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“Where do They come from, those whom we so much dread, As on our dearest location falls the chill Of their crooked wing….” –W.H. Auden, “Crisis,” (1940)
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the murder of four Americans there has become a huge issue. There are many stories and rumors that are still being debated and more information is coming out. What I’m going to try to do here is to analyze the enduring themes raised by these tragic events.
Why Do They Hate Us? There is a debate over the causes of terrorism and anti-Americanism in the world. One possible view is that the principal problem is that of genuine conflict. The adversaries hold certain ideological ideas—say, revolutionary Islamism—to which American society and policies are antithetical. The collision (as with Communism, Nazism, and aggressive Japanese militarism in earlier decades) is inevitable. The United States is inconveniencing the totalitarians both because of what it does (policies) and because of what it represents (freedom, democracy, capitalism).
The other view currently dominates many Western academic “experts,” politicians, mass media, and even governments. That concept is that the hatred is our own fault. We have done things in the past—which require apologies—and are doing things in the present that makes people angry at America who otherwise would be friendly.
An exception is made for a “tiny minority of extremists,” mainly a code word for al-Qaida, but the more sophisticated argument is that such people would have no following if America handled things properly.
Thus, in this case, if American facilities are attacked in Cairo and Benghazi it must have been something America did wrong, to wit, an insulting video made by an immigrant from the Middle East about Islam.
Diagnosing the problem tells one what the cure is: sensitivity; respect; tightening rules against such insults; bowing and scraping; refusing to identify radicals and terrorists with Islam in any way; giving large amounts of money; helping the Muslim Brotherhood so it will be grateful later; telling the NASA director to make up stuff about Muslim contributions to space travel, etc.
That is the path the Obama Administration, with major support from the intellectual-cultural establishment, has followed.
Why Do Some of Us Hate Ourselves?
The answer to this question follows from the first answer. If “we” are responsible for the hatred and conflict, then we have done evil and must repent. We are the problem or, as one much-feted American intellectual put it, the United States is the cancer of the world.
In the Benghazi case, however, it is hard to come up with more than a video, according to the dominant view. After all, didn’t the United States “liberate” Libya from a terrible dictator? Of course, the problem is that from the standpoint of the radicals, the United States merely became Libya’s new master, blocking the revolutionary Islamist, Sharia state they wanted, producing a “puppet” (who cares if it was elected?) government.
America is thus the prime enemy not because it did something evil but because it did something which the U.S. government regarded as good. If they hate us in Libya for sinful policies, then President Barack Obama, not the Egyptian-born video producer, is the chief sinner.
Is America a Bully or a Leader? As noted above, the establishment view today is that America has been a bully in the past, acting unilaterally and not respecting the views of others. Obama has said this directly when speaking to foreign—including Middle Eastern—audiences.
But how does one stop being a bully? By showing that one isn’t tough, doesn’t protect one’s interests fiercely. Thus, in the Benghazi case, the U.S. government didn’t send the ambassador to Benghazi with Americans to guard him, nor did the consulate have Americans to provide security. To do so would be to show disrespect for the Libyans, to act in a way that might be perceived of as imperialistic.
Similarly, the president would not call in an airstrike against the attackers or send an armed rescue team to the consulate because to do so would have signaled an arrogance and aggressiveness, putting Americans first and not acting as a citizen of the world.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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