September 15, 2012
While the nation mourns the killing of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and four others, there lingers misunderstandings of what happened in Libya and Egypt and why.
While anti-American feeling is strong in parts of the Middle East, the attacks in Egypt and Libya were really a case of political opportunism by the Salafist Islamic extremists who are unhappy with the success of the more moderate Islamist and secularist parties in Egypt and Libya.
The violence was not spontaneous; rather it appeared to be well-planned and coordinated. The “Innocence of Muslims” film that mocks and insults the prophet Muhammad, was really just a pretext or excuse for the violence. Once violence begins, no matter how well-planned, it can turn quickly into a mob, taking on a life of its own, spreading thoughtlessly. Even al-Qaeda is taking part.
Who made the film? The knee-jerk reaction by too many is, “It must be the Jews.” But we should have been extremely skeptical of the source of the movie. Initially, the word was that the film was made by an Israeli-American named Sam Bacile, cost $5 million, and was financed with money from “more than 100 Jewish donors.” The filmmaker was later identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Egyptian Coptic Christian and convicted felon. As the dust finally settles, it now appears that fundamentalist Christians were aided by a fundamentalist Islamic cleric in Egypt to stir up chaos in the Middle East, and then blame the Jews. The moral of the story is that we should wait until all the evidence is in before pointing fingers.
The filmmakers are protected from prosecution in the U.S. under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Of course, we all have a right to condemn filmmakers for making the film, the resulting violence, and the killings. I do not plan to watch the film.
The film, by the way, was translated into Arabic and broadcast on Arab TV stations and talk shows, which sparked the violence. Why would Arab TV stations choose to show it if they knew or should have known it would spark violence? If it had not been shown on Arab TV, the movie probably would have slipped quietly into obscurity where it belongs. What were the Arab TV producers’ motives in highlighting a film made by extremists? Yes, they had a right to show and discuss the film, but they could have chosen not to.
How will the film, the violence, and the death of Ambassador Stevens and four others effect American politics? Fox News used the killings to revive the long-debunked claim that President Obama apologizes for America. The U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” which was released before the protests started. The embassy later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.” Hours later, this statement was disavowed by the Obama administration, quoting an official who said that “the statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.” President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both strongly condemned the violence that resulted from these protests.
One thing the deaths have done is take the election focus away from the economy to foreign policy. It looks like Obama is coming away a winner in the short term. But then the violence is not over, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions are ever present.