Thursday, September 13, 2012

Arab Winter

Not that long ago, when the U.S. was busy abandoning its long-standing ally in Egypt (and a reliable collaborator for Mideast peace) in order to get "on the right side of history," there were any number of warnings about how the so-called "Arab Spring" was as likely to play out as an "Arab Winter." Now - in an eerie reminder of what happened decades ago in Iran after the U.S. had abandoned another ally there - the U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been attacked by a mob of violent vandals. Unlike what happened the same day in Libya, where a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other American personnel were murdered, the Cairo attack seems to have been more symbolic than serious. On the other hand, unlike Libya, where the government behaved like a civilized government and denounced the attack, the new President of Egypt ominously did not do so - preferring instead to suggest the U.S. should get into the movie-censoring business.
I have not taken the time to watch the controversial YouTube video that supposedly set off the violence in Cairo, nor have I any particular interest in doing so. Films that denigrate and ridicule religion generally do not appeal to me - any more than other examples of such "art" which have disgraced our country in recent decades. Such "art' rightly invites outrage (although the outrage tends to be somewhat selective, depending on which religion is being insulted). However, apart from propaganda films produced by the government, move-making is a private business int he U.S. One of the consequences of living in a free society, with freedom of expression, is that vulgar, offensive, outrageous "art" will likely be produced. One is free to denounce such "art" and boycott it (and companies that invest in it), but one cannot righty expect the U.S. Government to prevent it (as middle-easterners with no real experience of a genuinely free society might assume). 
Of course, while proudly professing its identity as a free society, the U.S. Government rightly should dissociate itself from anti-religious propaganda - as the Cairo Embassy staff apparently did just before the attack on the embassy. A certain presidential candidate, trying to capitalize politically on a terrible event, inaccurately called that an "apology." Call it what one will, it has long been the policy of the U.S. Government to dissociate itself from the odious behavior of particular private citizens, when such behavior tarnishes America's image and damages our relations with other nations. After 9/11, President George W. Bush seemed to go out of his way to make clear that U.S. policy was not hostile to any world religion. 
The U.S. has real enemies in the Middle East (and only one real friend). All the more reason, therefore, to make distinctions where distinctions need to be made and to focus on who our enemies actually are. And, of course, to get one's fact right before engaging in campaign polemics.

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