There’s a lot of confusion and anger in American politics right now about who is responsible for what conservatives are somewhat mockingly referring to as the “Arab Autumn”, a play on the supposed post-terrorism awakening known as the Arab Spring that many people, including those in the Obama administration, attribute a large amount of reduction in Muslim support of terrorism over the last several months. The Arab Spring was largely considered responsible for the ousting, exile, and eventual murder of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a leader who although certainly did not treat all citizens the way we would have wanted him to, ultimately was an ally of the United States for thirty years. Our foreign policy at this time was, perhaps in retrospect unfortunately, to abandon Mubarak to the fates that may be. The Obama administration instead reported that “the United States stands with the people of Egypt”. Which I guess was always a given, but the message of the statement was more so “Whatever you guys want to do, we’re all down for. Yo.”
It turns out what the Egyptian people wanted to do was democratically elect Mohammed Morsi, the candidate for what is widely considered a terrorist organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood. When this happened, parallels were drawn immediately in my mind to President George W. Bush, who insisted the Palestinians hold democratic elections (against many people’s better judgment). Of course, the Palestinians elected the enthusiastic terrorist organization Hamas as their official government, ending all hope for a diplomatic resolution with Israel for the time being. It was a Bush fumble for sure, but one thing President Bush did that was correct, was immediately condemn and refuse to recognize Hamas as the legitimate government of a Palestinian state. In contrast, President Obama via his Press Secretary James Carney congratulated the Muslim Brotherhood victory:
“We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States,”
Whether this move would pay off in promoting beneficial relations between these our two nations nonetheless, remains to be seen.
That’s the history up until now. Fast forward to September 11th, 2012.
The US embassy in Cairo issued a statement (in my opinion very inappropriately) to use the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil that took the lives of over three thousand Americans in the name of radical Islam, to condemn being mean to Islam. Odd.
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Now to be fair, there’s really very little wrong with this statement. It remembers the people lost in the attack and condemns religious bigotry. What’s not to like? Well perhaps, in my opinion, I’d save 9/11 for just remembering those that were lost and try to leave religion and politics out of it as much as possible. The second fumble was in the last sentence: pitting freedom of speech against saying mean things, which is age-old argument that has never ended and probably never will.
For those unaware, the argument generally boils down to this:
Side A: “Freedom of speech is important but its wrong to abuse it in an effort to harm others or slander.”
Side B: “The entire point of Freedom of Speech is that you have the right to do so, to say whatever is on your mind, damning the consequences. Condemning people for disagreeing is nothing a government should do.”
And so on and so forth. So the proverbial can of worms was opened with that alone. But despite this message of support against religious bigotry, it didn’t seem to stop what seemed to be an already planned protest at the embassy a few hours later, where a very large mob of people scaled the wall, tore down the American flag, and replaced it with a black flag reminiscent of the one used by al-Qaeda with text that read “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His messenger.” The rest of the American flag was then torn to shreds and burned, as the mob demanded the ambassador to Egypt to leave, and for the United States to ban a movie filmed by a Californian director that mocked the Prophet Mohammad.
As I’ve already tweeted, there’s question whether this movie even actually exists, with the only evidence of it being an apparently extreme low-budget 15 minute trailer on Youtube. The site has already blocked the trailer from being viewed in Egypt and Libya.
As mundane as the US Embassy in Cairo’s statement seemed to be, that didn’t keep the Obama administration from outright condemning it later:
“The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.”
But then, apparently, agreeing with it in a statement by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
AHHHH who’s on first what’s on second I don’t know what’s happening is this real life???
The Romney campaign seized the opportunity as Governor Mitt Romney released his own statement condemning Obama’s apologetic emphasis:
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
How sympathetic the Obama administration was is quite debatable, although the fact that his schedule to see Beyonce and Jay-Z in concert in Las Vegas couldn’t be interrupted by the attacks certainly doesn’t look so great.
If you were to listen to the media, however, the fault lies entirely with Mitt Romney, who totally shouldn’t have denounced a statement made by an embassy that … the … white house … denounced? … say wha? Strangely this isn’t the first media manufactured gaffe of the Republican presidential candidate: they spent their entire time covering his international tour trying to find gaffes, asking him about nonexistent gaffes like … claiming Jerusalem is the capital of Israel … and what have you. Personally I have no clue why they do this: with Paul Ryan around, they don’t have any shortage of reasons to declare Republicans liars, but be that as it may…
The question of the times is, who is responsible for the middle east rioters? If you’ve been spending your entire time here biting your nails, trying to brace yourself for my eventual condemnation of Barack Obama’s soft-handed foreign policy, you can rest at ease. Because you know the middle easterners are responsible for the riots. Duh. There’s no reason to arrest this Californian director (sorry radicals), and no reason to start blaming each other for what strange, confused, and unusual people decide they need to do.
There’s already been reports that the mob of people outside of the US Embassy in Cairo was certainly … less educated, shall we put it … that previous protest groups in the area even during the Arab Spring. And as protestors stood in the embassy demanding that the United States “ban” the movie in question, exactly what the problem is seems more clear. Like so many disputes, they occur on cultural fault lines, and this situation is no different. The middle eastern riots are use to non-democratic governments that can and periodically do ban language and material they don’t agree with. In the weird backward way that it is, it’s normal for people to hold governments accountable for things they don’t like. So when they demand that the United States “ban” this movie, they’re making these demands from their own cultural perspective. The idea of Freedom of Speech, the very crux of the argument many of us are fighting over, is completely lost on these people. So when we walk up and tell them, “Hey, you know, that ambassador you demand to leave didn’t have anything to do with that movie…” they look at us dumbfounded. What do we mean? What the hell are you making excuses for? These are all things that run through their head, and also why very nicely worded and sympathetic statements don’t seem to calm anything down. Although, when has an apology ever calmed down anything in the middle east?
On top of that, the more we learn about the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya, the more it appears the raid was not a violent angry mob, but an orchestrated attack by an al-Qaeda splinter group. Again, a literal terrorist attack on American sovereign soil.
This isn’t the time to be bickering amongst ourselves or even being broken up about the feelings of middle eastern Muslims, unfortunately. Terrorism on Americans is back, and its gone completely unnoticed under the political mess this has become.