On the Late Conflagration in North Africa

Popehat’s been doing a much better job summing up what’s wrong here than I ever could:

I don’t think anyone’s religion should be above criticism, but there’s criticism, and there’s throwing a match on a gasoline soaked keg of powder, by doing it in a way that is bound to be deeply offensive. Eugene Volokh has a link to the poorly acted, low-budget film that lit the fuse. It is critical, but in a deliberately provocative way. Imagine how strong Christians would react to a depiction of Jesus going down on Mary Magdalene? You can bet the reaction would be non-violent, but I wouldn’t blame them for being just as deeply offended as many Muslims will no doubt be upon seeing this video.

This is not to excuse what’s going on in North Africa; the reaction of the mob is unconscionable. But it seems to me this would be not the way to persuade people to adopt more tolerant and less militant interpretations of Islam. This will just drive fence sitters to the militants.

51 thoughts on “On the Late Conflagration in North Africa”

  1. Call it a hunch, but I doubt the film’s producers wished to convince Muslims to adopt a “more tolerant and less militant interpretation of Islam.”

    1. No doubt, but the only way you can generally convince people to give up their religion is to offer them another religion. People are wired that way. We’d be far better off trying to push a non-militant interpretation of Islam than by trying to destroy Islam. The latter is going to be difficult to do, because it’s difficult to extinguish ideas. Even hard to extinguish religions.

      1. I agree with your points, and think that in a perfect world this would be legitimate. Like you said, we are not going to extinguish Islam, but I don’t see how we are going to convince them to take up non-militant interpretations when they don’t seem to exist.

        I’m no expert on Islam, but I do know about the principle of Koranic Abrogation, which places the more militant verses in the latter suras ahead of the more peaceful ones written while Muhammad was still in Mecca. I fail to see how we can get around this, other than to convince the Muslim world that whatever the Koran says, it isn’t worth your life, because there will always be those to whom jihad is worth their life.

        While deliberately offending people seems rather rude to me, I would point out that the hijackers on 9/11 didn’t need a low budget video as justification to kill thousands of us. It seems like the Muslims are engaging us no matter the reason.

      2. Islam has had a lot of success in getting people to give up their religion with discriminatory taxes and other measures like forbidding non-Muslims from bearing arms.

  2. I don’t get it. Does Popehat do satire? I’m not that familiar with him.

    I’ve been going over and over the statement by our embassy, that Popehat apparently condemns, and I see nothing at all wrong with it, except maybe, yeah, mention of 9/11 sounds like a non sequitur. It seems a plain statement of fact; the U.S. Government does not condone deliberate efforts to offend Islam.

    He sounds like he’d prefer, “Yeah, they’re assholes, but they’re our assholes, so STFU you ragheads, before we bring our drones over from Pakistan. . .”

    Really — was he kidding?

    1. What a lot of people seem to have a problem with is that they didn’t just say that the government did not condone deliberate efforts to offend people’s religion, it condemned it. There’s a good bit of distance between not condoning someone free speech, even bad free speech, and condemning someone’s free speech.

      1. All of the evidence I’m hearing is that the film was contrived to cause exactly what it caused, by some very evil (yes, I mean deliberately evil) individuals with long histories of doing such things. That is quite different from making a thoughtless or critical comment or two, or drawing an unflattering cartoon. I see nothing at all wrong with condemning incitement to violence, by people with that clear intent.

        I’m hardly a legal scholar, but it seems to me there is substantial evidence of intent in this case, to go beyond free speech to deliberate incitement of violence — maybe one of the very few real-world examples of “crying fire in a crowded theater.” It may be complicated by the international dimensions, but given that one of our people died as a result, I will not be at all shocked (or offended) if criminal charges are lodged. It might be a very interesting constitutional case.

        1. If so, free speech is dead. What do you think a magazine devoted to defensive gun use tactics qualifies as, under this standard? I’m sure to our enemies, it is every bit as offensive.

