The killing of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other American diplomats was another 9/11, eleven years after the fact. These two tragedies don’t quite compare in scale, but one cannot disregard how the global landscape changed between the two terrible events – not linear, but rather like a spiral, bringing similar problems on different levels.
September 11, 2001, made global terrorism the focus of international relations. Many believed the attacks marked the emergence of a new universal evil that would totally change the agenda and restructure international relations along new lines: Us (fellow nations) versus Them (rogue states and individuals). In other words, it was a way to compensate for the fall of the USSR – a great foe that allowed the West to consolidate into a unified force. This new ideology failed for several reasons, but 11 years later, the situation seems strange and a little absurd.
In recent interview with RT, Vladimir Putin criticized the West’s approach in Syria, saying that “one should unlock Guantanamo, arm all of its inmates and bring them to Syria to do the fighting – it's practically the same kind of people.” It was Putin’s typical sarcastic style, but it is also difficult to deny. The Arab Spring has changed everything: Western powers, keen to support democracy in the Middle East, found themselves allied with forces sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists, or at least those who shared their anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiments.
There is a gloomy symbolism in a US ambassador who aided Libyan rebels being killed in Benghazi, a city that openly celebrated the NATO-led bombings of Libya. The US followed its ideological instincts when Washington decided to abandon loyal dictators in favor of the ‘democratic aspirations’ of the people. The results were unexpected, but logical. Anti-Americanism is widespread in the Arab world, most of all among citizens – those who vote in democratic elections. They supported the Islamic forces they viewed as heralds of democracy, the same institutions that struggled against secular dictatorships, many of them pro-Western.
Political Islam, which had previously been discussed in the context of al-Qaeda and a global anti-terrorist coalition, has added another dimension of complexity. The Muslim Brotherhood has come to power in Egypt; contrary to expectations, Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi is no mere figurehead to replace the military junta, but a genuine ruler. Islam is rapidly gaining influence in Arab Spring countries where dictatorships have been overthrown, or are teetering on the brink of collapse.
Anti-American sentiment among Arabs is mirrored and multiplied by Christian radicals in the US, who rose to prominence 11 years ago through a wave of covert and overt anti-Muslim politicking in the name of the Global War on Terror. Evangelical pastor Terry Jones of Florida, who previously and infamously burned the Quran, is now believed to be responsible for the incendiary movie that has sparked the latest wave of attacks against US embassies in the Arab world.
Pastor Jones is an extreme and farcical incarnation of the ‘clash of civilizations.’ Democracy cannot stop people like him who are protected by First Amendment, no matter how many human lives his hate-speech will cost. And since Jones-like creatures act freely, many Arabs assume that the West, and America in particular, encourage such attitudes.
Vladimir Putin, extending his sorrow and condolences for the families of the diplomats killed in the attacks, said that "religious feelings of people of all beliefs must be handled very carefully," and that government reactions to religious provocation must be "tough and timely." Otherwise, those offended will take matters into their own hands to defend their interests and views. He also warned against supporting further popular uprisings in the Middle East: “We do not understand these people’s final goals, and we are always worried about the possibility that if we support these armed groups, we could ultimately find ourselves in a deadlock situation.”
The current situation in the Middle East – more than a decade after 9/11 – is confusing and chaotic. Everything is possible, and anything can be predicted.
Fyodor Lukyanov, for RT