The mixture of Islamic radicalism, populist outrage, and hooligan contagion in the Middle East continues to play out on the television screens around the world. Sparked by an amateurish film about the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims were ignited in to a fire that spread across northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of SE Asia.
Unfortunately the film was bait and a percentage of Muslims went for the lure. The film was a transparent attempt to manipulate with the weapons of insult and denigration. I have viewed pieces of this so-called film and its purpose was undeniable, provocation. But neither the film nor its provocation were/are justification for violence and those who participated in the mob riots have harmed the religion of Islam more than the filmmaker. The film was deeply disrespectful, but the violent response on the part of a minority population captured the world’s attention and tore down the dignity of the Islamic religion. (Let us acknowledge that it was a small minority within a population of Muslims who number in the billions.)
And while analysts are still pouring over the intelligence on the attacks against the consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya one thing stands clear, the death of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens along with three other embassy personnel; Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone S. Woods. It remains uncertain whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a conclusion that those who killed the Ambassador have direct links to AQIM. It is undeniable that the entire incident raises suspicions on many counts, particularly the type of weaponry used along with the apparent coordination of targets. Film or planned attack, these deaths were tragic and deeply lamentable.
Yet, Ambassador Stevens death seems all the more tragic as he was a friend of the Libyans and was a companion to those who sought to move the Libyan state toward democracy. His death is a sobering testament to the cost of reforming corrupt regimes where societies have been prevented from participating in the evolutionary pull of modernity. Stevens was devoted to the effort of bringing democracy to the Libyans and the loss of his friendship will slow their movement. For, after decades of repression and factionalism, the populations in the Arab states have a long road ahead of them.
The overthrow of repressive governments is just the beginning of reform. Americans are all too quick to judge the Arab Spring at this early stage. But the events presumably incited by the film, or to be more precise, exploited because of the film, signal an important message to the moderates and reformers within the Arab world and within Islam: Now IS Time For A New Political Consciousness
As any one who has followed me over the years knows, I have contributed my voice to the need for a more comprehensive examination of the Middle East. The Middle East and the Arab States have an historical arch that differs greatly from the American narrative and therefore it is an injustice to interpret events from the perspective of U.S. lived experience. Furthermore, the complicated history of the role of the U.S. in the Middle East is filled with intrigue, betrayal, and political calculation, thus tainting the Arab street.
But the violence is unacceptable, under any condition. And the death of Ambassador Stevens must serve as a deafening message. At this moment in history it is now for the moderates in the Arab world as well as Islamic reformists to stand publicly for the continued effort of democracy for all Muslim people.
With the removal of the brutal police state, now is the time to amplify the political consciousness that is in a neophyte stage through the tools of legitimate leadership along with a collective stance against violence. While new governments are struggling to find their way, now is the time to exercise the voice of the rational in the midst of this crisis and attune the Arab world to the tools of democracy: free speech and non-violent protests. In the security vacuum left in the shadow of successful revolution, now is the time to take a stand for engendering a sense of civic responsibility in the Arab states to see that the seeds for a new political consciousness are spread far and wide.
The time is now. History is often made in those windows that are open for only a short period but then suddenly close. This window is an opportunity to exercise the power of the moderate Islamic voice in the effort of preserving the extraordinary costs paid during the Arab Spring.
While the anti-western rhetoric was utilitarian during the era of reprobate family regimes, regimes oftentimes supported through western collusion, this rhetoric must go the way of the regime. It must be replaced with a narrative that looks to the future. The Arab world must grasp its future, as a people ready to take charge of their future.
Now is the time for those in the Arab states to bravely speak up so loudly that the voices of the violent and radical are drowned out. Speak up so loudly so as to have the voice of the dignified within the Muslim world reach around the world. It is time for the reasonable to band together as passionately as the Salafists and all other radical Islamist groups so that the power of moderate/”normal” Islam roots in the place of fanaticism.
The time to speak up and lead is now.