Foreign Policy Blogs

This Is No Spontaneous Uprising

Over the last several decades, a variety of movements have arisen in the Arab and Islamic countries–a radical nationalism (Baath socialist, Marxist, pan-Arab, and so forth) and a series of Islamist movements (meaning Islamic fundamentalism in a political version). The movements have varied hugely and have even gone to war with one another–Iran’s Shiite Islamists versus Iraq’s Baath socialists, like Hitler and Stalin slugging it out. The Islamists give the impression of having wandered into modern life from the 13th century, and the Baathist and Marxist nationalisms have tried to seem modern and even futuristic.

But all of those movements have followed, each in its fashion, the twentieth-century pattern. They are antiliberal insurgencies. They have identified a people of the good, who are the Arabs or Muslims. They believe that their own societies have been infested with a hideous inner corruption, which must be rooted out. They observe that the inner infestation is supported by powerful external forces. And they gird their swords. Their thinking is apocalyptic. They imagine that at the end they, too, will succeed in establishing a blocklike, unchanging society, freed of the inner corruption–a purified society: the victory of good. They are the heirs of the twentieth-century totalitarians.

Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, 2001

The above quote, like the attacks on 9/11, is over a decade old, but in light of the recent violent demonstrations against American people and symbols across the Middle East, its strong theme is sadly showing itself to be just as true today as it was in 2001. Contrary to what the mainstream media and the current U.S. administration are pushing, these recent attacks and uprisings have very little to do with a hateful and ignorant movie (actually a movie’s preview) that has probably been viewed by a minimum amount of those doing the rioting. The murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Libya shows planning ,and the Libyan government claims it was launched by Al Qaeda. The fact that the Ambassador’s murder and the Egyptian overthrow of the American embassy occurred on 9/11/2012 also has to raise concern that this was not some spontaneous occurrence. Paul Berman is still correct. “Anti-liberal insurgencies” in the Arab Muslim world are still alive and well. These attacks and demonstrations are not anti-“latest culture medium to offend Muslims.” These are violent demonstrations that are anti-liberal and anti-American.

The rioters may only represent a small minority of these cultures and populations, but they are significant nonetheless. They view their version of Islam as the only true way and believe that American and liberal ideals, backed by American power, corrupts their way of life. Therefore, American power and liberal values, represented by our Embassies, must be challenged and hopefully removed. There is very little the U.S. can do to appease those Arab Muslims who feel this way. We could tell Youtube to stop showing the video. We could bring all our troops home. We could make a million speeches about how we want to get along. None of it will work. What do we do then? I’m not sure, but I know that the above won’t change a thing and may in fact embolden these radicals.

These events change by the day and creating and augmenting a policy direction toward them is an arduous task, but that is our government’s job. I would recommend that the administration curtail their denouncements of the film as that is just a sideshow, makes America look guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong, and goes against our constitutional rights of free speech. It is easy to defend free speech when no one is offended by it. It is times like these that really put our beliefs and convictions to the test. The Obama administration also needs to make it clear to all governments who host our embassies that they must be protected. Egypt’s President Morsi’s over 24 hours of silence while his citizens were burning our embassy’s flag and replacing it with another is unacceptable. Just imagine if a similar event occurred with the Egyptian embassy in Washington D.C. The future of Egypt will have a major impact on the future of the Middle East and events of the past few days should give us much pause.

The anti-liberal, anti-American voices in the Muslim world are regrettably still vibrant enough to cause much heartache both in their own countries and across the globe in our own. President George W. Bush could not change the minds of these radical Islamists by replacing two tyrannical regimes with fragile democratic governments. And President Barack Obama with his Muslim background and sincere outreach to the Muslim community could not do so either. These efforts may yet bear fruit, and I hope they do, but today there are radical groups attacking American embassies and the ideals and policies they represent in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, and even Australia. As Berman asserts, these groups desire a “purified society,” which by definition cannot include the United States or its liberal values.

 

Author

Patrick Frost
Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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