On September 24 I embarked on a week-long tour of Tunisia, hoping to learn more on the aftermath of last year’s revolution and the state of political play ahead of the elections, which are due before the year’s end. The findings are surprising. The country looks and feels civilized, roadside trash notwithstanding. It is safe for a foreigner, not only on the magnificent Boulevard Habib Bourgiba in Tunis, or at the beachside resorts of Hammamet, but also in the cafés and ramshackle stores in the interior where no European has ventured in years. A smile and a Bonjour, monsieur! greeted me everywhere, from the soukh in El Kef to the desolate gas station at the edge of the Sahara.
Far from having the absolute supremacy enjoyed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia’s Islamic party, Ennahdha, is sharing power in a coalition that includes secularists who opposed Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali’s regime and were the first to hit the streets in January last year. President Moncef Marzouki, a suave, fluent French speaker, is one of them. Ennahdha’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi is still the most powerful player in the country, but he is likely to fall short of an absolute parliamentary election because many Tunisians are disappointed by the graft and corruption that remain endemic a year after his party became the majority stakeholder in the first democratically elected government in the country’s history.
All this is light years away from Libya next door, or Egypt further east. It was only toward the end of my tour that it dawned on me why Tunisia’s destiny is by no means sealed: There was no American intervention! Ben Ali gave up too soon for the United States to get involved directly, and there was no violence to justify calls for intervention. The “revolution” was a Tunisian affair, and it produced an outcome illustrative of Tunisian realities.
Where America intervenes—politically in Egypt, militarily in Libya—the religious hard-liners sweep the board. They will have 100-percent power in Syria if U.S. government policy succeeds. It is bizarre and perverse, but true.
The fruits of such policy became apparent on the night of September 11 in Benghazi, when a monster turned on its creator. Mary Shelley and the golem come to mind. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens did not create it, but he was directly involved in helping unleash the dormant beast who destroyed him. His death is the paradigm for U.S. policy vis-à-vis the world of Islam since the beginning of the “War on Terror.”
“In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition,” Hillary Clinton said in her eulogy. “He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya’s revolutionaries.” As U.S. liaison to insurgents who had just started to fight Qaddafi’s forces, Stevens was instrumental in turning a local revolt into a full-fledged rebellion. He was literally on the rebels’ side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable. Introducing himself as ambassador in a State Department video four months ago, Stevens said that he “was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights” during the uprising.
In Mrs. Clinton’s scheme of things, it is perfectly normal for U.S. government agents to sneak into a foreign country with which the United States has normal diplomatic relations in order to incite rebellion against that country’s government. Let us imagine for a moment her reaction, and that of the U.S. media, to the news that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has sent one of his diplomats to help the Sunni rebellion against Al-Maliki in Iraq, or FARC insurgents in Colombia. That man’s death at the hands of his protégés would prompt a deluge of Schadenfreude; a smiling Mrs. Clinton could gloat that “he came, he saw, he died.”
More significant is Washington’s cowering reaction to the outrage in Libya. The assault on the U.S. compound in Cairo came first, with the frenzied Muslim mob scaling the walls, tearing down and burning the American flag, and raising the inscribed black banner of jihad in its place. The embassy responded with a statement indicative of the State Department esprit de corps: “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.” Not a word of reproach for the rioting mob inside the gates. Condemnation was reserved solely for the makers of an obscure video insulting the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Available on YouTube for months, it merely provided an excuse to perpetrate the attack.
President Obama’s reaction to the carnage in Libya began apologetically: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”
In the same vein, Mrs. Clinton reassured the murderers that we feel any pain they might be enduring:
The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.
It is striking that in both cases a condemnation of the video came first, thus implying that the mob’s rage was valid. It is equally striking that when three Russian women blasphemed at the altar of Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, denigrating the religious beliefs of hundreds of millions of Christians, the only words of condemnation coming from Washington were reserved for the two-year prison sentence they received.
The Obama administration’s flip-flopping on the nature of the attack has been equally embarrassing. “We are working to determine the precise motivations and methods of those who carried out this assault,” Secretary Clinton announced on September 12. “We’re working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident,” said Jay Carney, White House press secretary, on the same day. Neither assertion was true. “The precise motivations” were found in the supposedly justified Muslim rage over the video, and “working with the Libyan government” proved impossible because that government could not guarantee the safety of American investigators who wanted to examine the crime scene in Benghazi. They were forced to operate from Tripoli, hundreds of miles away.
“We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack,” Jay Carney declared on September 16. But two days later U.N. Amb. Susan Rice said that a “normal” protest in Benghazi had been “hijacked” by “some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons.” This was contradicted on September 19 by Jay Carney, who claimed again that there was no evidence the attack was premeditated. Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, gave a very different account at the hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: “they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy . . . We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda’s affiliates . . . ” When asked about Olsen’s statement, Jay Carney responded with a straight face, “It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
The White House is at sea and way out of its depth, but the media has predictably let it off the hook. The press reaction to Benghazi did not deviate from the Obama-Clinton line. An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor on September 12 called on Muslims to “assert their faith’s teachings of peace and mercy as the answer to such hate”:
While Muslims worldwide may be angered by acts of religious bigotry, most know that killing in the name of Islam is hardly favorable to Islam . . . Yet Muslim fears of blasphemy remain strong . . . Each violent response should compel Muslims to assert Islam’s teaching of tolerance . . . Until enough peace-minded Muslims stand up for an interpretation of Islam that sees freedom as necessary for the flourishing of faith, these governments will continue their campaigns of intolerance or wink approval at mobs of zealots.
This article is full of the same nonsense parroted in other mainstream media. It is taken as axiomatic that Islam teaches peace, mercy, and tolerance. Writing seven decades ago, Arthur Jeffery dismissed as “the sheerest sophistry” the same tendency apparent among some Western scholars in his own time. He understood that the “peace” that Muslim believers are called upon to implement is impossible unless it is established under hegemonic Islamic rule.
The editorial in the Christian Science Monitor asserts that Muslims fear blasphemy, without explaining what Muslims mean by that word—any irreverent behavior toward persons, objects, rites, and beliefs that Muslims revere. To put it succinctly, violating sharia is blasphemous. Not accepting the divine origin of the Koran is blasphemous. Applying the standards of natural morality to Muhammad’s career is blasphemous. Resisting the imposition of sharia is blasphemous. In the end, being a non-Muslim is blasphemous.
The expectation that “enough peace-loving Muslims” will stand up “for an interpretation of Islam that sees freedom as necessary for the flourishing of faith” is absurd. Orthodox, mainstream Islam demands total, abject submission to the word of Allah and to the example of his prophet. Any other “interpretation of Islam” is heresy and disbelief. But willful self-deception continues. The Western media began to call on “peace-loving Muslims” to stand up to their murderous coreligionists right after September 11, and they will continue to do so even if Manhattan is vaporized in a mushroom cloud.
In the video made to introduce himself to Libyans shortly before he took up his post as ambassador, Christopher Stevens said he was looking forward to his assignment “as we work together to build a free, democratic, prosperous Libya.” As a fluent Arabic speaker with two previous tours of duty in Libya, if he believed what he said he was an imprudent man. His diary indicates that he eventually came to see reality, but by then it was too late.