          1. I think you are avoiding the issue of demonstration and proof of intention to incite violence in a specific incident. As much as I’ve always hated that “cry fire in a crowded theater” chestnut, it would apply in this case: Obviously if there really is a fire, or you have valid cause to believe there is, no crime has been committed, regardless of the outcome. But if you have a long history of connection to such pranks, and (as is alleged in the case of Sam Bacile) have actually said you intend to cause a riot in the theater, then free speech has nothing to do with it.

            Whether or not people are “offended” justifiably is not the issue; if you open the door of a bar in South Philly and shout in “The Eagles Blow!” you should very rightly be held responsible for the result, even if your opinion is valid. Your intent was not to express and opinion; it was to cause a riot. It all comes down to proving intent, and in the case in question, there appears to be more than active proof. Even if the riots in the Mideast were choreographed by elements there, the fact remains that some American loons deliberately provided the tools for them to use.

        2. So this man feels Islam is the world’s biggest threat and needs to be exposed. Creates a catalyst film that pretty much shows that in this day and age, he’s pretty close to being right.

          Islam is systematically trying to exterminate every other religion. It is the most systematic endeavor of this sort since the 3rd Reich. But it is far broader.

          And frankly, I think we do need to say….”hey, if you can’t be civilized, than you can’t participate in the community.”

          Islam is stuck in the dark ages. And while almost all the rhetoric focuses against Christianity in and tries to show the similarities. Christianity had it’s renaissance. One may not agree with it’s beliefs or precepts, but in general, Christianity is degraded, ridiculed, and I’d have to wager that you could find a video of Jesus going down on Mary Magdalene somewhere on the internet.

          And christians aren’t burning people…

          But let’s be honest. For all the abuses Islam has done to others (animalists, christians, coptic christians, hindus, etc)… If these other groups used the same justification muslims use, then most of the Arab penisula would be a glowing radioactive zone.

          It’s okay for them to repeatedly desecrate churches, synagogues, graves, etc. But never allow anything said back. And demand shelter in Western media.

          Sorry, if I give them a big FU. This is basically the bully who punches kids and then demands that any kid who hits back be expelled.

      2. This. And then the administration released a statement saying that the embassy wasn’t cleared to make that statement, then the next day the president read a prepared statement saying almost exactly the same thing: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”

        Got that? The president of the United States is now on record as rejecting the 1st Amendment. Didn’t somebody in the comments on one of the 2nd Amendment threads mention that those hostile to our 2nd Amendment rights are just as likely to be hostile to our other rights as well?

        1. And I am going to defend Obama here. I think it is TOTALLY acceptable to reject efforts of denigrating others. I reject racist white supremacist statements.

          That is NOT the same as censoring or preventing free speech. I do think it’s acceptable for any individual, even the President to be critical of any speech.

          If President Obama came out and said I reject the message of Westboro Baptist. So long as he protects their right to say it. (And even there I believe that can be zoned so that they can’t say their message in such a proximity so as to be harrassing another.)

  3. Imagine how strong Christians would react to a depiction of Jesus going down on Mary Magdalene?

    I believe that was called “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and it didn’t result in anyone getting killed, or any fires set, or indeed anything stronger than boycotts.

      1. Harsh words are acceptable. A muslim could scream and curse about this film ALL he wants. That’s fine…that’s his right.

        Kill for it….that’s over-stepping civility.

    1. Two words. Piss Christ. Remember all the riots, embassy burnings, beheadings and other tomfoolery over that one? Yeah, me neither.

  4. By all means be mad, but when you kill people because you feel your imaginary friend might have been offended by something someone said, you are dangerously irrational and deserve no place at the table of civilization.

    Can we please stop pretending there is some legitimate grievance here?

    1. Very likely the legitimate grievances — at least, the perceived as legitimate grievances — were there and motivating rioters a lot more than the crap about the film. But, the film lit the spark and got them all into the square at the same time.

      1. I agree with you. There are legitimate political concerns which warrant protest and outrage. Not killing though.

        I wish we were talking about those concerns, but unfortunately the movie has stolen the show away from the real world concerns that need to be addressed.

        My point is that outrage over the perceived offence of a deity is not a legitimate grievance.

        If your deity is imaginary, then it doesn’t really matter what is said about it.

        If your deity is real (of course mines is, but all the others are totally made up) then it can probably take some criticism from a low budget film without much concern or notice.

