Christopher Stevens was neither killed by a film, nor by U.S. policy

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya was killed by Islamic anti-American fanaticism.

By now there’s no need to point out the right-wing, anti-Muslim bad guys in the story surrounding Tuesday’s attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Mitt Romney is one of those heavies, and the Egyptian Copt and American hardass in California who made the film “Innocence of Muslims,” along with all those who promoted it on YouTube, are the others. (By now it should also be known that there was no “Israeli-American real-estate developer” named Sam Bacile behind the movie, nor was it financed by “over 100 Jewish donors” – that was all a cover story made up by the Egyptian Copt “producer,” a scam artist named Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, who was assisted by a Christian anti-Muslim fanatic named Steve Klein.)

Romney and the Republicans are paying electorally for his moral idiocy in denouncing the Obama administration (as well as the besieged U.S. embassy officials in Cairo) for making what he called an “apology for American values” by speaking out against the film. The Nakoulas and Kleins of the world will be back in action soon enough, but for now at least they are in the doghouse.

So enough said about those bad guys. What does, however, need to be said about this story, and said by opponents of right-wing Muslim-haters, is that the ultimate villains were the Muslim anti-American fanatics who killed Stevens and the three others, along with their soulmates outside the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen, and their sympathizers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

They have no right to use violence against America or Americans – certainly not because of that or any other film, but also not because of American actions in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia or any other Muslim country. Agree with U.S. policy in the Mideast or not, America is not ruling any Muslim country against its will, it does not have troops in any Muslim country without the eager cooperation of that country’s leadership and much if not most of its population, it sent American troops and trillions of dollars against widely-hated Muslim leaders such as Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and it supported and continues to support the Arab Spring, notably in Libya.

I’m not saying America acts in the Middle East purely out of altruistic motives, and some of what it does – notably the 2003 invasion of Iraq – is reckless and causes more harm than good. But America is not the bad guy in the Middle East, and Muslims do not have the right to attack it.

The one spot in the region where the U.S. is consciously serving a wholly immoral cause is in the Palestinian territories, where it acts as the enabler of the Israeli occupation. But even there, the U.S. has always pushed Israel, albeit much too faint-heartedly, to end its rule over the Palestinians, not extend it. And at any rate, the rioters in Benghazi, Cairo and elsewhere weren’t rioting over the occupation.

They were rioting, ostensibly, over that racist porn film “Innocence of Muslims,” which they of course had no right to do, either, even though I can certainly understand why any Muslim would be insulted by such filth. Yet the fact is that Muslim fanatics such as those who killed Stevens – as distinct from Muslims in general, who I believe are embarrassed by the recent violence – have rioted and killed over much lesser offenses to Islam and Mohammed – and they did so once, most infamously, over a work of fiction that wasn’t meant as an offense to Islam or Mohammed at all.

By ironic coincidence, I spent part of Wednesday, the day the news came pouring in about Libya, reading a long personal account in The New Yorker by Salman Rushdie about “The Satanic Verses” and the fatwa that Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced on him in 1989. I didn’t read the novel, but I take Rushdie at his word that the only insults to Mohammed in it are spoken by the characters of Mohammed’s enemies. Writing of himself in the third person, Rushdie explains that in his book:

[T]he material derived from the origin story of Islam was, he thought, essentially respectful toward the Prophet of Islam, even admiring of him. It treated him as he always said he wanted to be treated, not as a divine figure (like the Christians’ “Son of God”) but as a man (“the Messenger”). It showed him as a man of his time, shaped by that time, and, as a leader, both subject to temptation and capable of overcoming it. …

When he was first accused of being offensive, he was truly perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation — an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a genuine one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive? The thin-skinned years of rage-defined identity politics that followed taught him, and everyone else, the answer to that question.

The riots and killings and insanity among Muslim crazies over “The Satanic Verses” were rooted not in Western Islamophobia, but in the streak of fanaticism that plagued the Muslim world then and still plagues it now. That is what we saw in the mobs in Benghazi, in Cairo, in Sana and in Tehran. You do not have to be a Muslim-basher or even just a Republican to denounce them and hold them responsible for the deaths of Christopher Stevens and the three others. (Several of the injured, incidentally, included Libyan security personnel trying to save the Americans in the consulate.)

Just as Israel and America are responsible for their sins, and for their bad guys, so is the Muslim world.