Best and Worst of California in Libya Story

Mideast Libya

The story about the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three State Department employees is being labeled foreign news by TV stations and newspapers. But it's also a California story.

Indeed, three facets of the story are rooted in California, and taken together they show the best and worst of the state.

The best is represented by Stevens, a Bay Area native who, in the most honorable of traditions in this globally-oriented state, reached out and embraced the world. He studied hard, focused on language, and devoted his career to public service in some of the world's most challenged countries, mostly in the Middle East.

The worst is represented by the hateful, paranoid, and fear-mongering producers of the movie, The Innocence of Muslims, which was made and released in Southern California, by Southern Californians. Details of how the film came together are still coming out, but those who have acknowledged association are people with history of offering conspiracy theories and promoting anti-Muslim views.

This is wholly unsurprising; California has a very long history as a haven for crackpots and conspiracists.

And that third facet of the story?

In Egypt, the film has been cited as a reason for attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. These attacks did not draw much of a condemnation from Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi; some observers saw his government as even tacitly encouraging the attacks.

What's this have to do with California? Morsi is an alumnus of the University of Southern California, a national leader in foreign students. The outreach by American higher education to foreign students has many goals, chief among them the ideal that education can be a bridge of understanding, and that the U.S. will benefit when it educates future global leaders. Sadly, in this case, Morsi hasn't lived up to the ideals of the institution that helped with his education.

Thinking of this story this way is provocative, and offers only a narrow take on a complex series of events. But it's also worth remembering that putting garbage out into the world, as the film's makers did, can have consequences.

On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called the fatal attack in Benghazi a "spontaneous reaction" to the chaos sparked by the 15-minute video.

The garbage in this case spurred a series of events that ended with the taking of the life of Stevens, his colleagues and dozens of others. Their blood is on the hands of those who did the killing. But the actions of the worst can sometimes contribute to hurting the best.

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