      2. No, the legitimate grievances is the mass abuse on a systematic level of Coptic christians in muslim land.

        They don’t have the resources to fight or defend themselves. About all they have left is making poor quality films showing how evil and foolish Islam is in it’s present state as practiced in the middle-east.

  5. One of the upsets about the film is that it depicts Mohammed as a molester. But as I point out here, even Muslims acknowledge and try to justify that Mohammed was having sex with his second wife Aisha at age 9.

  6. In our world, you do not have the right to kill people because you are offended. I have no sympathy for 7th century barbarians, they should have their violence returned 10 fold. Since the current government of Egypt is no more capable of feeding their people than the last one without our help, I believe we should end that help.

  7. How about plain old international law and the fact that embassies are treated as that nation’s own soil. It is an act of war to invade the embassy and if their security forces were inept our Marines should have been given the green light to use belt-fed crewed weapons! Four dead Americans for their offended sensibilities.

    The news headline should have read, “Dozens of rioting Libyans die trying to attack U.S. embassy”

    Not groveling and apologizing and the loss of innocent American life.
    November can not get here fast enough.

    1. Gee, like I said, sounds like 2003 all over again. Hey Libyans — Got Yellowcake?

      At least in 2003 it took two lying-sack dickheads in seats of political power to get us into a war. Maybe this time all it will take is three nobody dickheads with a movie camera and an agenda.

      1. By what historical standard weren’t we at war with Iraq during the entirety of the Clinton presidency? What becomes of your “two lying-sack dickheads” contention when everyone of consequence in a position of authority on both sides of the political aisle in the US agreed that Iraq was still pursuing WMD up until Bush 43 took office? Would you recommend that the Iraqi government abandon their current efforts to dispose of remaining WMD material, since it’s all just a figment of neo-con imaginations?

    2. It is an act of war to invade the embassy and if their security forces were inept our Marines should have been given the green light to use belt-fed crewed weapons!

      This is a ridiculous comment demonstrating zero knowledge of how the world works outside your living room or video game console.

      Embassies have staffs that live outside the walls. Our embassy in Egypt told their people (and their families) to stay home.

      You shoot the protesters and what do you think is going to happen to all those staff? Or to the tourists at the pyramids? Or to any westerner, anywhere in the entire Middle East?

  8. I don’t want to infer something here that you weren’t trying to say. Is it your belief that absent an intentionally provocative amateur film that’s been available since at least mid-July, those who organized the burning of a US embassy and the murder of 4 US foreign service personnel on 9/11 wouldn’t have found another catalyst to incite the mob? Just exactly how delicate do you believe Americans must be to avoid giving the impression that we’re willing to tolerate insults to one particular religion so that none of our actions can be used as an excuse to engage in obviously organized criminal activity?

  9. A lot of cell doors got opened in the Libyan revolution, and not every political prisoner who slipped away was a good guy. Libya right now is awash in military weapons and many people–good, bad, or just confused–who are looking for meaning. Reactionary religion is a ready-made grout to fill the existential void brought by revolution & to help people make sense of things. It’s important to keep our eyes on the prize & continue to help free peoples everywhere resisting the tyranny of armed minorities, or however that doctrine went.

    I’m glad most comments are refraining from blanket condemnations of Islam and focusing on the fact that the weak transitional governments in both Libya and even Egypt, where an Islamist party won the election, are both apparently cooperating with the US to uphold international standards and the rule of law, which is reflective of the attitudes of most of the many, many Muslims I’ve worked with in countries of the Middle East and very different than what happened in Iran in late 70s. You don’t have to go back farther than Kosovo in the 90s to see Christians aren’t always so christian themselves, not to mention the behavior of that German guy, what’s his name. The key is standing up to the radicals and reactionaries everywhere, every time. It never ends, the field just moves.

    1. Reactionary religion is a ready-made grout to fill the existential void brought by revolution & to help people make sense of things.

      Nicely done.

