Monday, October 01, 2012

Videos, protests, and murder: The bigger picture in Libya and beyond

By Ali Ezzatyar

The killing of Ambassador Stevens is still shrouded in some ambiguity. But a media firestorm on the subject, stoked by certain U.S. lawmakers, is missing the point, and that goes for the mainstream media's analysis of recent protests in the Muslim world as well.

The U.S. Government, and the State Department in particular, are being criticized for not disclosing the nature of the attack on Mr. Stevens' safehouse. The notion underlying this criticism is that the State Department might have known that it was a planned hit, and not the result of an uncontrollable, angry mob. Still deeper, the mainstream media is emphasizing that Al Qaeda's involvement in the attack is still either unknown or undisclosed.

It is true that if this was a planned assassination, it is worth knowing, but mostly for logistical reasons. There was a security failure and that needs to be addressed. It resulted in the loss of a courageous public servant. But the media's desire to paint a coherent picture about the causes and motivations for the killing -- a picture that does not exist -- is detrimental to understanding the broader problem.

Let's acknowledge that there are individuals in all Muslim countries that make it a priority to kill high-profile Americans. I fail to see how we can still be so wedded to the Al Qaeda vernacular. It is totally disingenuous to say things like "Al Qaeda-linked group," and still worse, "Al Qaeda-inspired." Virtually every Muslim extremist group, with the exception of a minority of Shiite ones, is Al Qaeda-inspired. Certainly every one of these groups in North Africa is. These groups have no link to the Al Qaeda America first waged war on in 2001, or even before in Tanzania. They are not the organization some still insist on imagining them to be. If we are being intellectually honest, there is nothing to hide about Al Qaeda, even if the murderer from Benghazi has a picture of Bin Laden in his wallet.

Whether or not these angry mobs or these killing squads consider themselves part of a larger structure is irrelevant. The real issue is how they manage to be brought out into the streets by their preachers. It is not a video about their prophet that is the proximate cause of the violence. It is a general frustration with the West, its policies in the region, coupled with a mental atrophy that allows them to attribute the actions of one person to an entire nation. To address the former, we need to support the positive elements in Muslim society which make up the vast majority. For decades, we sometimes supported the authoritarian minority. To address the latter, we need to engage the majority and the minority, through our diplomacy, through our culture of acceptance and openness, and through our support for civil society.

I think one of the most unfortunate developments last week was the handful of speeches given by leaders of majority Muslim countries at the U.N. The basic gist of all of them was that we should not accept blasphemy of religion as freedom of speech. Yes, we should. Any other logic applied to freedom of speech is a slippery slope. It is difficult to assess to what extent such words are designed to placate respective constituencies -- yes, they do that in other countries as well. Either way, one can hope that these new, democratically elected leaders will either turn out to be, or be succeeded by, courageous thinkers who both understand what free society entails and are wedded to its establishment.

The protests in the Muslim world relating to that online video are indicative of so many things. Much of the publicity about these events have focused on backlash and anger at the video's content. In reality, this is the least important factor to consider in the entire ordeal. It is more fundamental to recognize that the Muslim world is frustrated with the West generally, that there remains a fundamental disagreement about what democracy entails, and finally, that divisions among Muslims themselves are being exposed by these new democratic openings in society. Particularly with respect to the last point, there is a splendor in the debate that is taking place within the Muslim world today; what Ambassador Stevens' life work represented is the most honorable and appropriate of spokes that drives the wheel moving the Middle East into modernity.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home