Stevens’s murder, and continued riots across the Muslim world, reveal the consequences of irresponsible “everyday ambassadorship.” In this case, an everyday person produced and posted online the film “Innocence of Muslims,” that while poor in professional quality, clearly disparages Islam’s holy prophet Muhammad and seethes with hateful sentiments. Less than a decade ago, this would have negligibly impacted the navigation of international relations, but in a truly globalized online world, in which anyone can stand at the digital helm, it has set a brutal struggle in motion.
Though only a small fraction of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are protesting the film in outrage, the violence that continues suggests there is indeed a responsibility that comes alongside anyone’s right to free speech.
Everyday ambassadors no longer simply represent specific countries, but sets of values, and values now spread quickly and consequentially. Mobile communication and even Internet access is no longer a luxury of high-income citizens. When disparaging, insulting, and disrespectful statements are sent into the online ether, these values can proliferate. They proliferate faster the more we talk about an “other,” and the less we have meaningful, respectful interaction with others not like us.
Through online channels, those interactions can collect into a jumbled twist of negative emotions, misunderstandings, and failed communications that can ultimately result in tragic offline consequences.
In a diverse world so naturally full of opposing viewpoints, how are we to avoid outcomes like those of the past week?
Ordinary Libyan people exemplified a poignant ideal of everyday ambassadorship in the hours immediately following Stevens’s death. Their immediate outpouring of support, love, and shared grieving for the American people, through pro-America rallies and especially via photographed poster messages shared widely online, clarified that the embassy attack “does not represent us.”