September 11, 2012

Posted Sunday, September 16, 2012, at 5:15 PM
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  • Umm... Charles? It's "prophet", not "profit".

    A profit is what a prophet makes when he convinces his followers to give him money... ;)

    -- Posted by ididntdoit on Mon, Sep 17, 2012, at 10:41 AM
  • The only sin that cannot be forgiven, is blasphemy. But that is God's to judge, not ours.

    When someone is resistant to my trying to evangelize them, I don't then try to kill them. But then again, we are a civilized society, for now.

    -- Posted by Conservative Dad on Mon, Sep 17, 2012, at 10:16 PM
  • First off, Lord knows what happened in Libya but by most accounts the ambassador died of asphyxiation/smoke inhalation while locked in a safe room at the consulate in Benghazi. He was not tortured to death. Here's a link to video of Libyans pulling him out of the safe room, still breathing, before carrying him to hospital where he died under care and was later claimed.

    Second, these are not "Islamic" protests, they are protests by *groups* of people in failed states. And they do not reflect "the Islamic World" because every country is different, with different stakes and factions. Indeed, a Gallup poll in 2012 said 54% of Libyans approved of American leadership. The violence in Libya does not reflect on Islam or the Libyan people any more than Anders Breivik's actions reflect on Norwegians.

    The biggest Islamic nation, Indonesia, has barely seen any reaction at all - ditto Bangladesh, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates.. This is about failed states, and small-time leaders looking for opportunities to solidify their own power by getting people to (over-) react to stuff like this.

    It is important to note that the video was made in california and uploaded by its makers in english last spring; it was dubbed into Arabic and re-uploaded (again by the movie's producers) in the week before 9-11. They simply *must* have known this would incite violence. The movie was viewed and disseminated in Cairo by clerics there, who urged protests at Friday Prayers. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership encouraged more people to protest, and simultaneously made gestures sympathizing with Washington. What Mitt Romney called an "apology" issued by the Embassy in Cairo - "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." - was an ill-fated attempt to defuse the situation and calm protesters pounding at the gates, as they rejected any government association or acceptance of the film or its message.

    The protests spread to Libya, possibly with coordination from folks in Egypt. There is debate about how the attack in Benghazi happened - whether it was planned or simultaneous. Perhaps the most likely possibility is that the attack had been planned long-term as a retaliation for the assasination of Abu Yahya al-Libi in Yemen in June, by the Al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa Ansar al-Sharia, and just happened to coincide with the video protests, perhaps coordinating or using them as a convenient cover. The clerics organizing the protests might or might not have known what was about to happen.

    This all goes to say that we should distinguish the Libya attack from the street protests, insofar as they are an expression of popular discontent, because the protests happened within *days* of an intentionally blasphemous film's release, but after *years* of wider conflict w/ Al Qaeda, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone assassinations, etc. etc. And yes, even though the film is hate-mongering and designed to inflame the sensitivities of around a billion people, as Americans we still have to protect it as free speech. (Gotta protect those Klansmen malingering up in Parke County too, God love-em.) And I mean that. Freedom of speech is a marvelous thing worth protecting.

    The film itself ( ) raises lots of interesting questions about freedom of speech, which you gesture towards without much of a conclusion. In several conversations I've had with folks in the Middle East about religious culture in the US over the years, people have been almost shocked to hear that anti-semitism or holocaust denial is not a crime, but is protected as free speech. I explain that we just call people spouting such nonsense 'idiots' and go on about our day. Same with people that would insult our faith. Insulting mothers/sisters tends to get much stronger reactions than insulting Jesus, for whatever reason. But insulting *any* Abrahamic religion (incl. Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is a crime in many countries, including parts of Europe. Our blessing of free speech is frankly quite unusual in the world - and when people see things like this absolutely ridiculous movie coming out of the United States that are blatantly, intentionally offensive to Islam, they very wrongly (if somewhat reasonably, given their own legal contexts and cultures) presume that these sentiments are common opinion in the US or are somehow sanctioned by the US government. It can be very hard to convince people otherwise. That the US government responds to this crisis by asking governments in the region to block Youtube or that Youtube block the offending videos, counter to our own expectations of free speech, says a lot I think.

    These were horrible events, and that they led to the deaths of any people at all is nothing short of tragic(including a *very* bright and dedicated ambassador and several Libyan police officers defending the consulate, viz ). They are undoubtedly a setback for American interests in the region, and Mitt Romney's shot from the hip did little to help as the situation was still playing out. The man could use some tact. But we should still see these most recent events in the Middle East for what they are - symptoms of an ongoing power-struggle in a region beset by war and unsure of American influence. A Manicheistic worldview and ignorance or disrespect for foreign cultures can only make the Arab world a more dangerous place for the US. Thank goodness for the smart folks at the State Department who dedicate their lives to studying other countries and advancing American interests there. We can only hope for more like Ambassador Chris Stevens. RIP.

    -- Posted by NorvalJrJr on Tue, Sep 18, 2012, at 1:41 AM
  • also, worth noting quickly - Christianity is a theology based on the insult. Christ taught us to turn the other cheek, and He was mocked, tortured, and crucified in order to save the world. Much Islamic theology teaches that Christ was not crucified, because traditional Islamic culture is based on honor, and to be subject to capital punishment is the ultimate dishonor. Christ is still a Prophet in the Koran, worthy of praise and emulation, and so to have him punished and die in this way makes absolutely no sense at all to many Muslims. Its a serious head scratcher for lots of Muslims (Sunni and Shia), almost as much as the issue of the Trinity - which even many Christians find difficult to explain and distinguish from polytheism. So there's a fundamental conflict between the way our cultures conceive of the "insult" to begin with...

    -- Posted by NorvalJrJr on Tue, Sep 18, 2012, at 1:52 AM
  • Dear Norval,

    While we don't often agree, your points are always well thought out and very well written.

    If you have not, you should talk with Jason Moon at the paper about getting your own column.


    -- Posted by Charles Hear on Tue, Sep 18, 2012, at 5:01 PM
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