It went from an attack on the U.S. embassy in Egypt to an attack on the embassy in Libya to attacks on US embassies and buildings throughout the Arab world, to political cat fighting here at home on how best to handle the growing unrest while laying to rest 4 Americans killed during the outbreak of violence. What sparked the upheaval, an anti- Islamic, low budget movie posted on YouTube apparently depicting the prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light created by an American under an assumed name? And soon the story becomes not the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, not even the failing security of U.S. embassies in the region, not about the instability surrounding infant democracies or countries previously peaceful suddenly erupting, but about which of the candidates here was more presidential, which candidate had the better foreign policy. Leading the infighting were controversial comments attributed to president Obama causing Republican nominee Mitt Romney to openly berate the Whitehouse and the president for what he called a disgraceful response that amounted to apologizing to militants. So the story becomes about our election not about the violence in that part of the world, the story becomes about our election not about the 4 people who died, the story becomes about our election not about how our cultural ignorance has once again gotten us in hot water. The story becomes about us not about the constant tender box of the area, based on comments and a timeline that first and foremost are inaccurate.
To begin with the comments Romney was attacking were not said by president Obama but rather by a U.S. Embassy official in Cairo; secondly, regardless of how the Romney team wants to spin it, the statement was released before the larger, more devastating attack in Libya took place, before the demonstrations in Egypt became any more than a group of people attempting to be heard. Said statement read: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” This is not an apology to extremists bent on killing, this was not a sympathizing with known terror groups, it was a response to outraged individuals in an effort to curb potential violence, the very violence that erupted hours later. If it was an apology to anyone, it was an apology to every day Muslims, trying to show them the film was the act of 1, a hand full, of Americans and does not reflect the attitude of the United States government or the majority of its citizens toward Islam or its peaceful followers. President Obama’s statement did not come until the morning after with secretary of state Hilary Clinton at a press conference in the Rose Garden. When he did speak he said there was no justification for that type of violence, promising justice for the slain Americans. He originally supported the statement made by the Egyptian embassy because as he told media later, it came from the guy on the ground dealing with the situation. To say nothing of it was the U.S. state department that tried to disavow the comments, not the president himself.
Further if the president were ever to utter this kind of so called apology on these shores, in this country it would be again to the everyday Muslims who share the name of their religion, the name of followers of their faith with people bent on hate, violence and destruction. It would be to the soccer moms in head scarves, assumed to be Arabic or Muslim, whether they are or not, getting dirty looks as they go about their lives, it would be to the Muslim children getting bullied at school, being called terrorist. It would be to the American born, never sworn allegiance to any flag but ours, people continually harassed because they look like they come from that part of the world; it would be to the people here on visas, possessing work permits, green cards, granted asylum ridiculed because they looked like our view of a terrorist, a threat. It would be to the people like the Sikhs mistaken for Muslims attacked and humiliated because of our misunderstanding, the people who came here looking for peace, wanting to live their lives, who have not, will not give money to terrorist organizations, who want nothing to do with terrorism. Not to mention we should apologize for things like that film, we should communicate to people that all of us do not hate a single religion because some of those who practice it are prone to violence, we should apologize to people for cruel or thoughtless things done, things that do not represent the core of who we are. We should apologize when people abuse free speech to the point it costs lives half a world away; we should apologize when these are the examples of free speech seen most prominently by the world at large.
Mitt Romney should be especially ashamed of himself for trying to imply the president was apologizing for radical behavior when the comments didn’t even come from his mouth, his hand, his electronic device; he should be and was, though it can be argued not enough, raked over the coals for insinuating the “apology” was made after 4 U.S. citizens were killed in militant violence. He should be more than taken to task when he is applying for the job of leader of the free world and his excuse for the mix up is the Cairo embassy stated their comment was still valid; maybe he should learn not to get his international information from a tweet on Twitter. Worse is his repeated attack on the president for what he calls mishandling the situation even after the timeline of events was revealed to every news outlet in the known world, somehow trying to paint himself as more presidential, more willing to defend American ideas going on to talk about it never being too early to condemn attacks on Americans and defend our values. Oh yes these are the values we want to tell the world we support mouth breathers anonymously posting videos on YouTube mocking, disrespecting iconic religious figures of a faith the maker doesn’t agree with; that’s almost identical to supporting the pastor of the church who wanted to burn Korans on the last anniversary of 9-11 a year ago. Reasonably that man got zero support, in fact just the opposite people mobilized to stop him from doing so, implored him to change his mind, thankfully to a positive result. You don’t look like a good, never mind better, commander and chief promoting prejudiced nationalism based on deplorable actions, words, media representations of a few citizens; you don’t look like a good, never mind better commander and chief when you botch the timeline of a crisis, then still try to insist you were/are right, try to spin it so you appear in an increasingly favorable light solely to win an election. Continuing, call it an apology if you will; however framed in the context of both when it was released and what was said, it was an apology for a, no question, offensive film, not an apology for provoking violence, certainly not an apology for our values, it was an apology for a rouge misrepresentation of our values.