  10. Here’s the thing. According to available intelligence, this “demonstration” was in the planning stage back around the end of August. So all this crap about some video/film demeaning the head-ped being the reason is just that – crap. This film(that nobody had heard of before this) was nothing more then icing on the cake of muz-hatred for Western Civ. .
    The other thing is that the MSG(Marine Security Guard)force at an American Embassy is NOT there to protect the Embassy, but to protect the classified material in the Embassy.
    And as someone else asked, how low are you willing to bow before the god of Islim, Sab? In the end that really won’t matter because – kind of like HK – they suck and they hate you.

  11. @emdfl:
    OK, I admit that I did not know this subtle distinction of protecting the embassy (and by extension the people inside) versus the important secret documents. Since the place was torched, I guess all is well, since the documents would be destroyed. Not much of a consolation prize with the 4 dead Americans. I’ve always heard that embassy grounds are to be treated like foreign soil so you can understand my angst.

    Sorry, but I’m old school Teddy Roosevelt in philosophy and think that we would get a lot more respect from these other countries if we demanded it. Starting with the respecting of our embassy. Not too much to ask in my opinion.

  12. Nuke Mecca during the Hadj. It’s time the barbarians learned that actions have consequences.

  13. On the “embassy apology” and the reaction to it from afar: people need to calm down and stop blaming the victims. Those victims are the people of the embassy who were attacked. Stop blaming them for trying to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

    Those of us who have worked in embassies worldwide will tell you that you are on an island. Sometimes you get a paradise post – literally – with blue skies and lovely hosts. Sometimes – like in the Middle East – you are surrounded by millions of people who hate you and want any excuse in the world to kill you and those you love.

    Most of the time the host nation will keep the haters from being too dangerous, and we can move about and do our work in relative peace. Sometimes the host nation cannot – or will not – do their job. The results can be deadly.

    Let’s paint the scenario using facts and see what you think:

    – Flash Mob angered by a video. It’s the exact pretense that agitators have been waiting for, so to better convert latent hatred into actionable violence. The true terrorists used some video to agitate action that normally would not have occurred.

    – Egyptian Embassy staff live and work in Egypt, outside the walls of the Embassy. This one is key – I don’t remember Egypt being a “hardship” embassy, meaning you bring your family with you.

    – The Embassy informs all staff outside the embassy to stay away. That means many staff and their families (kids and all) are outside the embassy walls. Read that again.

    – The host nation’s local populace knows where you and your family live. And they are pissed and running under a mob mentality. Anything is possible and one misstep turns “bad” to “absolute fucking nightmare for all involved”.

    – The Marines are five hours away (or whatever). Think of it this way: “When seconds count, the Marines are only xx hours away in Spain“. Yes…the Marine Rapid Reaction Force was deployed from Spain.

    – You are the embassy Charge ‘d Affaires. Thousands of angry locals, incensed over a video you never saw, are storming the embassy. Host nation protection melts away. Marines are 1000 miles away, literally across a fucking sea. Your family is vulnerable outside those gates, and you are vulnerable inside them.

    What would you do? Would you stoically explain the US Constitution to them, or would you do whatever it took to buy the time necessary to save your staff and their families (and yours)?

    Embassy staff know that they are vulnerable, especially those in less-than-friendly areas. That does not mean they should become martyrs to the PC crowd back home who scream “Come And Get Me” from their living room couches, during breaks of Jersey Shore and Judge Judy. When facing the horde, you will sing any song, do any dance and talk about anything you can to stall the horde. You need to buy time for the Marines to show up and save your staff, your family and your life.

    The “apology” was posted by a mid-level officer (ambassador was back in DC) who almost surely hoped to ratchet down – or stall – violence long enough for help to arrive (Egyptian, US, whatever). He reinforced it again later. It may have even worked. It looks like some members of the mob may well have felt like the “won” and stopped advancing. They danced on the walls, claimed victory, but stopped before storming the interior and killing or kidnapping the occupants. The did not attack families outside those gates, either. They got their “win”, and AQ could not get them to go further.

    I don’t care if Obama himself wrote the damn tweet/note/whatever. The US families in Egypt are not Marines. They are not “holding a hill”. Their kids are not there to die for a bunch of people stateside who want their PC view of our diplomatic policies to trump all reality.

