A week of criminals and culture clashes

Rami G Khouri writes: The criminal tragedy of the death of four American diplomats in Benghazi has rightly captured the attention of the world and raised questions about whether attacks against embassies are a reasonable way for people to express their anger. It is clear that the three things we witnessed this week – spontaneous mob scenes, pre-planned orderly demonstrations and organized military attacks against American facilities – represent three different phenomena, each of which reflected a significant political reality in the Arab world today. Why these three all gravitate to American embassies is a relevant question that deserves more analysis, but for another day.

At the other end is the spark of this week’s dynamics, namely the vulgar and deliberately provocative film by anti-Islamic criminals in the United States (including some of Egyptian Coptic origin) who know that if they insult the Prophet Mohammad they will incite demonstrations and violence across parts of the Arab-Islamic world. A small number of virulent Islamophobic movements in North America and Europe vent their racist insults through websites, publications and other means, and when these are translated into Arabic and spread through the digital world, the result is what we witnessed this week in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and other countries.

But what, in fact, did we witness? It is important to try to understand the separation lines between the different players comprising the new scorecard of Arab political cultures in a process of deep transformation, and, in cases like Libya, that also represent the birth of totally new national political and governance systems. Small groups of armed Salafist militants carry out operations such as the attack against the American consulate in Benghazi, while the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other such Islamists tend to stick to orderly and peaceful demonstrations. Spontaneous groups of angry citizens fall somewhere in between when they vent their anger at the insulting film about the Prophet Mohammad by storming American embassies and tearing down or burning the flag.

These groups represent the equivalent of the American terrorist Timothy McVeigh, the ideological Tea Party, those many Americans who spontaneously gathered, danced and celebrated when Osama bin Laden was killed, and those few Americans who burned down mosques around the country. The criminals in this mix must be viewed and dealt with very differently from the others who are angry, energetic and excitable, but not necessarily criminal in either their intent or their conduct. [Continue reading…]

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