President Obama and the Whitehouse have handled the situation with calm, cool, collected poise required of a commander and chief, standing by the person on the ground, in the area, dealing with the problem first hand, slow to call this a terrorist attack, despite what right leaning news outlets say, but acknowledging the fact the film may have only been an excuse or perhaps a cover for the goings on in Egypt and Libya. Bringing us to another point regarding timing of when the Cairo comments were released, all throughout a subsequent press conference in which the 2012 republican presidential nominee took questions, he referred to Egypt’s declaration the embassy grounds had been breached, calling the presence of protesters a violation of the sovereignty of the United States; again when that information was given nothing violent had taken place, at most they had a shouting group of people expressing their vehement displeasure with our country. And technicality or no, if you treat embassy grounds like U.S. soil, accompanied with all the rights and freedoms there in, the people were doing nothing wrong in assembling until things did turn violent. Next, challenging the concept a president takes responsibility for not only his direct actions but the actions of his staff, administrators, appointed leaders, embassy officials exc., the only person whose words or actions you control is your own; the Whitehouse did disavow the ambassador’s statement and when asked about what they should have done differently all candidate Romney could talk about was that the comments coming from the embassy in Egypt sounded like an apology and that he felt that was the wrong course of action, nothing about reprimands he would dole out to the ambassador, no talk of replacing said ambassador, a better way to distance themselves from the comments made in Egypt, an acknowledgement that, no matter how wrong a statement is believed to be, you can’t un-ring a bell, you can’t go back and make it unsaid, you can only move forward. On that note, for the sake of argument let’s assume the comments, the press release were all the wrong message to send, what was he supposed to do call the man up and say you’re fired to the one person who might be able to keep things from escalating? By removing the ambassador was he supposed to send the message it’s open season both on the American embassy and quickly endangered Americans doing everything from trying to help the fledgling democracy to traveling who will now bear the brunt of the ire caused by a video so obscure it was difficult to find out who actually created it? This is where people get the idea Romney shoots first and aims later, because his responses were obviously not thought through.
Not addressed at all is how our continued cultural ignorance keeps landing us in various degrees of trouble across the globe; this film is far from the first time Americans have stuck their collective feet in their mouths. Outside of atrocities likeAbu Ghraib, American soldiers in Iraq stirred tensions to violence when they burned old, weathered Korans they intended to replace not knowing it was a highly offensive thing to do, instead of burying them or floating them down a river, the proper way to handle deteriorating Muslim holy books. Not only was this movie offensive for putting Mohamed in a negative light, it was offensive for pictorially representing Mohamed at all, as it is forbidden according to Islamic tradition. In both cases had we known some simple things about the religion, the violence, the bloodshed, and a significant portion of the ill will would have been done away with before it even started. In the first scenario no one seems to have thought to ask how best to dispose of the worn holy books, a simple question that could have prevented so much. Similarly high school world history teaches about the 5 pillars of Islam, Mohamed as the founder of the faith, how that come to be; why weren’t those basic lessons expanded to include the two facts above and given to soldiers going to Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of their job in both places is interacting with the people? Continuing, why isn’t this on the news beside stories of persons mistaken for Muslims and attacked, harassed, horrified this happened to them in the fabled America; why isn’t this information given to the public so they know better, understand better? Of course there is no indication it will be made a priority should candidate Romney become president Romney; particularly telling is this isn’t the first time Romney has put his foot in his mouth on international issues there was his rambling about us backing out of international agreements at the convention where he once again used spin to make himself looked to be on the side of right and good. Then there is the much more well-known incident involving the London Olympics where he insulted British organizers by saying he wasn’t sure they were ready; while he had some very valid points, it’s how he framed his argument that left a lot to be desired focusing on their projected ill-preparedness instead of focusing on the lives, American and otherwise, they were responsible for as hosts of such an extensive international event.
For a country built on tolerance, religious freedom along with a host of other freedoms not accessible around the world, we have a long way to go; for a country that is supposed to be an example of how others should conduct themselves, how governments should construct themselves, we have a long way to go, particularly in the area of priorities. The world was literally falling apart and you have a candidate basically saying look at me, look at my strategy, it’s better than his; you have a president who has to divert attention that should be directed toward the dead citizens of his nation, the unfolding situation, the growing unrest, who has to stop and give his views to an enquiring public, a waiting world on a candidate that doesn’t seem to know when to shut up, when to say the best thing we can do is pray. Because this isn’t about Barack Obama, this isn’t about Mitt Romney; it’s about the 4 dead Americans, it’s about the countless deal local civilians caught in the crossfire of violence, it’s about the untold number of injured from the upheaval that continues to spread across entire nations. It is about what do we do to stabilize the region, prevent this from happening, not we will go in guns blazing, because we assume it was a terrorist attack before receiving conclusive information, and if we were wrong-oops. That is not and cannot become the crux of U.S. foreign policy and shame on Mitt Romney for saying, however indirectly that it should be.