There are clearly two dimensions to the events that are currently unfolding in the Islamic world, triggered by the freelance video production, Innocence of Muslims, which is a deliberate insult to Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam.
Muslims protest against the anti-Islam film
ONE: THE EVENT.
For us in the Western world no amount of reasoning or rationalization could possibly show any justification for the violent mob reactions that led to the killing of the American ambassador and three others, as well as ten Libyan guards, in Benghazi, Libya, the night of September 11.
In the first place, the United States government did not sanction and was not even aware of the production of this hate video. As the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the morning of September 13, in clear staccato fashion so everyone across the Islamic world could understand, the United States had nothing to do with it and condemns that kind of insult to a great religion. In other words, she wanted all in the Islamic world to understand that America should not be blamed or be held responsible for actions of individual elements who are guaranteed, under the Constitution, the right of free expression.
Don't we all wish that the peoples and nations of this small planet all believed and upheld the same principles and values so that we could all live in peace and harmony together and could settle our differences under the same universal laws? A less hypocritical premise would have us wish that all peoples and nations of the world believed and upheld our principles and values...... The problem is, other peoples and nations feel the same way about the primacy of their principles and values.
Are there truly certain universals that all peoples and nations would categorically agree upon? Let us forget for a moment the freedom of free speech or the right to same-sex marriage; what could possibly be fundamentally and universally more important than the sanctity of innocent human life? Isn't this something that all human beings from whatever walk of life or culture would agree upon? Now let us look at how this simple universal is being, and has been, treated worldwide.
First problem that pops up is in the very definition of the adjective, innocent - innocent in whose eyes and by what standards?
Weren't the little girls who were brutally sacrificed daily by the Mayan kings high in the Andes to ensure that the sun would rise next morning truly innocent? How about the newborn girls who were not allowed to live in the pre-colonial days among some Australian Aboriginal cultures, or among the primitive Bedouins of the pre-Islamic Arabia; weren't they innocent?
Were the hundreds of thousands who perished as the result of the nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not innocent? What about the millions who died in concentration camps during WWII?
And what about the thousand and millions who died or are dying or are going to die in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere, deliberately and not by an accident of nature, because of politically motivated wars or sanctions - what are they guilty of? Are they simply guilty of not accommodating the superpowers by preparing the grounds for establishing their dominion to serve their own interests in the guise of a noble cause and the common good?
We insist on honoring the right to free speech of a maliciously motivated individual to spew his venom against a huge block of humanity who value the sanctity of their faith over their own lives; yes, call them barbarians or sub-humans as many do. By the same token, they also insist on honoring their right to free action in reaction to insults against their most sacred values. The result was, as we witnessed, the loss of innocent American lives in the American embassy in Benghazi.
What we refuse to understand is that, unlike in Western cultures, in many parts of this world, particularly in the more traditional cultures, insults carry a much bigger burden of guilt than physical assault.
The question that comes to mind automatically is why do the mobs hold the United States and also Israel responsible for the actions of a rogue nutcase who neither informed nor asked for the approval of the US or Israeli government to do what he did.
TWO: DIGGING DEEPER.
I read in the news from Iran that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamaneh'i, has condemned the anti-Islamic policies of the United States and international Zionism for allowing that sinister video to be produced. He said if the United States is honest in its condemnation of that act, it should arrest and prosecute the culprit rather than granting him the right to free speech. He obviously regards that act as malicious and intended to do harm, which it clearly has.
Of course the Ayatollah may not know about or agree with the freedom of expression as guaranteed under the US Constitution. Or, perhaps, he has a problem with the validity of the right to free speech should someone cry Fire in a crowded theater, or falsely threaten the life of the American President, etc. The right to free speech in the case of the producer of the subject video has already resulted in several deaths and endangers the lives of many more and, at the very least, threatens the interests of the United States and could strain the relations with America's strategic allies in the Islamic world. These are far greater potential repercussions than the false report of a bomb on a passenger airliner that would definitely result in the arrest and prosecution of the culprit.
But why this violent mob reaction against America that is spreading from one Islamic capital to another, when the State Department has officially condemned the production of that hate video? If Iran's Supreme Leader's demand of arrest and prosecution of the culprit is actually met, would then the anti American and anti Israeli demonstrations subside? I think yes, but the embers will remain hot until another similar event flares up into flames.
