Friday, September 14, 2012

From Hell to Hope, From Hope to Hell: Muslim Violence in Middle East Savagely Mutes Expectations


Peace protest in Libya offers condolences on the death of Ambasssador
Christopher Stevens; a sign RIP. THIS IS HOPE.  
(photos from HuffPost, 14 Sept. 2012). 
We cling to hope. It's precarious.  But we have no choice.  We have to hang on. 

In his autobiography, An Asperger Journey, my brother Loren tells the story of growing up with “a problem with no name,” and his lifelong effort to find answers on his own, a journey ”from hell to hope.” 

The murder of Chris Stevens and three diplomats in Libya by Muslim extremists, on the anniversary of 9/11, and the attacks on US embassies in Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere, appear to be taking us in the opposite direction, from hope to hell.   We are backsliding from the hope born during the “Arab Spring,” when the people rose up against dictators, to the hell of religious intolerance and religious violence. 

How well I remember the goodwill generated in the Arab world by the efforts of its people to overthrow oppressive dictatorships and build a better society for ordinary people.  I had just returned to my village in Ukraine from a trip to Egypt with my Peace Corps friend Jud.  We had walked the route of the protestors in Cairo, stood where tanks blocked the street near the Eqyptian Museum.

Most of us understood at the time that we were not talking about change to a US-style democracy, but change to some form of representative government of, by and for the people arising from the ashes of cruel dictatorships.  We hoped the changes would end poverty, the root of all discontent, provide jobs, food, security.  We knew it would take time, but we had such hope!

Sure, there were voices of caution then.  Would Muslim extremists take over these countries and bury them once again in a different form of totalitarian rule?  Would offshoots of the Taliban and Al Qaeda overwhelm the majority of moderate citizens who sought to unite their countries and promote religious and ethnic tolerance?  

Now I wonder. The death of Chris Stevens has muted our expectations. It's a devastating loss.  Here was an honorable man, a peacekeeper who loved the Arab world and devoted his life to improving the lives of its people, from his Peace Corps days in Morocco to his years with the foreign service and as ambassador.  I believe the Arab people returned the love. The extremists, a small handful of haters, took it away.  The terrorists now threaten the Arab Spring, the fragile governments of post-dictators, and the dream of peaceful resolution of age-old issues.   

What IS the film about that attacks Muhammad and Islam and incites such hate. Who produced it? Why?  The US government had nothing to do with it; it is not government-sanctioned.  It appears to be the work of an obscure California filmmaker with a grudge, produced in a country where freedom of speech is honored and officially-sanctioned censorship is relatively rare.    

On the other hand, while the film sounds reprehensible (I haven’t seen it. Has anyone?), so is the hysterical violence it has provoked.  Does any film justify murder? Does a movie, no matter how offensive its content, justify killing dedicated ambassadors and government workers? Why has this horrible film caused such outrage?  Why is anti-American anger “sweeping” across the Middle East, and Africa and Asia (Reuters report,Yahoo, 9/14).  “Sweeping!” 

One Middle East expert put it this way: "Frustration at the slow pace of change is mounting. The Arab Spring has not yet found a sense of direction."  Condaleeza Rice, former Secretary of State, noted that extremists have taken advantage of a movie to voice their ongoing rage, but the majority of Arabs do not condone such violence.   CNN and other reporters "on the ground" (and it looks really dangerous) talk about how little it takes to "trigger" such outrage.  It's an excuse to create chaos.  What's at stake, they report, is the relationship between the countries of the Arab World and the United States.  "The extremists have made their mark," said one on Wolf Blitzer's show.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton gave an eloquent reply to the tragic situation in a speech marking the end of Ramadan (Dana Hughes, “Secretary Clinton Delivers Powerful Religion Speech after Middle East Embassy Attacks,” ABC OTUS News, Yahoo, 14 Sept.2012). 
"I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries.  Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one's faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one's faith is unshakable."
"We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer," Clinton said forcefully. "They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult; answering ignorance with enlightenment; answering hatred with understanding; answering darkness with light."
      The path from hell to hope is not an easy one; it is the road less traveled. But Chris Stevens was on that road.  He had that faith. That’s what makes these events so sad, so disheartening. My faith wavers, but Hillary Clinton’s is strong.
"In times like these, it can be easy to despair that some differences are irreconcilable, some mountains too steep to climb; we will therefore never reach the level of understanding and peacefulness that we seek, and which I believe the great religions of the world call us to pursue....But that's not what I believe, and I don't think it's what you believe….Part of what makes our country so special is we keep trying. We keep working. We keep investing in our future."   
Clinton talked about “the outpouring of support the United States has received from the Muslim world.” She thanked the Libyan Ambassador, Ali Suleiman Aujali, who gave a heartfelt tribute to U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom he called his dear friend, killed in Benghazi on Tuesday.  
"I must tell you, Madam Secretary, and tell the American people, that Chris is a hero," said Aujali. "He loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he [was] committed - and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment" (Dana Hughes, ABC OTUS article).
Now the U.S. is taking a hard line.  The extremists have whipped  up chaos, just what they want.  The American people are whipped up too.  A military response is on the horizon.  Troops, ships, planes, marines are on the way. More violence is sure to come.  War is threatened.  How far will this go? Will there ever be peace and prosperity in the Middle East?  Can we keep the hope of the Arab Spring alive?       
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