, I know him. In fact, we sat next to each other during an Iftar dinner that I hosted a couple of months ago. I have not spoken with him since my return to Albania and since the coming out of these videos, so I do look forward to talking to him about these videos. If says that he is offended, I think that is a sentiment that is probably shared by millions of people, including a lot of Americans, and myself. It is an offensive video. It was designed to be offensive and insulting. So, I understand that sentiment. Again, I hope that he and other leaders, in particular Muslim leaders in Albania will take this opportunity to educate, to inform people who may be confused by this, saying, What does this mean? Obviously he is a very intelligent person and he understands that this is not the work of the United States Government, this is not the work of decent Americans. It is important to put this in context. I look forward to having a conversation with him about that.