As we’re all no doubt aware, this week the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was marked by a new surge of violence and protest against Americans abroad, including the killing of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Embassies of the U.S. and its allies remain under siege across much of the Muslim world, in a process set in motion by the release of an apparently American-made film denigrating the prophet Muhammad. Since its very first spark, this round of violence has been made fodder for political dispute in the American presidential contest, and it’s bound to remain a focus in the weeks ahead.Writing for Al Jazeera, Columbia University professor and HUP author Hamid Dabashi notes the parallels between these events and the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979, which also became a force in an American presidential election. Dabashi cautions against letting political pressures dictate American response:
The trigger-happy Republicans are pushing President Obama to do something rash. Presidential candidate Mitt Romany has accused President Obama of “sympathizing” with the attackers, as Aljazeera reports that “US warships steam towards Libya coast.” This is after Sarah Palin has criticised president Obama’s shortcoming and urged him “to grow a Big Stick.” The depth of this woman’s banality seems to have no limit.
The last thing that President Obama wants to do now is what President Carter did in 1979 and try something foolish like “Operation Eagle Claw.” If I were President Obama I would invite former President Carter to the White House and hang out with him for a weekend. President Obama must do absolutely nothing.
Dabashi is equally concerned with what he sees as a concerted effort by militant factions to take this offensive film as an opportunity to reverse the momentum of the Arab Spring and “derail a world historic succession of revolutions”:
Demonstrations in both Benghazi and Cairo have categorically denounced the violence that has resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. It is imperative that these denunciations be amply noted—as indeed President Morsi put it succinctly: “We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who... insult our prophet. [But] it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad... I call on everyone to take that into consideration, to not violate Egyptian law... to not assault embassies.”
This is the difference between Khomeini n 1979 and Morsi in 2012. Beware the false fury. The US has done enough atrocities around the globe to be blamed for just about everything—but this is a different season—this is the season of the Green Movement and the Arab Spring—do not be fooled by these zealotries of the fanatics who are trying to steal the revolution. Diplomatic immunity of even a global hubris like the United States must remain sacrosanct for civilised life to be possible.
Dabashi calls on Obama to let the Muslim world itself denounce these attacks and restore order. “This is the season of the Arab Spring,” he writes, and “binary banalities of fanatics on both sides of the divide cannot derail the course of history anymore.”
Of course, clear-eyed observers of American politics have reason to worry that the aggression with which Mitt Romney has sought to employ these events to reverse Obama’s gains in the polls may yet ensure a wielding of the “big stick” that Palin calls for. Indeed, the contest has dramatically shifted from debating the economy to chest-thumping over the projection of “American values.” Jeremy Waldron, author of The Harm in Hate Speech, discussed the use of that phrase in diplomatic and political rhetoric since the attack in Libya with Brian Lehrer today:
As Waldron and Lehrer discuss, American law does not allow the prohibition of hateful and deliberately provocative speech like that of the anti-Islamic film at the heart of this week’s turmoil, but the American government and its citizens are nonetheless right to denounce and reject such speech in the most certain terms possible. Still, as Waldron highlights, while there are different views about the value of hate speech, violence is never an appropriate response.