What we have been witnessing as the Arab Spring, should better be called Arab or, better yet, Global Awakening. It didn’t just spring up a year or two or even a decade or two ago. The global order began to visibly readjust itself starting with Iran’s Islamic Revolution in the late 70s, which coincided with the Soviet indulgence in Afghanistan, followed soon by the Iraqi excursion into Iran and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the Al Qa’eda movement, America’s war on terror in the Middle East and attempts at what is called nation-building, and the rise of China as the world’s second economic power - all in a thirty-year period.
There was one rather unprecedented obstacle to America’s attempts at nation-building; most nations didn’t want to be built, or were incapable of being rebuilt, along formerly drafted and prescribed lines. As dictators and tyrants, most or all having been our own stooges, were toppled one by one, the “liberated” nations, some having lost their entire infrastructure in the process of becoming liberated, and others fragmented into tribal territories ruled by feuding warlords, became a bigger problem for their liberators to deal with.
Our time-tested practice has always been to send our most capable specialists, from CIA agents to State Department professionals and even military experts to make sure that the chaos that has been created gels in such a way that our interests are not jeopardized and our strategic goals remain in focus, no matter what it takes to accomplish that.
In this process, if true democratic reforms serve our purpose, so much the better; but that is unfortunately seldom if ever the case. Most often it is the creation and support of some form of alternative dictatorship, usually of militaristic nature or junta that serves our purpose. What is not taken into account as the primary objective of getting involved in the affairs of nations we claim to have helped liberate, are the wishes and aspirations of the people or how the people want to be governed. But, how could we be sure that, left to their own, things would evolve in the direction that we favor? That question can only be answered if we are prepared to think outside the old box.
What, for example, should we do with Egypt? First we decided to support the Egyptian military and tried to create a junta under our command to control the affairs of the newly liberated state. People revolted and opted for the Islamic Brotherhood as their choice. We told the military to back off and let the publicly elected President to pretend he is in charge, while guaranteeing the military our financial and material backing.
But the Egyptian people were aware of what was going on behind the scenes, and they were not happy. Now Mr. Morsi, the elected President, is caught between a rock and a hard place. To remain in power, he has to walk the tightrope between accommodating America’s wishes of a clearly unpopular alliance with the United States and honoring the extremely unpopular imposed treaty with Israel on one side, and creating a truly independent Islamic state that his nation wants, on the other.
Could Egypt survive economically without American aid, or support for gaining access to the International Monetary Fund loans? Should the United States blackmail Egypt’s fledgling democracy to remain an obedient ally? Does the United States truly want an independent and free Egypt to determine its own path?
Can we allow Yemen, for instance, or Bahrain, or Jordan, even Saudi Arabia, to become democracies as we constantly proclaim to be our goal? We are, in fact, engaged in a frantic process of damage control in Yemen and Bahrain to keep these states from achieving freedom from dictatorships and gaining self-determination.
What’s left unattended are the hot embers of discontent, anger, suspicion and frustration over foreign interference, rekindling the memories of decades or centuries of colonial subservience, which await any excuse, the slightest spark, to erupt into flames.
One such spark was that infamous video that triggered the violent reactions we observe today in the Islamic North Africa and the Middle East. It wasn’t that one short video that, in and by itself, enraged the public in these Islamic states; this rage is symptomatic and symbolic of a much deeper angst, a brewing storm that, if not acknowledged and approached with diplomatic wisdom and sober skill, would explode in our faces sooner or later.
Yes, in the aftermath of the disaster in Benghazi, the President declared bravely that no act of violence will shake up our resolve. But what remains vague is what exactly our resolve is? The words sound very heroic and patriotic, indeed. But isn’t it time now to at least examine our resolve, our purpose and our ultimate goal in charting our foreign policies in the pursuit of America’s best interest in this turbulent and rapidly changing world?
Other recent articles by Kam Zarrabi:
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Iran Back In Context
Author: Kambiz Zarrabi
Kamran Zarrabi has just completed writing his memoirs of his 2011 trip to Iran. The manuscript called "Iran, Back in Context" also contains the accounts of several interviews with a broad cross section of people, photographs, and details of travels to remote areas of the country.
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