September 28th, 2012
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Most commentators agree that 'Innocence of Muslims', a derisive movie about Islam made in the United States, set off a chain of events that will dominate the news headlines for some time to come.
The day the United States embassy in Cairo and its consulate in Benghazi were stormed, this year on 9/11, was reminiscent of the way in which the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun in 1979.
That incident in 1979 led to the Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan trouncing the Democratic Party’s Jimmy Carter a few months later in the 1980 US presidential election.
Political analysts are already drawing comparisons, speculating that President Obama’s chances of a second term might still be shaped by his response to this crisis.
While 'Innocence of Muslims' it is not the only reason for the current wave of violent anti-American protests but rather the match that set light to the powder keg.
Opinions differ whether the two incidents in Cairo and Benghazi were premeditated and planned to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary, a line taken by the Libyan authorities. But parts of the film that caused the uproar and violence had been available for some time on the internet and used by an Egyptian TV station. The official US government's view is that the incidents were spontaneous and in response to the film.
What is not questioned is the timing by al-Qaeda to coincide with 9/11 and in retaliation for the death, months earlier, of one of its most senior figures and a confidant of Osama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed in Pakistan in a US drone strike. Al-Qaeda used the opportunity to call for a continuation of the jihad against the US.
The US government, despite criticism, was correct in condemning the film and claiming that in no way can it be held responsible for the production and distribution of the film.
President Obama did, however, pave the way for further tension and violence by vowing to "bring to justice" the gunmen responsible for killing the diplomats in Libya. He followed up by dispatching a Marine Corps anti-terrorist security team to Libya and deploying two navy destroyers to the Libyan coast in what a US official said was a move to give the administration flexibility for any future action against Libyan targets.
It must be said that Obama is faced with a dilemma and taking the correct action to please everybody under current circumstances is almost impossible.
Challenges of change
Looking at the images of protesters burning American flags and destroying property it springs to mind that an old lesson is once again learnt the hard way. Most revolutions, including the Arab Spring, more often than not, create and sets loose new forces and challenges which cause all sorts of problems and questions needing effort, wisdom and patience to solve.
Starting a revolution or instigating regime change is the easy part. It was clear, or should have been, that toppling Gadaffi was comparatively straightforward. Preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy in Libya, would be much harder.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
sums it up well: “The deeply held American (western) belief that all you have to do is liberate people from serfdom and dictatorship, and that then democracy and a market economy will develop more or less on their own, burned to ash.…Deeply ingrained cultural attitudes do not change simply because one political regime replaces another. In the long process of building a democratic society, it is not possible to simply skip stages."
It is a tragedy that what happened on 11 September 2012 in Cairo and Benghazi signals the failure of America’s Middle East policy.
Four years ago, President Obama said in a speech in Cairo, which was described as a policy declaration and a pledge to seek reconciliation with the Muslim world, “I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Now it is doubtful whether he has succeeded. The US it seems has even less support in the region than before.
This is not only his failure but is rather the consequences of an American foreign policy that for decades favoured power over democracy and which will suffer from a credibility problem for a long time to come.
Some analysts think Obama's Middle East policy is in ruins; anti-Americanism in the Arab world has increased to levels greater than in the Bush era. It's a bitter outcome for Obama, who was naive to believe that one only needed to adopt a new tone and show more respect in order to dispel deep-seated reservations about the free world.
The current upheavals once again prove that to reconcile different cultures and religions is never easy.
See also The impact of troublemakers