The U.S. should respond strongly and sternly to the unprovoked attacks on our consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo and to the deaths of our ambassador to Libya and several of his aides. But we must also react smartly and not succumb to the rage of the moment into thinking that Sam Bacile, the amateur filmmaker whose anti-Mohammad video was initially blamed for these assaults, is right when he says, “Islam is a cancer.”
Not only is that hate speech, it is also wrong on its face because it assumes that the kind of people who carried out these outrages are typical Muslims—that somehow Islam by its very nature drives its adherents to intolerance and violence. That is not the case—Islam, like other religions, is complex and multifaceted. It has meant many things to many people over the ages. Most of its followers, like the followers of other religions, are peaceful and law-abiding and not interested in attacking anyone. The radicals are hardly representative of the mainstream, but even small numbers of extremists can sully the image of an entire country or religion by skillful attacks and manipulation of the news media.
Indeed, evidence is emerging of the planning that went into both assaults, with USA Today reporting: “The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by Jamaa Islamiya, a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman. He is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.”
Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting: “The Obama administration suspects that the fiery attack in Libya that killed the American ambassador and three other diplomats may have been planned rather than a spontaneous mob getting out of control…” The Times article further notes: “About 24 hours before the consulate attack… Al Qaeda posted to militant forums on the Web a video in which its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, acknowledged the death in an American drone strike in June of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and called on Libyans to avenge the death.”
This conforms squarely with recent experience in Afghanistan, where seemingly spontaneous riots and attacks in response to Koran-burnings were actually carried out with considerable planning and complicity from the insurgency. There is no doubt that there is religious passion in the Muslim world that extremists can exploit, but these outrages are the work of calculating extremists and do not represent the actions of the average man-on-the-street—certainly the anti-American protests have attracted far fewer followers than the protests that were being held not so long ago in both Egypt and Libya to protest the previous rulers of those countries. Rather than succumb to extremism ourselves in the face of Islamist extremists, we must make critical distinctions and understand that the radicals do not speak for their whole of their countries nor for the whole of a religion with more than a billion adherents.