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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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    Cinematic Terrorism

    History Repeats itself in Libya… Sort of

    by | Sep 14, 2012

    On September 11th, The United States Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning the attempts of “misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” The statement was in response to growing outrage stemming from an anti-Islamic movie produced in America. The movie was recently translated into Arabic and viewed via the internet throughout the Middle East and other Arabic speaking nations.

    Although the statement issued by the U.S. Embassy was intended to assuage the offended and deter potentially violent reactions, attacks on American embassies ensued in both Egypt and Libya. Another attack followed on September 13th in Yemen.

    The original statement by the U.S. Embassy met criticism from, among others, Mitt Romney. Romney cited the statement as “akin to an apology,” and felt that the statement did not “defend [American] values,” implying that the President did not support the first amendment freedom of speech exercised by the American film maker.

    So let’s say Romney is right. Let’s make the inference Romney wants us to make and say that President Obama’s take on the first amendment is that it is not absolute, that it does not extend to those who offend Muslims.  Even if this stretcher (as Mark Twain would call it) were accurate, it wouldn’t be the first time America denounced a foundational value in the face of Muslim opposition.

    In America’s infancy, the government faced troubled waters, quite literally. American merchant ships were being attacked off the Barbary Coast by Muslim pirates. In order to establish more peaceful relations with the Islamic North African nations (modern day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco), the American Congress proposed and unanimously ratified the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797.

    John Adams - Treaty of Tripoli

    The controversial legacy of this treaty lies in Article 11:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    The American Congress at the time clearly saw a benefit to denouncing America as a fundamentally Christian nation. The benefit was the safety of American sailors and hostages from hostile, state-sponsored Muslim pirates.

    Now, if you are of the opinion that the United States was founded on the Christian religion, this section of the treaty can mean one of two things: 1) you are dead wrong, or 2) the United States was simply trying to ease relations between Americans and Muslims by telling an outright lie. I tend to favor option one, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past an American government to lie in a treaty. (By the way, if Congress did blatantly break the ninth commandment in the treaty, it does not help the argument that American government was founded on the Christian religion.)

    Whether or not America was “founded on the Christian religion” can be debated, but the fact that it was founded by imperfect Christians who touted the guiding principles and values found in the Christian Bible is an indisputable truth. Still, the statement in Article 11 is clearly an attempt by the American government to distance itself from any American value derived from Christianity.

    This brings us full circle to the statement made in Cairo.

    In an effort to protect innocent lives, the American Embassy in Cairo distanced itself from a specific value that Americans hold dear: freedom of speech. Did America revoke the freedom of speech from the hateful individuals whose handiwork incited the violence that resulted in the murder of another American? No. Did America apologize for those hateful individuals’ actions? Yes, but only in an effort to safeguard Americans from the consequences of those idiots’ actions.

    Ultimately, what has been revealed through Mitt Romney’s commentary regarding the situation in Libya is the unwavering belief many people have in American exceptionalism. But this is not simply a belief that America is exceptional; it is an arrogant worldview that incorrectly assumes that America can do no wrong and that Americans are always right, no matter who is killed as a result of their actions—even other Americans.

    ###
    Jason Palmer

    Jason Palmer

    Jason Palmer is a full-time instructor of composition and American literature at a small college in North Georgia. He is also the editor of politicdiscourse.com and regular contributor to The McLean Parlor.

     

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    • Frank Povah

      This is the third sensible statement about this mess that I have heard. The first were those by a couple of Libyan women, neighbors to the consulate building, who, with tears in their eyes said to a CBS correspondent (and this is not verbatim but close enough): “This is not Islam, this is not Libyans. These people were helping us and we need help, we apologize to the people of America.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/AskGuy Guy Tucker

      Jason -- Thank you for this, excellent history and contemporary commentary. Didn’t know unitl I read a book recently about the Barbary Pirates that until the early 1800’s that the North African nations mentioned in your article would regularly make trips to the southern coast of Ireland to take slaves. Not that long ago this was a very dangerous world! OK, it still is.

    • Tom Gibbs

      Excellent essay. The problem with learning from history, however, is that one must first learn history. That, of course, requires history courses and the teaching of those courses by teachers who are allowed to teach in open, honest ways. Today, far too many Republicans want to privatize education and, eventually abolish public education, so that only the wealthy and priviliged will have access to learning. To that end, Republicans, particularly Tea Party reactionaries, criticize well-educated intellectuals as being “eggheads” and left-wing revolutionaries out to destroy America who use the tool of the nefarious liberal arts education, which includes honest, open studies in history. Education and being educated are presented as stigmas, at best, and, at its worst, a crime against the state by Republicans vis-a-vis Tea Partiers. Tea Party people claim to be operating from some patriotic, historical American perspective while denigrating history at every turn or blatantly ignoring it when it suits them. An uneducated “base” is preferred because it is malleable and easily duped. History bears that out. Just look it up.

      • Hannah

        Birds of a feather flock together. People who don’t have a linear sense of time must find history incomprehensible. Note that when they use the word “back” it is associated with “take.” It refers to self-centered act of re-acquisition. It is not a temporal reference. If repetition is their primary mode of behavior, then history is habit — do overs. If we expect, we should expect repetition from them. Imitation and repetition are the basic components of instinct-driven behavior.

    • Ernest

      America is exceptional and it can be arrogant, and it can do wrong. I would rather live in this country where we have a constitution and a bill of rights that enable us to address the problems we have. It now appears that the film had been out since July, and the incidents had been planned for the anniversary of 9-11.

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