The Folly Behind The Wisdom
In a despairingly tragic turn of events, the world woke up last Tuesday to the devastating news that Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador in Libya was senselessly killed. It was reported that Islamist gunmen attacked the US consulate as well as a safe house refuge in Benghazi, Libya. The act was supposedly for revenge against a film that directly insulted their beliefs. The violence in the eastern part of the city of Benghazi had been culminating amidst the 10thanniversary of the September 11 attack of the US by al-Qaeda. Indeed, the violence in the Middle East as a whole has reached a fever frenzy in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Tunisia.
The fact that terrorists use religion to instigate bloodshed and mayhem is intolerable. A fundamental trait in a reasonably objective person would be to respect another’s personal belief, but violent actions should be unanimously condemned. A majority of the world cheered and supported the unity and stance taken by patriotic nationals in the uprising of what the history books will remember as the “Arab Spring”, amidst mostly non-violent campaigns, Arab nationals rose against the darkening tide of dictatorship and corruption. The protests that took place were strategically planned and, interesting to note, they took place for the purpose of the betterment of the struggling working class.
Egypt was a primary example of a non-violent type of protest. The marches that took place in Tahrir Square, Cairo, were so successful because the strategy was not only non-violent but meticulously organized. The inflammatory anti-Muslim film that has been blamed in the upsurge called “The Innocence of Muslims” was allegedly filmed by Blue Cloud Studious in Santa Clarita. It is disturbing on investigation to learn that the film negatively portrays the Prophet Mohammed as sexually promiscuous in several graphic films of a pseudo-pornographic nature. The maker of the movie, Sam Bacile, who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, claimed that “Islam is a cancer, period”. The film has now sparked many parts of the Middle East to rioting and Egypt is no exception. Last week, after a particular violent demonstration, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsey on his official face book page addressed the crises thus: “The presidency condemns in the strongest terms the attempt of a group to insult the place of the Messenger, the Prophet Mohammed…and condemns the people who have produced this radical work. The Egyptian people, both Muslims and Christians, refuse such insults on sanctities.”
But after a discourse with President Barack Obama in what the White House describes as a review of the “strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt”, Morsey criticized the attacks that took place in Libya. While visiting the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, Morsey said, “Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us.”
Following the fall of several dictatorship regimes in the Middle East, it is disturbing to note that moderate- Muslim governments seemed to have unwittingly paved the path for more extremists and terror unto their communities and international borders. Last Tuesday’s attack was indeed a dire setback to international peace, and is bound to put a strain in relations not only with the US but other countries too. While dictatorships and absolute monarchies have stifled and oppressed the Arab people for decades, several factors have pointed to the reasoning that these dictators were able to maintain an uneasy peace in their countries. Six years after the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein, the state of affairs in the ruined shattered streets of Iraq has left many Iraqis questioning the future of their country. The “Arab Spring” that was the series of revolutionary protests and demonstrations in the Arab world has somehow paved a path for several embattled countries with fatal security challenges, suicide bombings and mounting terrorism. Many sectarian clashes in the region have been described as spillovers of uprising resulting in the culmination of regional protests. Similarities have been drawn by observers comparing the Arab Spring movement and the pro- democratic, anti- Communist Revolutions of 1989 (known as the Autumn of Nations) that swept through Eastern Europe and the Communist world, in terms of scale, gravity and significance. But it is important to note that several differentiating factors – for example, the use of internet or social media to highlight struggles— were an advantage for protesters in the Arab Spring.
Over a year after the fall and death of the former Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, Tripoli and other parts of Libya stand in ruin amidst constant bombings and sectarian crisis. Libya witnessed a popular uprising against the former dictator that lasted from February to October 2011. Libyans voted on July 7, 2012, in elections that observers called free and fair. The Libyan General National Congress replaced the Transitional National Council in August; they are to govern the country until elections are held on the basis of the new constitution. The US Embassy in Libya only resumed operations on September 11, 2011; and the consular services for US citizens resumed August 27, 2012. After the general rejoicing of the downfall of Ghaddafi though, crime levels in Tripoli have significantly increased. There are increased reports of car theft, armed robbery, burglary and other even more serious crimes. Since the revolution, it would seem that the Libyan police and internal security institutions have not fully reconstituted themselves and, shockingly, 16,000 criminals released from prison by the former regime are still roaming the streets of Libya. Another contributing factor to the volatile environment are the thousands of firearms that were looted during the riots from government buildings and storage facilities.
After last Tuesday’s siege in the eastern part of the country, Libya’s new prime minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, said he would strive to improve security by boosting the national police force and army as well as collecting weapons.
Even prior to the discovery of oil, the Middle East has been a region of religious conflict and wars over other rich resources and land. The fall of the Ottoman Empire paved the way for rising European imperial and colonial powers interested in securing various territories and controlling access to Asia. Edward Said, in his highly acclaimed book Orientalism, claims that for centuries Western populations have been acclimatized to a type of propaganda and vilification of Arabs and the Middle East, and this has provided an excuse for involvement to ensure “stability” for the “national interests” of powers that want to be involved in the region. The cultural stereotyping and apparent racism were magnified in the 1980s war films, always depicting Arabs as the bad guys. As a result on the terrorist attacks against the US on September 11, and the resulting “War on terror”, that imagery still exists.
The Middle East is the most militarized region in the world and most arm sales take place there. Arabs are a suppressed people that generally see Western influence as a major root cause of the current problems in the region; this has led to a rise in acts of terrorism and anti-Western sentiment. The Iraq War/ invasion, conflict between Israel and Palestine, the crises in Lebanon, strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan, invasion of Libya and now the crises in Syria has culminated into a chaotic state of affairs.
While the invasions and strikes may have been methodically planned, the aftermath of such actions may not have been fully considered by the invading countries. The West appears to have responded with what looks like a genuine humanitarian intervention attempt; but more amplified measures need to be taken to curb the escalating violence and bloodshed. On reflection, the concept of overthrowing merciless dictators may have seemed an initially wise one. But after years of brutal war and the spilled innocent blood of thousands of victims, we cannot help but be perplexed at the folly behind the wisdom.