Recent events have caused a stir in Egypt and Libya. Protesters in Egypt and murderers in Libya have expressed their disgust over a film depicting the prophet Mohammed in an offensive manner; to many Muslims, any depiction of Mohammed is offensive.
First, a little geography and culture lesson. Libya borders Egypt to the west, with the Red Sea flanking most of Egypt’s eastern coastline. The Red Sea ends at the Suez Canal that runs through Egypt and connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, which runs along the northern coastline of Egypt and Libya. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are on the east side of the Red Sea, with Israel surrounded by all of the aforementioned countries.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 90% of Egyptians are Muslim. Libya is 97% Muslim. Jordan is 92% Muslim. Syria is 90% Muslim. Lebanon is 60% Muslim. Saudi Arabia is nearly 100% Muslim. Lastly, Iraq is 97% Muslim. While there are differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims, which I will not go into here, it is important to note that many Muslims do not identify as one specific sect. It is also important to mention that Osama Bin Laden was a Sunni Muslim and al Qaeda follows the Sunni sect. Hezbollah mostly follows the Shia Sect. The differences are mostly political, in nature. The fundamental beliefs about doctrine are very much the same.
Israel is 78% Jewish or Christian and is a country of less than 8 million, surrounded by predominantly Muslim countries that number more than 180 million strong.
Why is this important?
Our embassies enjoy near “extraterritorial” status, in that the diplomats that work there receive full diplomatic immunity and the premises cannot be entered by the host country without the expressed permission of the represented country. This status is provided by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which Egypt has ratified; Libya has not.
Protesters stormed our embassy’s walls in Egypt, tore our flag down, ripped it into pieces and burned it. Of the approximately 2000 protestors, many caught on camera, none have faced any consequences. In Libya, murderers killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens, staffer Sean Smith, a husband and father of two, and two other staffers whose names have not been released until their next of kin can be notified. In the video above, the American flag is burned along with Israel’s flag. What video did Israel make? Does anyone really think this is about a video?
President Obama has called these events “outrageous” and has said his administration will provide “all necessary resources” to support security for U.S. personnel in Libya and to increase security at other diplomatic offices, as well.
Libya’s Interim President, Mohammed el-Megarif, called the attacks “cowardly” and said he was vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
At this hour, it doesn’t look like Egypt’s President, Mohamed Mursi, has made any statement about the incident.
Amid these recent developments, President Obama has decided that his efforts to remain in office and a visit to the Late Show with David Letterman a week prior to his visit to the United Nations General Assembly are more important than meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House is downplaying this as a scheduling conflict, since Netanyahu will not arrive in New York until September 27th and the President will be leaving New York on September 25th, but concessions could be, and should be, made at this crucial time.
Perceptions, allowed to be formed by misguided decisions, are dangerous if allowed to foment. Those watching, see Israel being attacked, physically or verbally, almost every single day. They see America unwilling to do anything significant about it. Now, they see that America has been reluctant to act, even when our own citizens are murdered by cowards professing their devotion to Mohammed or Allah. Last, they see Israel’s hopes of something more than professed support through a phone call by America’s President dashed by that same President’s desire to keep his office.
Regardless of the Democratic Party’s obvious division on whether to declare Jerusalem the capitol of Israel, the President needs to stand with PM Netanyahu (hopefully el-Megarif and Mursi, as well) and declare that these events will not go unpunished and the audacity to perform attacks like these will be met with swift and decisive retribution. If our current President is not up to the task, a change of hope’s guard is in order.