    I don’t like the current administration’s willingness to apologize out of context. I want them replaced. But comparing the panicked tweet of an embassy under attack to the President’s chagrin that the US is too tough is short sighted.

    I am not an apologist for this President. But I do understand some of the pressure these people were under. Some anchor on Fox News this morning asked why the official at the embassy who posted that tweet “was not fired”. I’ll tell you why – he used the tools he had to try to save lives. He did what he could, and nobody else can blame him for trying. Others on the interwebs are asking why the Marines at the embassy (there are always a few) didn’t shoot the protesters. Umm…because the natives would kill your families?

    I hope that with this information some folks might reconsider their knee-jerk reaction to this event. We need to focus attention on the true threat, and not point fingers at our own people.

    1. I’ll go further: had Romney not jumped the gun to get his digs in, he might have talked to some people who knew the situation and/or understood the pressures involved, and not made an ass of himself on worldwide TV. Hell, just about any grunt who has been there would have told him to back off. Time for recriminations would come, but not when the fires are burning and US people are still trying to stay alive.

      I back Romney, but he stepped in a mile deep on this one. He looked crass and too eager. He was no statesman, he look naive and amateur. He talked shit while US personnel were still in harms way. There is no way at all he could have known that all at-risk personnel were secure. We know now that they were not (the Marines were still en route to both locations). He was not helping, and took the quite possible risk of causing harm. The reality is his words could have made things worse. It doesn’t matter that “they should not get upset at words, the barbarians!”.

      All that matter is securing US people and interests. He should have kept his mouth shut and waited until it was all clear, before mouthing off. He is not the President. He does not get to speak for the USA in these situations. One chain of command, even if we personally don’t like who is at the top of it.

      I hope Romney will look back on this with great regret. Really. Because when it comes to people in the Oval Office, I’d like to think they can learn from their mistakes.

      And yes, this whole debacle annoys me for 1000 reasons, not the least of which is the guy I was stumping for just proved himself a reckless douche bag in front of the world.

      1. I doubt it’s going to play against Romney, because most Americans are not going to understand the intricacies of diplomacy. The question will be whether his statements struck a chord or not, and how Obama can spin it. I don’t think the response to this, so far, is going to work among the voters that are left to influence, who don’t know much about this stuff.

        1. I think you are correct, but that doesn’t make him right.

          I don’t normally pick nits, but this one speaks to a complete and utter failure to understand the world outside our borders or how fracking hard it is to navigate these waters. I used to think – like all of us – what I would do “if I were in charge”. I figured it’d be easy. Then they gave me a few foreign defense/interior ministry guys to deal with, and I’ll tell you your world view breaks down real fast. Even when we all wanted the same outcome.

          Anyway, I’m blowing this up too much. Just hope to hell he thinks before he moves when he gets the job. The world is not a business and he won’t be its CEO. American “shareholders” get killed for dumb stuff all the time. No reason to make the world see us more dumb than they already do. Shareholders will suffer.

          1. As a (former) Foreign Service Brat, at one point living on the Atlantic side of North Africa, thanks for pointing out this stuff.

            And as a human being with more than a few Muslim friends who are about as laid-back about their religion as your average Episcopalian, talk about killing the faceless masses of Islam irks me. It’s one thing to say there are Muslims who are barbarians. It’s an entirely different thing to say all Muslims are barbarians.

      2. “Romney…stepped in a mile deep on this one. He looked crass and too eager. He was no statesman, he look naive and amateur. He talked shit while US personnel were still in harms way.”

        Agreed. It was a very poor showing.

  14. The problem isn’t that the world sees us as dumb; it’s that the world sees us as WEAK. And with the current administration they are unfortunately correct in their view.
    Of course you can always go with conspiracy view that obumble is a closet muz-comm and doing all this deliberately.
    The real problem is that it really doesn’t matter what he is or why he’s doing everything he can to weaken this country.
    Went a litle off topic there; sorry.
    Patrick – if you don’t mind my asking, what part(s) of the world did you get to see on your black passport?

    1. As long as we cling to the notions of personal freedoms and tolerance, there will be people who see that as a weakness. I’m OK with that, to be honest.

