Sunday, September 16, 2012

Revolutions, a Film, and Obama: A Look at the recent anti-US Protest in the Middle East

Recently, news from the Middle East does not look good.  Last week, anti-American riots broke out in Egypt as the result of an obscure cheaply produced amateur film degrading Muhammad, the Muslim prophet.  Parallel to this, and seemingly not related to the film, an anti-American group of fighters (perhaps motivated by al-Qaeda) carried out a well planned attack on the American consulate in Libya, killing the US ambassador, Chris Stevens. Following the riots and the killing of the ambassador, a wave of commentary has emerged questioning whether or not the Arab uprisings, coined the Arab Spring, was “good” for the US, Europe, or even the Arabs themselves.

The fickleness demonstrated by so many concerning the Arab Spring is not new.  After the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Muhammad Mursi, in the Egyptian Presidential elections, some western news outlets covering the elections made it sound like it was doomed to become another Islamic Republic of Iran.  Now that Syria has fallen into a civil war, some in the world long for the days when Syrians never dared make a peep about their unhappiness with Bashar Assad’s totalitarian regime.     

If one supports, or does not support, the Arab uprisings, we all need to recognize the fact that there was no alternative to the revolutions, and we cannot turn the clock back. Revolutions happen not because one party supports one way or the other. They emerge due to deep desperation and the will of the people to make change. Yes, the Middle East has been thrown into a tumultuous and chaotic period; however, this should be expected due to the fact that for decades a tight lid was kept on their societies with their leaders ruling through coercion and corruption, losing all legitimacy in the eyes of their people. 

The short film, Innocence of Muslims, which sparked off the anti-American riots is not the source of hate for the US, only the catalyst.  While the killing of the ambassador is sad and frustrating it should not come as a surprise. The Americans are not a neutral partner in the unfolding of events and they cannot expect to remain unscathed.  The US is an integral part of the old order, which the masses rebelled against.  It was the US that propped up for years the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It is the US that has not been able to pressure Israel to move towards a peace agreement and end its 45 years of the occupation of Palestinian lands.  It is the US, which invaded Iraq on false pretensions and left the country in shambles, which under their command introduced new levels of violence to the region.

For those who keep criticizing the Arab uprisings and asking if they were good for the West, don’t forget this revolution belongs to the Arab people, not to Washington, or NATO. For the US to regain the trust of the people, taking measures at damage control will not suffice, but rather a serious reassessment of the US role in the Middle East which treats the regimes as equals and not as their cronies.  In the mean time, the US will also have to bear the backlash of violence and anger that they themselves sowed. 

On the flip side of the coin, the new Arab governments have shown that they are interested in stability and retaining relations with the US.  Moreover, we can breathe a sigh of relief because until now violent protests against the US have been directed at government offices and not at its citizens who reside in these countries. 

If Obama is reelected, the US will have a golden opportunity to show the region that they are serious about change, something way beyond the reach of Mitt Romney and the Republicans.  Moreover, President Obama will have the perfect opportunity to show the world that he did not win in 2009 the Nobel Peace prize in vain. A second term will allow him to make his stamp on the future of the Middle East, hopefully, one with an independent Palestine. What is for sure, time is not on his side.      


  1. Good analysis, Louis. Unfortunately, the US Gov't has a history of mucking up foreign governments in order to best serve their economic/resource interests. More unfortunately, most Americans have been and continue to be uninformed about the true cost of American diplomacy and "protecting our interests in the region." I'm not certain how much President Obama or Hillary Clinton will change that , but certainly odds are that Romney will make it much worse.

  2. Thanks! You hit some real important points, and agree 100 percent on your skeptic view....Louis

  3. Hocam, as always your posts are very informative and interesting. I'm unclear on one detail - official reports are now asserting that the attacks were not planned. If true, this is disconcerting because it reinforces our mentality that Middle Easterners have explosive personalities (pun intended). Stereotypes linking the culprits of 9/11 and the rest of the Arab-Muslim community can be dismantled when explaining that the men responsible for these attacks were religious extremists. The Arab Uprisings can be explained as "social justice" movements against corrupt governments that, sadly, were supported by the U.S. But how would one explain these attacks and protests, if in fact they were not planned? Regular men and women, like us, saw a stupid video that joked about their religion and decided to kill our ambassador? If, in fact, the production of this video made its way into the motivational rhetoric used to fuel these attacks, it will be a huge step backwards for the reconciliation process between the West and the Middle East because it would demonstrate that the majority of Middle Easterners are, in fact, backwards thinking, and that religious violence is not limited to a small band of knuckleheads residing in the AfPak region. Wouldn't you agree?

  4. @Rusty Croker:

    The attacks on the embassy were pre-planned. And even if they aren't there is one very important thing to point out here: that these protesters only number in the several houndreds, and barely crack a thousand people. It's extremely irresponsible to take an example of a few people and project that image as being that of an Arab population consisting of 300 million people! Get real Rusty. Secondly, Muslims make up a population of 1.5 billion. And the protests in other Muslim nations were completely peacefully. Third, all the top Muslim clerics including Yusif Qardawi (head of the union of Muslim scholars) made strong statements not only condemning the violence but explaining in detail through the text of the Koran and sayings of the prophet SAW how unlawful their actions were to partake in violence. Fourth, your use of terms like "backwards thinking" only shows how much of an amateur and wanna be scholar you are when it comes to the middle east. My advice, take a day off.

    1. Listen to me, this forum is meant for civilized discussions. It's not a Facebook/Twitter page where you call people names and attack their points of view in such a derogatory way. So quit the stuck-up attitude and show respect for Professor Fishman's website. It's pathetic of you to deride others and become irritated in a forum like this. If you want to be a wise guy, get my email from the subscriber's list and we'll take it from there. You understand?

      By the way, what was your last line suppose to be, some sort of uncalled comeback? If you knew me, you'd know that I don't want to be scholar. And yeah, I'm also an "amateur." I'm man enough to admit that I'm not a know-it-all.

    2. Dear all, Regardless if I think Anonymous' comments are worth exploring, I have to agree with Rusty that all participants should refrain from personal attacks. This space should be used for discussion and sharing ideas. I wish I had more time to expand on both posts, but hopefully I will get to this later. Yours, Louis

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Thank you for this space, and for directly stating your positions on the numerous issues you covered. It's refreshing.
    Unfortunately, some Muslims are very angry with the current situation. How can we help it? It's not like the heat has let up. Maybe one day the Western mainstream will understand how their national and international policies have impacted Muslims. Until then heartache prevails.