If you really want to understand what’s going on in the world, watch MSNBC. If you’re short of time, NBC will do. Same experts, shorter amount of time. The experience and longevity of Andrea Mitchell and Tom Aspell, combined with the on-the-ground knowledge of Richard Engel, Jim Maceda and Stephanie Gosk provide the best analysis on the air. Sorry, Anderson. Hosting two hours of studio show everyday has put you too far out of the loop.
It would be easier to say where our embassies, consulates and installations have not been subjected to protests and riots: Iran. That’s because we don’t have any presence in Iran to act as a magnet for these protests.
We all know that Islam is divided into three parts: the majority Sunni (85% to 90%), the minority Shia (10% to 15%) and Sufi (1% to 5%). The numbers are vague because census figures are vague for most Muslim countries. Within those three major branches are dozens of sub-sects which range across the spectrum of extreme fundamentalism to modernity. Being entirely fair here, the same thing can be said about Christianity and Judaism, lots of differences across a broad spectrum. The Sufis are more than just the very, very tiny minority, by the way. They are to a large extent outside the main regions of Islam, with large populations in Mali and China. They are aesthetics who are more likely to shrug and let persecution happen than to take up arms against a persecutor.
Only in Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan is there a Shia majority in the population and only in Iran is the government strictly Shia-based, with the Ayatollah holding more power than the secular government. The Sunni countries range from purely secular as in Malaysia to very religious in Saudi Arabia. But none of the Muslim countries are practicing very strict Sharia law. There are provinces that are, but technically, no complete country (Sudan is hard to define on this because of their recent division.)
Within each of these countries there are those who want very strict, frundamentalist Sharia law and to build themselves a very strong power base. They are usually in the minority, like the Salafists in Libya and Egypt. It is these groups and their leaders who are instigating most of these attacks on U. S. facilities. Their bases are the less-educated members of the population, those most easily persuaded to act out of religious fervor. These are not to be confused with the Shia-Sunni conflicts of countries like Iraq. These groups are outside of that conflict, internal within the majority sect.
Only in Afghanistan are the attacks on American facilities really aimed at America. They really, really hate our guts in Afghanistan. We came, we conquered, we occupied, we gave them a government they didn’t want and we still haven’t left after 10 years. The country has endured decades of invasion and civil war and is so far in the cultural hole they can’t see daylight. The British have a saying “Afghanistan is where empires go to die.” They should know. The Afghans beat them twice. They may all hate each other, but they hate outsiders even more. In Afghanistan it is easy to set off murderous riots. Right now, any excuse will do for attacking Westerners, and Americans in particular. Burning Qur’ans and posting blasphemous videos is too easy.
In the rest of the Muslim world, the attacks, the demonstrations, the riots are not actually against us. They are cases of a minority extremist group flexing its muscles and making the less fundamentalist government aware of their power. The extremists are using the incredibly offensive videos as an excuse to gather supporters in one or more places and prove how they can manipulate the people. Even the Lebanese leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, emerged from hiding to address the protesters in Beirut. Remember the hysteria out of Michele Bachmann about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in our State Department? The demonstrations in Cairo were started by an extremist who thinks the MB are too secular.
We are slowly learning more about the movie and the people behind the videos. There was a movie made, under the title Desert Warrior. At least one actor has come forward and said that the dialogue on the English version of the trailers is not what they filmed. The actors in the movie are not Middle Eastern in appearance. The actor who played the character who was renamed as Mohammed looks like European visualizations of Christ – blonde, blue-eyed and bearded. The full movie, which was re-titled Innocence of Muslims runs 74 minutes and is on YouTube along with the trailers that set off the protests.
