September 13, 2012

Libya Tragedy

It has become increasingly evident since Tuesday, the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, that the barbaric murder of four U.S. diplomats during an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi , Libya, was not spontaneous. The terrorists who attacked the consulate with automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades were prepared with highly lethal capabilities that a mob protesting an obscure independent video would not have amassed spontaneously. Rather than losing control of their outrage at the video, the murderers of one of America’s most capable ambassadors and three of his diplomatic colleagues used the protest as a distraction to facilitate their deadly plan.

It has become increasingly evident since Tuesday, the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, that the barbaric murder of four U.S. diplomats during an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi , Libya, was not spontaneous. The terrorists who attacked the consulate with automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades were prepared with highly lethal capabilities that a mob protesting an obscure independent video would not have amassed spontaneously. Rather than losing control of their outrage at the video, the murderers of one of America’s most capable ambassadors and three of his diplomatic colleagues used the protest as a distraction to facilitate their deadly plan.

Many Americans and Europeans are baffled by how the “pro-democracy” fervor of 2011’s Arab Spring could have gone so wrong. After all, Ambassador Chris Stevens was a crucial friend of the democratic elements of Libya’s opposition who overthrew dictator Moammar Qaddafi to usher in a democratic future for Libya earlier this year. What, these Western observers ask, could have driven the beneficiaries of this great democratic victory to murder one of their closest friends?

The answer, of course, is that many of the Arab Spring’s activists were sought not democracy, but the advance of Islamism, or political Islam. Islamism is not a religion; it is a political ideology that manipulates one of the world’s great religions in pursuit of political goals, namely, the replacement of secular and democratic laws of modern society with a narrow interpretation of God’s divine law, or sharia. Some Islamists are more patient and are willing to obtain power via political processes, even democratic ones, in what risks becoming a scenario of “one man, one vote, one time.” Others, like the ones who murdered Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues, are less patient: they feel compelled to use violence to speed the overthrow the rule of laws formulated by human being and replace them with their personal interpretation of God’s law, all across the globe.

While I served as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan throughout 2011, our embassy faced a serious array of terrorist threats from impatient Islamists. These included plots to assassinate members of our embassy staff, including my family and myself. As I thought through worrisome threat information I received nearly every day, I realized that our security would ultimately depend not so much on our embassy’s own security capabilities, but on the assistance of our host government. And, in the end, it was indeed Azerbaijan’s security forces who saved us. These professionals were committed to our joint mission, which included strong support for the free practice of Islam and other religions, but equally strong opposition to the spread of Islamism, which would threaten the religious diversity that characterizes Azerbaijan’s secular society and Shiite-majority population.

In Libya, we are beginning to see a different picture. Libyan security forces were quickly overwhelmed by Islamist terrorists on September 11, 2012. As the Wall Street Journal Europe reported on September 13, 2012, the Libyan security personnel were perhaps intimidated into avoiding confrontation with the terrorists who represent Islamist political forces that may gain power in Libya. The tragic attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi thus provides example of the human costs of acquiescing to Islamist extremism.

In Washington, policy-makers are often afraid of identifying Islamism for what it is, a political creed that seeks to undermine secular rule, fearing they will be branded as Islamophobic. As long as this timidity carries the day, the United States will be shirking its responsibility to strengthen democracy and protect innocent people, both of which are in the sights of Islamist extremists.

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