    2. It was a brown passport and I spent my time in South Asia and occasionally worked with the UN elsewhere. It wasn’t a full-time gig for me – I was borrowed for some months to help out. I was a military person out of uniform, and generally assigned to assist in affairs too ridiculous for the real diplomats to ponder, let alone work. It’s pretty common and mundane. Call me “leased with an option to buy”. They later offered to purchase me as a civilian, but by then I was looking at going private and earning a living.

      So I was a low-key, low-level peon who did some grunt work of little import to the free world. It did help some people, but I was just one cog in the wheel. I worked – generally alone – with host nation ministerial “Deputy Chief of Something Sounding Important But Not Really” staff on low-simmer issues. Our ambassador knew me then, but probably wouldn’t remember me now. The career service ambassadors know everybody that work with host-nation officials in their territory. Everybody. Propriety says the details ain’t my story to tell.

      Nobody advertised, but the simple truth is everyone knew where we lived. Bar girls five miles away would know where you lived. Cabbies didn’t need your address (granted I was white in a non-white nation). Big city; small world. The military types banded together years before I ever got there and got a house. A mansion, really. If you wanted in, you helped pay for rent and for beer. Despite being in a mostly-friendly region during peacetime, everyone liked the place because you could land 2-3 Blackhawks or even a Chinook in the soccer field next door.

      Granted, military is trained to think about contingencies. But the civvies at our embassy thought much like we did. So did the Australian and the Japanese civilian staff. They were ever-present guests (we had a game room and lots of beer, too). When in doubt…count on the yanks for a lift. The soccer fields were more likely to be used for a medical evac than a revolution, but nobody gets hurt thinking ahead. You are on an island.

      Which leads me back to my main point: if a low-level, part-time, half-diplo-peon-grunt like myself recognizes this stuff, then so would anyone who had ever worked overseas in an area where all is not sunshine and Mojitos. Some of the people talking on TV right now do not have the benefit of counsel who will tell them to keep quiet. The scary thing is they (politician and prognosticator alike) actually see themselves as experts on foreign affairs and operations. They would all do themselves personal favor by bring in a few non-expert Foreign Service Brats or Low-Level grunts who will do them the service of telling them to be quiet.

      I don’t doubt Obama suffered the same foolishness once, but it was probably beaten out of him early in his tenure. The simple truth is that the current CIC knows more about this than the candidate-Chief. I’m not suggesting the candidate cannot become (or even best) the sitting Pres, but don’t play make-believe-President while low-level peons overseas are deciding which soccer field their families should run to.

  15. Yeah, I was DSS myself – mostly in the ME – and dealt with tech-sec. But like you, I knew when to maintain a low-profile.
    I would like to be able to agree with you regarding the Idiot-in-charge, but based on the fact that he can’t seem to put down his golf-stick long enough to stop by one of his DAILY SECURITY BRIEFINGS, I’m afraid that he is probably as dumb on foreign security as he is on domestic security.
    The real problem is that he THINKS he is the smartest person in the room because that’s what he’s been old since he first climbed aboard the AA train.
    As for Romney, as a business man with international connections, I suspect that he at least realizes that there are people/countries out there that really don’t like us. And that gives him a place to start from compared to the IIC.

  16. 1. The film was not the cause – it was the excuse. Muslims planned this long and hard to occur on the anniversary of their “victory”.

    2. The “fire in a movie theater” canard does NOT fit! The danger is that people get trampled in the ensuing melee. Completely different from mullahas inciting ignorant savages to riot and murder.

    3. islam is NOT a religion. Religions do not instruct their adherents to conquer the world by converting or killing all non-believers. islam is a death cult, started by a pedophile with the stated goal of world domination. it’s in their “holy book”.

    4. Encouraging people to be tolerant does not work with determined evil fanatics. 9-11 happened because of what we are, “infidels”. It has been happening for 1300 years.
    We must stop being tolerant of sharia law under which women are property and beheadings and stoning are just fine with them.

    islam has been at war with all non believers for 1300 years and it is NOT the fanatics that are ding it. It is the DEVOUT muslims that are doing it And the “moderate muslims do nothing to condemn or stop it.

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