Could that pernicious video have ended up working against itself? Could this be the tipping point for both Islamophobia and its mirror image, militant “Islamist” extremism? Is this where both are revealed for the ugly con game they really are?
Perhaps the one good thing about the video is that it is so upfront in its ugliness. It’s no longer just you and I saying it; it’s also the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, whose anger was palpable: “To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
Now we know who made the video: a convicted con man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, indicted on multiple charges of bank fraud and check-kiting. And he may indeed end up back in jail, since by posting his work to the Internet he violated the terms of his probation. That’s little consolation, of course, for the multiple deaths he’s caused — at least a dozen so far. And none at all for those who don’t understand that the principle of freedom of speech, no matter how hard it is to accept, applies to all. Under a different administration, the same principle by which they demand that he be jailed could then be turned around and applied to them.
But we know more. We know that the protests against the video have been used and manipulated by Al Qaeda and Salafi types, who manipulated the sincere outrage and insult of protestors to further their own political agenda and try to destabilize newly elected governments. In the process, they also furthered the agenda of their Islamophobic blood brothers, providing graphic images of Muslims doing everything Islamophobes expect — rioting, burning, killing. But for the first time, all countries involved seem to have clearly recognized this and given voice to it, perhaps none more perfectly than Hillary Clinton: “”The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.”
We know that Twitter is alive with condemnations of the violence from Libyans, Tunisians, Egyptians, and more. Mainstream Muslims, both religious and secular, will no longer tolerate being intimidated into silence by those who claim to speak in their name for a violent, extremist travesty of Islam. They are speaking out in unprecedented volume and numbers.
And we know this: the new governments of Libya and Yemen instantly condemned the violence and apologized for the death of Ambassador Stevens. In the words of the president of the Libyan National Congress, it was “an apology to the United States and the Arab people, if not the whole world, for what happened. We together with the United States government are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these murderous outlaws.” Residents of Tripoli and Benghazi staged demonstrations to condemn the attack on the Benghazi consulate and to express their sorrow at the death of Stevens, who was widely admired for his support of the revolution that ousted Qaddafi.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt finally realized that this was not a matter of defending Islam against outside enemies, but of defending it against its own worst enemies on the inside.
All this, it seems to me, is new. As is the reaction of the US administration, led by Obama and Clinton — calm, measured, determined, and in the spirit of Ambassador Stevens himself, the opposite of the heavy-handed American imperialism of the past. Imagine if this had happened under Bush, or under Romney, and shudder at how they would have reacted.
Could it be, finally, that more and more people are getting it? That both the Islamists and the Islamophobes are losing? That sanity, however high the cost in lives, might actually prevail?