If you are like me you probably woke up this morning to discover a flurry of conflicting news regarding mob violence against US consulates in North Africa. The information available right now is very sketchy, and the extreme stupidity of the political analysis of whatever is going on is only making things more confusing to understand at 7:00am. So here is my attempt to parse out what has happened since yesterday.
As of last night the major media outlets were reporting that one person was killed in Benghazi when mobs scaled the embassy walls and set the place on fire. This attack in Libya was motivated by the same trailer for movie depicting the Prophet Muhammad in an insulting manner that also drove mobs to attack the US Embassy in Egypt. A controversy then erupted regarding six tweets that the Libyan Consulate sent out, and then subsequently deleted, that condemned the movie at the heart of this violence instead of the mobs themselves. Several right-wing commentators took this as a sign that the Obama Administration itself was endorsing these statements as an act of conciliation, and by the end of the night GOP Chairman Reince Priebus sent out this tweet in response to what was going on:
Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt.Sad and pathetic.
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) September 12, 2012
Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign also released a statement on the issue. The campaign now claims that the press violated an embargo against releasing the statement until after the 9/11 anniversary, but that charge is denied by the members of the media who released it. Below is the Romney statement:
I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
Today some of what happened yesterday is a bit more clear, and unfortunately things are even worse that they appeared on the 11th. First of all there is the “movie” that sparked all of this bullshit:
According to Haaretz, the film, titled “Innocence of Muslims” depicts “Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other overtly insulting claims”. The movie was written and directed by an Israeli-American named Sam Bacile and cost close to $5 million to create, all of which was appearently lost when the movie opened up to empty theaters around the LA area in 2011. Bacile is now in hiding but has provided a few statements regarding his motivation behind making and distributing this movie, and as it turns out he is not a fan of Islam, and that “he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world”. Bacile summed up his feelings on Islam by stating that:
“Islam is a cancer, period”
Regarding the attacks themselves, it is now conformed by the State Department that four people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed by rocket and gunfire when the embassy was overrun by well-armed militants. Reuters reports that these militants might have even included members of “Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda-style Sunni Islamist group that has been active in Benghazi”. According to MSNBC, the consulate was only guarded by Libyan security guards, and Stevens was killed when he and other State Department staff members tried to evacuate the Americans from the besieged office itself. Sources from the New York Times however indicate that at it is unclear where exactly in the city Stevens was killed. As it stands now, more Marines, including a specially trained anti-terrorism unit, are on their way to Libya.
Obviously this unfolding event touches on a variety of issues regarding our foreign policy that we as a country do not normally discuss until someone dies. The “deleted tweet” bullshit from yesterday and the Republican attempt at creating a political issue over the “apology” for the film seems particularly insensitive (if not just stupid) given the level of violence that the Benghazi consulate was facing at the time.
However there are legitimate criticisms against Obama and the Clinton State Department regarding how exactly this could have happened. Specifically if it is true that the sole line of defense at the consulate were private security contractors instead of the Marines (a Bush era policy that has unfortunately continued despite its awful track record), then there needs to be a dramatic change in procedures regarding security for our diplomats in one of the least stable areas of the world. Some might also feel the need to criticize the entire Obama plan to participate in the Libyan rebellion, although as Michael Lewis pointed out yesterday, the people of Benghazi were probably themselves saved from an outright massacre at the hands of Gadaffi last year as a direct result of the Obama designed intervention in that country.
There is also a potential legal facet to this story as well. There should be a debate as to whether this movie was protected political speech, or whether it was a direct and conscious attempt to incite violence, especially given the well-documented history of violence that is provoked by defamatory deceptions of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed by the western press in the past. Seeing that Americans produced and promoted this film (including perhaps that awful Koran-burning Florida Preacher Terry Jones, who is now claiming credit for the film), there could be at least civil liabilities attached to creating this piece of shit, although it is unlikely.
I’ll keep this updated when more news comes in, but in the meantime this is undoubtedly one of those events that should transcend the partisan political debate for the time being (someone should probably also shit-can Reince Priebus before he makes things worse). As one of my old college professors put in on facebook, we are all being trolled right now, so keeping calm and remaining objective about what exactly happened will aid us in communally realizing how to properly respond. So for right now, let’s let the diplomatic professionals in Washington parse out what is going on over in Libya.