There are three trailers, approximately 12 minutes in length, that were dubbed into Arabic and put on YouTube just before the Republican convention. In the first, the lead actor is having visions and an actress tells him to put his head between her thighs. The visions go away. Moral: beavers are more powerful than Archangels. In the second, the lead actor is outside a tent in a very obviously green-screened desert, ranting and raving around a man who is tied to a post. The captive’s wife is being held by a guard. The lead actor puts a sword down the man’s back while leering at the wife. In the third, the lead actor is in a tent in bed with what is supposed to be an underaged girl. Another woman enters and starts yelling, then a third enters. The scene turns into a bad French farce with the lead actor running around the tent while the women pursue him. Aside from the fact that the acting is atrocious and the production values non-existent, the portrayals and dialogue are offensive in the extreme. If you watched these without knowing what you were looking at, it would be easy to assume the lead character is Christ. He looks more like those thousands of paintings of Jesus Christ than Willem Dafoe or Ted Neeley did.
One of the “backers” of the film is the self-proclaimed “pastor” Terry Jones, he of the handlebar mustache and burning Qur’ans. The film was “produced” by Joseph Nasralla’s Media for Christ company, who received the filming permits. It was allegedly written and directed by one Sam Basile, an alias for convicted criminal Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, with consultations from insurance agent Steve Klein, who has made a second career of going around the country “warning” people of the threat of Sharia taking over America. Nakoula was taken and questioned by the FBI for possible parole violations. Jones is being Jones – bombastic and very visible. Nasralla and Klein are unrepentent but in hiding because of “death threats” that may or may not have been made.
Jones knew what would happen if the trailers were seen in the Middle East. Nine United Nations workers died because he burned Qur’ans last year. Jones’ motivation probably goes beyond not giving a damn about Muslim sensibilities. He has made it clear that the reaction to his Qur’an burning only proves his view of Islam as a work of the Devil. The Qur’an burning reaction was pretty much limited to Afghanistan. But YouTube is seen around the world, and these videos could set off reactions around the world, further justifying Jones’ positions about “creeping Sharia” and how mosques should be banned and all Muslims deported from America. Klein is equally fanatical about “creeping Sharia” and ousting Muslims. Dubbing the videos into Arabic and waiting for the shit to hit looks too much like intent to be shrugged off as protected free speech.
It looks as though the entire week has been a case of circular exploitation. The filmmakers exploited the actors and YouTube to spread something reprehensible to cause trouble. They exploited the protectiveness of the devout towards their Prophet. The extremist wannabe power players exploited the video and the faith of their followers to make life difficult for their governments, especially in those places where the protests became violent and both demonstrators and police were killed and injured.. An al Qaida affiliate exploited the protests to attack our mission in Benghazi, killing ten Libyans in the process. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu exploited the riots to tell Americans “See what insane fanatics these people are? How can allow them to have nuclear power?” The Romney campaign exploited the situation for political advantage, to bang the “Obama apologizes” drum. That one backfired, making Romney look too quick to say the wrong things drawn from the wrong information.
Our embassy personnel have been withdrawn from Tunisia and Sudan. With the tragic exception of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, our people have been safe and unharmed. Eventually, the furor will subside and things will return to what passes for normal in a region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains of the western mountains of India, a region deeply in flux. The economic engines of Indonesia and Malaysia will turn again undisturbed.
What matters at this point is what the right wing will do with horrible week. Romney put his well-shod foot in his mouth, but the propaganda mill has been in full throttle. Every Obama-Muslim connection possible has been dusted off and polished with the extremists saying that our President encouraged this explosion of rage among “his brothers.”
There are three things about the United States that are the core of the hatred toward America: our invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; our support of dictators and repressive monarchs; our failure to influence Israeli behavior. We were making progress on all these things until this past week. Well, maybe not the Israel part. For most of the world’s one billion Muslims, this week was a pain in the tush. They weren’t involved in the riots. What is needed now is something that was discussed on MSNBC by former diplomats and present analysts – education. We need to educate people around the world about the meaning of free speech and how our government’s policies change with each administration. We are not a nation whose policies endure unchanging for generations. We cannot be the “shining city on the hill” that Ronald Reagan spoke of if people do not understand what our liberties really mean.