When I first started seeing the tweets about a crowd “storming” the US Embassy in Cairo, my first thought was if the reporter sending the tweet had ever actually seen the building my friends and I used to refer to as “Fortress America.” The Embassy is just that, a fortress. High walls, car-bomb barricades, bullet-proof glass and steel doors, and that’s just the ground level access to the grounds. The building itself then juts up into the Cairo skyline, bristling with cameras, antennae and who knows what else. As an American living in Cairo, even I had a hard time getting inside. So, the idea of a crowd “storming” the Embassy seemed a touch laughable.
In fact, a crowd gathered outside the grounds, a few people scaled the outer walls and tore down the flag flying in the courtyard. So, it was hardly a siege event, but surprising nonetheless. My main thought was to wonder what we had done this time to earn the ire of the Egyptian people. Had someone said something particularly offensive during a 9/11 tribute? But, when I heard later that the crowd was gathered to protest a movie, my curiosity was piqued. Was the Embassy showing a film that irked everyone? Was it something that had been banned from the Cairo Film Festival, perhaps? No, turns out it was some film that, but for the internet, no one would have ever heard about. Turns out, it may not even be a real film. But, it is a racist, Islamophobic work of some professional instigator who was hoping to spark just such an outrage. It appears that the protest in Cairo was sparked when a TV station erroneously reported that the film was the work of the US government.
So, when Twitter started chirping at me later in the day, I noticed that the tag had changed from #Egypt to #Libya and that a crowd had gathered in Benghazi as well. I paid it little mind, assuming that the crowd there would be nothing more than it was in Cairo. Imagine my surprise, then, when the protest turned into a full-scale assault on the US Consulate there. By the time I heard the news of the deaths of the 4 Americans there the next day, I was stunned. What was it in Libya, and Benghazi, cradle of the revolution, of all places, that had driven the violence to such extremes?
As Dan Murphy wrote in yesterday’s Monitor, extremists on all sides have won. “Sam Bacile,” Steven Klein and their ilk have stirred up a false controversy, militants in Libya, and now Yemen, have grabbed hold and used it as cover for their mindless violence, and the US is stepping up its military presence in the region. Politicians have flapped their ill-informed mouths and the media, oh the media, have played into everyone’s hands. A fringe militant group likely just seized an opportunity.
The US media quickly spun the story of Cairo and Benghazi into a regional threat from those dangerous Muslims. Libya was strongly questioned; after all, we had supported their revolution. “How could they turn against us?” the talking heads asked, “All that’s happened is that the central figure of the religion has been violently insulted. Can’t they take a joke?” Pundits who shall remain nameless adjusted their wild comb-overs and wondered aloud why we hadn’t just left their dictators in power, because we never had problems when they were around. (Do you think he could hear the screaming coming from Lockerbie?) Stories were told of wild Muslims assaulting the consulate and dragging the Ambassador through the streets, rekindling the memories of Mogadishu.
When the dust settled, though, the media seemed reticent to correct their original stories. How the film of the Ambassadors body was actually Libyans trying to get him to the hospital, of the 10 Libyans who had died tried to defend the consulate when the attack started or of the Libyans protesting in Benghazi yesterday and today, against the violence in their city. Little has been published of the fund raising effort underway in Benghazi to rebuild the consulate or of the Libyans there cleaning up the site of the attack. A UK think-tank has posited that the attack in Libya may have been an inevitable retaliation by al-Qaeda for a US drone strike in Yemen. Yet still, the average Libyan will bear the blame.
I wish I could say I’m surprised though. There are those in the United States who are always looking for some reason on why we should go to war with Islam. Some of them are professionals, others just your average, unimaginative, bigots. They may be the real victors here. US relations with Egypt, Yemen and Libya will be damaged by the last few days’ events. Perhaps, with any luck, that damage will be minor. But, there are those voices that call for disengagement, that say that any diplomacy is appeasement of our enemies and that would like nothing more than to simply turn their backs on the region.
Hopefully, those voices can be overwhelmed by the facts, that even those countries whom we consider enemies will side with us against the real problems of the world and that the issue is not us versus them, but a constant struggle for perspective and understanding. United we stand is not a phrase restricted to just Americans.By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist