The attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and elsewhere were deplorable. American foreign policy in the Middle East must be clear and firm. Yet, a balance must be struck between supporting democracy and guarding our national interests. It won’t be easy. And Muslim rage is expected to continue.
The violence in Libya, Egypt, and across Arab countries may have looked spontaneous. It wasn’t. Many believe we can expect a new phase of Muslim rage. The Arab Spring replaced hated dictators. These dictators were all about control, including blocking internet access to prevent their people seeing inflammatory material and using their strong security forces to prevent or limit protests. That’s all changed.
Most new governments have fragile mandates, ever changing loyalties and weak security forces. They aren’t quite sure what to do or how to do it. According to the September 24th issue of TIME, “the tendency has been to look the other way and hope the demonstrators run out of steam.”
To be sure, the attacks are more than a reaction to an anti-Islam video. And, the rage isn’t directed only at America. Seven days prior to the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi, scores of people were killed in Iraq, the defense minister of Yemen survived an assassination attempt, and Syria’s civil war continued, with over 25,000 already dead. Salafists, the second leading vote getters in Egypt, attacked Sufi shrines in Tripoli and other Libyan cities. Small groups of hate mongers are taking advantage of the current situation to promote their religion and their politics, often to a suspicious and ignorant population.
Most Americans know little about the Arabs. And, they know little about us. Coincidentally, two weeks ago I completed a very interesting book entitled The Arabs: A History written by Eugene Rogen. I found it fascinating and highly recommend it. It details the last five hundred years from the rise of the Ottoman Empire until now. It outlines why the Islamic world seems to bear a grudge against the West. In their minds, Western intervention and imperialism, primarily by Britain and France, made many Arabs slaves within their own countries for centuries. And, even with independence, Britain and France still continued to extract economic benefits and support dictators who stifled individual economic and/or religious freedom.
Of course, Muslims resent slights to their religion. Hence, certain Muslim outbursts of rage play well for political parties. The Salafists are fundamentalists. They would like a fusion of government and religion as exists in Iran. Stirring up religious fervor is exactly what they are about. It’s not too difficult to do. Ignorance of the West facilitates rabble-rousing in Muslim countries. Protestors at the American embassy in Cairo erroneously believed that the offensive film was shown on “American state television”, which seemed very likely to those unaccustomed to independent broadcasting. We Americans know we don’t have a “state-run” television system, but many of the protesting Arabs didn’t know that.
The Middle East matters- big time. It’s the world’s energy’s center, at least currently. It is home to Iran, one of our committed enemies. And, it is the heart of Islam, a religion followed by over 2 billion worldwide. The Arab Spring will likely be good for America. However, now that change has come and the genie is out of the bottle, we can expect to see continued rage from a small minority of the Muslims for some time to come.