Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the Clash of Civilizations, Neocons, and the Innocence of Muslims

For his part, Obama, from the very start of his presidency, had set out to douse the fires of the "clash of civilizations", then still raging courtesy of Messrs Bush and Bin Laden, among others. 
An editorial in the New York Times commenting on Obama's famous address to the Muslim world from Cairo University, lauded him for having "steered away from the poisonous post-9/11 clash of civilizations mythology that drove so much of President George W. Bush’s rhetoric and disastrous policy." 
To reignite "the clash" in some form serves to bolster the American Right as a whole, the American Christian Right (which is a mainstay of the Republican Party) in particular, while at the same time undermining Obama, who at best had acted to bring this clash to an end, and at worst is "a bloody Muslim" himself.
I came upon this piece via Balloon Juice and thought I would share it with you all. I have more questions than answers regarding the deadly mayhem that erupted in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere after the release of a video that was understood by many as disrespectful towards Islam and Muhammad. Hani Shukrallah does some great work here locating the recent violence in the region within a broader framework. The clash of civilizations narrative is deep and old; The Right will use it to undercut Obama; And while little discussed in the American corporate media, Islamicists and Neo-con culture warriors do have no small tendencies of character, ideology, and behavior in common.

I do not believe that any religion is due "respect" a priori: people earn respect by their deeds, faith and religion is a means (ostensibly) to that end and should be judged by that standard. If one wants to suggest that Christianity is due some respect, show me the deeds of Christians so that we can make a judgement. If some want to argue that Islam is worthy of respect, let us evaluate the acts and deeds of those called Muslim. If Judaism should be respected, we must examine the behavior of those called Jews. The calculus is deceptively simple.

Religious mythologies that some people take to be factual descriptions of reality are not granted immediate elevation in a society where church and state are separate, and where faith ought to be a personal and private matter. Moreover, that people of any religion would kill, riot, murder, rampage, and commit acts of wanton violence because their god was "offended"--how does anyone actually know the mind of god?--or a book, a bunch of paper with a binding was "defaced," is outside of my personality type and worldview. I am not religiously minded; I cannot understand such matters. As I often wonder, if your god is so great, and your faith so deep, how can such petty acts even move you?

However, this does not mean that Nations are as free as I am, a private citizen, to ignore how religion and faith are important to certain publics and countries around the world. Here, the violence in the Middle East surrounding this most recent "offense" against Islam is a symptom of other social dysfunctions. 

Young people are out of work, angry, and resentful. Societies do not (usually) evolve over night: the transformative moment of the Arab Spring has not yet born the fruits of improving the day-to-day life chances of people in many countries throughout the region. It is abundantly clear that Libya's government does not have a monopoly on violence and force within its own territory: by many criteria it has failed the most basic standard of governance.

In all, someone made a crappy movie about Arab Muslims acting like violent, barbaric savages, and a small group of knuckleheads in Libya, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world decided to oblige them by acting like violent, barbaric savages. This is the surface read. A deeper analysis suggests that the most recent anti-Muhammad movie controversy, and predictable violence that would result, was simply a pretext for Radical Islamicists, likely affiliated, or at least sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, to attack and kill Americans abroad. 
But what about our side of the squalid equation? 
A well know Arab proverb says that "the faithful will not be bitten from the same snake pit twice", and presumably when someone sets you the same trap over and over again, you will have learned to avoid it. 
Certainly, there are political and ideological forces in our midst for whom ignorance, stupidity and bigotry are mother's milk, which tends to render experience, however repeated, relatively ineffectual. 
(I've been trying to explain to some of my overheated contacts on facebook and twitter that there is a thing in the US Constitution called the First Amendment, which makes freedom of expression - however repugnant what's being expressed - practically sacrosanct. Indeed, America's founding fathers made freedom of expression considerably more sacred than any of the sacred religious beliefs held by Americans themselves. 
I hate to say that, for many, such arguments fell on deaf ears. 
But it is my contention here as well that the real motivation behind what on the surface appears an irrational, indeed stupid and self-defeating reaction, is in fact quite rational, goal oriented and, for its culprits, highly advantageous. 
Again, here we have to maneuver between the very broad and strategic, on one hand, and the immediate and narrowly targeted on the other. 
In the broadest sense, there are forces in the Arab and Muslim worlds whose very reason for existence is the assumption of a clash of civilizations, an eternal and ongoing battle between the faithful and the infidels allegedly bent on their destruction.
As is my habit, I have some questions that perhaps you can help me work through regarding this whole mess.

1. If nations have no friends or enemies, only interests, then who is "winning" in the aftermath of the Arab Spring? 

2. The pundits are suggesting that Mitt Romney and his assorted mouthpieces spoke to soon, playing politics with the bodies of dead U.S. diplomatic personnel, and that this move will hurt his presidential campaign. I would suggest the opposite: most voters have only a passing understanding of complex matters such as foreign policy. They will be moved by the visuals of burning embassies and Arab mobs--other low information voters will be impacted by bluster and tough talk. The question becomes, will Obama be able to make this a rally around the flag moment or will Romney unfairly "Carterize" him?

