It is as if to suggest that America won the Cold War through non-intervention, as if to ignore overt and covert wars that to only killed millions in places like Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa but that also birthed the modern jihadi movement in Afghanistan in the 1980's. It is important to recognize that Newsweek, CNN and other major media outlets represent the mainstream and so another lesson unlearned from the last few weeks is that extremist influence is growing all over the western world.
Hope for Change
Some of the reaction to the controversy provides reason for optimism however. It is perhaps cliche' to state these days that Clinton gets it, but the work of Hillary Clinton's State Department actually provided a sensible voice of balanced rationalism. Clinton was the first to remark that, "The U.S. government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," but she also emphasized that, "we absolutely reject its content and messages. But there is no justification - none at all- for responding to this video with violence." She went on to explain American values and longstanding commitment to freedom of religion. And while the mainstream press concentrated on vitriolic statements from Obama and Romney juxtaposed against images of angry Muslims in the streets, Clinton's remarks led to a few mostly unacknowledged benefits.
Mohammad Moursi cancelled planned
Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations on Friday that could have sent tens of
thousands into the streets. Moursi's salafist counterparts of the Al-Nour party
called for calm as well stating, "We appreciate and value... the statement
from the U.S. embassy that condemned the insult on Islam and its
Prophets." Morocco's new Foreign Minister Saad-Edine al Othmani offered condolences
and emphasized his country's, "clear position against violence and against
any confrontation as a way of solving problems."
Even Ansar al-Shariah, the group blamed for the killing in Libya, renounced violence. Sadly, the mainstream media covered little of it and refused to emphasize that protests thereafter remained predominantly nonviolent. It is hopeful that in coming month's rational discussion between Middle East populaces and their political leaders will contribute to advancing a new, pluralistic Middle East.
Rather than seek to sabotage Arab
democracy by forcing conflict with salafists or promoting elitist economic
models, Americans should reflect instead on the development of their own
democracy. many of the debates playing
out now in the Muslim world hearken to the early birth of the American
republic: to James's Madison's tirade against "mob rule", to the
Federalist Papers argument for a strong national government, to questions about
the role of religion. Likewise the
struggle of minorities, women, labor, and dissidents played out over more than
200 years. Arab democracy will certainly
differ from America's but faith in freedom and liberty is rooted in an
inalienable belief in when people everywhere and anywhere are given the freedom
to choose they will choose to check the irrational tyranny of both government
and fringe extremists.
If anything, it was a refusal to apply that belief across the board that scarred America's own development. Americans cannot and should not want to shape events in the Muslim world anymore than they would like others to dictate the terms of their existence. Americans would be much better off if they sought genuine dialogue with the Muslim world. The rhetorical approach alongside efforts at social engineering will fail. All efforts to manipulate Arab publics will only provoke more rage.
The Obama administration's immediate response to the protests was to declare, "It is a response not to U.S. policy, not to the administration, not to the U.S. people but it is a reaction to a video." That denial continues unto today, but we will soon learn that coating reality with rhetoric only serves as a temporary Band-Aid. Deceptive measures to manipulate the postmodern Middle East will fail first in the Muslim world and then at home where America's own extremists lurk in the shadows waiting to wage World War III.
As world leaders arrived in New
York for the UN General Assembly meeting this week it was telling that Hillary
Clinton and not Barack Obama was front and center. While Hillary will remain
engaged throughout the week, the president was first seen Monday on the View, a
popular television talk show that reaches the intellectual level of gossip.
Obama spent Tuesday in front of the UN speaking with discriminatory application
of principle, warmongering against Iran, and threatening economic isolation of
the Middle East and more patronizing rhetoric that is sure to fall flat with
populations in the Muslim world. Yet, Secretary of State Clinton also runs the
risk of using rhetoric to placate angry Arab publics while initiating actual
policy with the potential for disaster in the long term.
In an interview with Jim Lehrer at PBS before Egyptian presidential elections she warned, "We are always better off on the side of democracy but we have to keep our eyes wide open... it wasn't long ago, during the Cold War, that if somebody was elected, somebody we didn't like, we took some action." That call is not at all different from Ayan Hirsi Ali's.
Today it seems obvious that American efforts at social engineering in the Middle East are set to continue. As Senator John Kerry explained it, "There will be moments of danger and moments of setback and confrontation but we have to continue to push our interests, and you can't retreat." As the FBI team arrived in Libya, Hillary Clinton parroted Obama, "we will not rest until the people who orchestrated the attack are found and punished," she said. The U.S. is pressuring governments all over the Muslim world to crack down on salafists. The Libyan Army expelled members of Ansar al-Shariah from its headquarters over the weekend. But as Mustafa Abu Shegour, Libya's next prime minister put it, attacking salafist groups is not the best way to deal with the threat of extremism. "These groups are small segments of society. They grow in an oppressive environment and we don't want to mimic the environment in which they were created," he said.
CNN's Carol Cenello kicked off Wednesday's Morning Edition with quotes from the presidential candidates about American football's replacement referees. "Many Americans don't care about politics," she explained, "but they all care about NFL football." The issues around the protests will continue to wane from public consciousness over the next few weeks but unconscious stereotypes will remain and a growing global irrationality will likely sustain. We would do much better were we to reflect on the fact that Libyan Prime Minister Abu Shegour's reference to the environment that he stressed created extremism is not limited to the environment of the Gaddafi regime but includes an environment the
West helped create and sustain throughout the Muslim world through its suppression of freedom and support for authoritarianism. When Americans are ready to recognize that reality they will realize the true reason so many Muslims show up to protest movies and cartoons.
Younus Abdullah Muhammad is an American Muslim and Master of International Affairs. He is presently incarcerated in the U.S. Federal Prison system.