Ambassador Recalled as ‘Fine, Innocent’
LEXINGTON, Va., Sept. 14, 2012 – VMI Arabic professor Mohamed Taifi and his wife, Khadija Bentouhami, who also teaches at VMI, recall U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens as a young Peace Corps volunteer, sent to summer school in Taifi’s native Morocco to prepare to teach in a Moroccan village school.
“When we saw Chris’s picture on TV, we immediately recognized him and remembered particularly the nickname we had given him that summer, 1983, … ‘Chris Culture,’” said Taifi.
They gave him that nickname because he was so enthusiastic about learning about the Moroccan culture at the school, where Taifi, director, and Bentouhami taught the Peace Corps volunteers Arabic and supervised them as they practiced teaching English to Moroccan students.
“He was so interested in the Moroccan culture, he embraced it fully and got immersed in it,” said Taifi. Of Stevens’ death, he said, “It’s ironic. It’s crazy. … We are shocked that such a fine and innocent man dies in such a violent manner.”
Even though Morocco is a Muslim country, he said, it has never undergone dictatorship and revolution and, regarding the controversial film that has inspired protests through much of the Arab world, it’s hard for Moroccan Muslims to understand how people would turn against an entire country because of the actions of a single individual.
Numerous theories emerged in immediate aftermath of the attack that killed the ambassador, but VMI international studies professor Col. Jim Hentz noted that few facts are available and motivations may vary by country and by religious faction.
The storming of the U.S. consulate in Libya, he said, seemed to have been well planned and well organized. “The U.S. is very concerned with AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb]. My gut tells me this is an AQIM group that did this, but it has layers. . . . There was some sense that what happened in Libya was a formally orchestrated 9-11 celebration.”
Hentz said it could also be loyalists of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi using the AQIM as a shield to destabilize the government, which would not be in power had the United States not intervened during the rebellion. “Their response, at the official state level, it’s been very friendly to the United States,” said Hentz.
“It’s very complex,” said Hentz of the demonstrations in Libya and elsewhere. “Even though it’s obvious that there’s a contagion effect, each individual country has its own dynamics and its own relationships to the U.S.”