For many millennials, the most memorable line of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address was when he referred to the leaders of the Muslim world.
“We will extend a hand if you will unclench your fist,” said Obama.
The pre-Obama daily news cycle almost always included a gruesome story from the Middle East. However, on that January morning, many people in my generation felt the pages of history were turning, and that, finally, the Muslim world would embrace the United States as a friend.
Regrettably, that has not been the case. The events of the last week have made it abundantly clear that anti-Americanism and political Islam are still prevalent and potent in the Muslim world.
In Libya, on the eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, gangs of radical Islamists scaled the walls of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and murdered four Americans. Among the victims was America’s ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, who had arrived just three months earlier armed with nothing but unbridled ambition for the country’s budding democracy.
On Sunday, the first democratically elected president of Libya, Mohamed el-Magariaf, suggested that the attacks where preplanned and coordinated by al-Qaida’s deadly North Africa branch. He said that, last month, al-Qaida militants from neighboring Algeria and Mali had slipped past Libya’s abysmally dysfunctional border security service. On Libyan soil, they hatched a plot to attack American diplomats. The attack was in retaliation for a drone strike that killed a senior Libyan al-Qaida leader.
Last week, a crude, unknown YouTube video mocking the prophet Mohammad sparked riots in the Middle East. This, coupled with embarrassingly low security at the embassy, created a perfect cover for al-Qaida’s attack.
Unfortunately, these bloody protests were not confined to Libya. Cities from Tunis to Sana’a were set ablaze by outraged Islamists. US embassies, consulates and private businesses were targeted. The American embassy in Cairo, Egypt was stormed by Islamic radicals and the American flag was torn down, burned and replaced by the black banner commonly associated with Al-Qaida. Even a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon was destroyed by arsonists.
The protesters had no idea that the video, titled “The Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by a shady clique of Egyptian Coptic Christians living in California, and that almost no Americans had heard of it, or would have ever heard of it, if not for last week’s protests. Many in the Muslim world, where anti-blasphemy laws are still enforced, do not understand the concept of lawfully protected derogatory speech.
An Egyptian protester holding a sign that said “Shut Up America,” told the New York Times, “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize! We never insult any prophet—not Moses, not Jesus—so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?”
These protests bring back the memories of the 2006 Mohammad cartoon catastrophe that exploded across the Muslim world. After a Danish newspaper published an unflattering cartoon of the prophet Mohammad, belligerent thugs ransacked Danish embassies in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran. Clerics demanded boycotts of Danish goods, and the country’s embassy in Pakistan was bombed by the same al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 1998 attacks on American embassies in East Africa.
One hundred human beings died because radicals where outraged by a foreign newspaper’s cartoon. As of the writing of this article, 39 people have died because of offense taken from a trashy YouTube video.
America was not the only target last week.
Iran once again threatened Israel with total annihilation. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said that “nothing would remain” of Israel if it, or the United States dared to try and stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
This is not the first time Iran has threatened the Jewish state. In 2005, the rabidly anti-Semitic president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Israel ought to be “wiped off the map.”
Iran has said it will rain missiles on Israel regardless of whether or not the regime obtains nuclear weapons. Can you understand Israelis’ fears now?
It would be unwise to think that the Iranian regime would be satisfied with destroying Israel. Once they have nuclear weapons, all they will need is a long-range missile to hit the American East Coast.
Last week, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released a new study on America’s missile defense capabilities. The report, compiled by a panel of expert scientists and military officers, said that Iran’s “likely development” of long-range missiles coupled with our “flawed” missile defense systems, could leave our cities at the mercy of the Mullahs in Tehran.
Iran is still a regime run by bellicose theocrats. Foreign publications still have the ability to actuate throngs of Islamic extremists to attack diplomats and al-Qaida remains an active and deadly force.
All in all, the high hopes of Americans and the good intentions of the president did not translate into a sea change in the international Islamic consciousness. Maybe it will take longer, and maybe it will require more education and dialogue. Until then, America and its allies will be caught in the crosshairs of terrorists and rogue states.