3. Romney and the Right-wing bloviators keep talking about Obama's failed "leadership" and how we need to pursue a "freedom doctrine." To my eyes, their childish understanding of statecraft is terrifying. The United States cannot simply say "jump" and other countries say "how high?" Romney seems to be stuck in an old paradigm, one that even then was not true. Would the Tea Party GOP have the United States show "leadership" by pursuing Bush, Cheney, and Condi Rice's failed imperial vision? Obama's foreign policy successes are many. Hell, he is stacking up "terrorists" like cord wood. Yet, his opposition continually paints him as a failure.

4. Something for the grognards. A diplomatic mission has to balance accessibility and security. The complex in Benghazi, a city where diplomats have been attacked before, was described as "lightly defended." Why would Stevens risk going there without supplemental security? Who would have approved this plan?

5. A related question. In dangerous parts of the world, especially in Libya following a civil war, wouldn't an embassy be heavily augmented with extra security? While the embassy guards may not have been ready for RPGs, do they not have medium and light machine guns and sniper teams to take out any heavy or crew served weapons as the need arises? Are U.S. embassies vulnerable because of budget cuts?

6. For those of you with a military background, or who have served on embassy duty, it has been disclosed that the situation devolved over several hours. A group of marines from the capital were intercepted and repulsed. The attackers had mortars and other heavy weapons. The safe house location was apparently known and an ambush laid for the convoy. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was apparently separated from the main group and died of smoke inhalation. 

How could the security plan have gone so wrong? Is this just an epic fail in planning? Are there not other assets in the region that could be deployed within a 3 hour window? 

4 comments:

Thrasher said...

The film makers should be arrested for violations of hate crime laws which of our course have nothing to do with free constitutional first amendment rulings.

Free speech is a term of art not a legal construct in America many forms of speech are not protected nor should be by our constitution .

Mitt just confirmed he will never be presidential, guarded venues here in America are not fully secured, state departments budgets will never matter when an embassy is guarded by the host country

Obama should have ignored the birther undercurrent of Mitt's proactive salvo.Clinton and CIA once again failed BO.

America does not have a clue about the people of 3rd world nations our intell is obsessed with the ruling class types and we always make the fatal error of being out of place and always shocked when shit happens.

Our state department needs more diversity in all of it's layers living here now in DC I am amazed at how white our ruling class government staffed elites are.

One final note it is revealing to many Black intellectuals here in DC how Powell & now Rice were such pawns and how now both are silent on the sidelines when Mitt issued his vile unamerican dagger at Obama after this incident...WTF

Black Sage said...

1. If nations have no friends or enemies, only interests, then who is "winning" in the aftermath of the Arab Spring? - ChaunceyD

CD, the same people who were winning prior to the Arab Spring are pretty much the same people who are currently winning now. A few low and mid-level factotum changes were made here and there and these same changes are presented outwardly and broadcast world-wide as if sweeping changes took place in the name of a revolution. The only major change was that faces of the old regime either changed by being publicly tossed out of power in broad daylight or ran out of town under the cover of darkness. Other than this, in each so-called revolution throughout the Middle-East within the past year or two, what little governance the rebels took through force with their collective right hands, those currently in power, surreptitiously took it back with their left hands. In sum, just because someone changed their outer garb, does not make him an entirely new and different individual. Therefore, we should expect the same outcome as it relates to so-called revolutions or new governments.

The question becomes, will Obama be able to make this a rally around the flag moment or will Romney unfairly "Carterize" him? - ChaunceyD

CD, both of your hypothesis questions will come to fruition in an attempt by both campaigns to get a leg up, (metaphorically speaking) in the polls. However, Obama will continue to lead and eventually beat Wishful President Romney regarding foreign and national security policies.


makheru bradley said...

I’ll take a shot at some of your questions when I have more time. The situation in Libya is an area of primary focus for me. There is no doubt that the attack in Benghazi was planned for 9/11 with or without any anti-Islamic film clip. The killing of two former SEALs who were doing intelligence work for the State Dept. opens a whole new can of worms for the POTUS.

[In an interview with ABC News last month, Glen Doherty, a 42-year-old former Navy SEAL who worked as a contractor with the State Department, said he personally went into the field to track down so-called MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and destroy them. After the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the State Department launched a mission to round up thousands of MANPADS that may have been looted from military installations across the country. U.S. officials previously told ABC News they were concerned the MANPADS could fall into the hands of terrorists, creating a threat to commercial airliners.]

Would the people who possessed these MANPADS give them up voluntarily? If not, were these former SEALs engaging in combat against the groups who possessed the MANPADS? Was the Benghazi attack retaliation for this activity?

Could this be tantamount to Jimmy Carter’s failed rescue mission for Barack Obama?

Thrasher said...

Interesting speculation .,,,