Uprisings in the Middle East are More Complex

Sep 28

Florida Times Union, September 19, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat, September 14, 2012

by Parvez Ahmed and Mark Schlakman*

Brace yourselves.

You may know that protests erupted outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and that mobs subsequently attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi this past Tuesday on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Apparently this was at least in part in reaction to an anti-Islam film produced in the United States that objectifies the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, depicting him as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer.

You also may know the attack in Benghazi resulted in the tragic death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans as well as several Libyans who attempted to repel the attackers.

You also may be aware that some experts initially believed that a pro-al Qaida group targeted the U.S. Consulate. You may be wondering if the attack may have been an attempt to sabotage Libya’s improving relationship with the West under the guise of spontaneous outrage over the film.

For perspective, the Libyan people chose moderation over extremism in their recent elections.

You may be aware that protests erupted outside other U.S. embassies in Muslim countries. Although the situation remains volatile, you may have noted that the size of the protests dwindled.

Producer’s identity
You even may be aware of the initial questions surrounding the true identity of the producer of the film, first reported to be funded by a self-identified Israeli Jew, later reported to be a Coptic Christian.

You also may have heard that Terry Jones, the infamous pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, a small fundamentalist church in Gainesville whose orchestrated Quran burnings in early 2011 incited violence in Afghanistan, had been promoting this anti-Islam film.

You may be aware that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called Jones to ask that he withdraw his support for the video because of concern that violence incited by the film would pose risks to U.S. service members around the world.

You may know that President Barack Obama immediately condemned the attack and declared, “Make no mistake. We will work with the Libyan government to bring justice to killers who attack our people,” and that he deployed two warships and other military capability to the area and increased security at other diplomatic posts.

You even may know that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney departed from longstanding protocols when confronting a foreign threat by immediately and sharply criticizing Obama’s response to the events that unfolded in Libya and Egypt based upon an unvetted preliminary statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and that Romney was subsequently rebuked by Democrats and some Republicans for injecting politics into the crisis.

Complex issues
But there is much that we still don’t know.

The underlying issues are exceedingly complex. Why does anti-Americanism seem to persist across the Muslim world even as the threat from al-Qaida seems to be diminishing and more countries are transitioning toward democracy?

Why do more Americans harbor anti-Islam views today than in the immediate aftermath of 9-11? Such issues test the limits of free speech against the backdrop of compelling national security imperatives. An array of competing agendas only exacerbates the challenge.

If there is one guiding principle to embrace, it’s to resist the simple narrative. The corollary would be to exercise restraint until certain key facts are known and can be placed in context.

Parvez Ahmed, is a Fulbright Scholar and associate professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Mark Schlakman is a lawyer, former foreign affairs officer and serves as senior program director at The Florida State University Center for Advancement of Human Rights in Tallahassee.

Also, CLICK HERE to view Parvez Ahmed speaking to Shannon Ogden on First Coast News’ On Point (Sunday, September 16, 2012).

Leave a Reply