The Libyan government rightly condemned the criminals who perpetrated the assault on the U.S. consulate demonstrating that it recognizes the security challenge. Armed groups and militia are pervasive in Libya, however, the government is moving forward with the difficult task of stabilizing a country only a year after a civil war. The political system does not have the benefit of established institutions, but just this week Libya’s parliament elected Mustafa Abu-Shakour as prime minister.

Nearly two years ago the people of Tunisia set in motion the Arab Spring that amazed the world. The attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen are deeply troubling, but they do not mean that the Arab Spring has failed or even ended. The recent violence in the Middle East and North Africa exemplifies the challenge that lies ahead. The world supported the aspirations of those who struggled for freedom not only because it was good for them, but because it was good for the world. This is still true. Changing decades of despotic rule and sustaining fragile governments and nascent democracies is a painful and slow process; supporters knew it would be.

Not long ago, the world witnessed some of the bleakest moments in America’s development, and it witnessed how through non-violence the U.S. evolved. For years, members of the Klu Klux Klan spewed hatred against racial and religious minorities. The constitution protected the rights of the Klan to speak even when their words pained us. What the constitution did not protect was the Klan’s physical violence, murder of innocent people, burning of homes, and endangerment of lives. In a free country there is an inherent struggle to balance the rights of citizens and the need to protect individuals from harm.

A government’s protection of free speech in no way equals an endorsement of the sentiments expressed. This is an important concept, and critical to understanding the U.S. government’s position regarding the anti-Islamic video that sparked outrage in North Africa and the Middle East recently.  I join other U.S. leaders in firm condemnation and disdain of the vulgar and sacrilegious video. I also join U.S. leaders in condemning the deadly violence that the outrage triggered. I have taken note that the governments of Libya, Egypt, and Yemen have expressed their condemnation of the attacks against US property and representatives. The distinctions are important. I urge restraint from my colleagues who have called for Congress to cut aid to Libya and Egypt because of the recent acts. It would be misguided to penalize the governments and people of these nations for the acts of criminals. I do, however, expect these governments to work with us to secure our personnel and embassy compounds. 

Now is not the time to pull back our support. International community expressions of condolences and solidarity with the United States immediately following the attacks reflect the principles and values that we all share. I call on my colleagues and the international community to stand with the people who launched the Arab Spring aspiring to these principles and values. 

Meeks is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.