Thursday, September 13, 2012
The Hot Mess
The attacks on the American embassies in Libya and Egypt were a confluence of two important things.
First and probably more important, Egypt and Libya are insufficiently liberal to support democracy. By "liberal" I don't mean what is commonly understood to be "liberal" in America. I mean liberal in the classical sense. Liberal as in the accent on liberty, freedom and the limited state. Liberalism - as opposed to being liberal, which depends on your ideological context - is an essential precondition, along with a middle class, for a successful transition to democracy.
Neither Egypt nor Libya has a large and wealthy enough middle class to overcome its lack of liberalism. For the assaults on the embassies - while no doubt a product of calculating assholes on both sides - demonstrate clearly that these countries have not assimilated the idea that people have to be free to disagree without fear of getting killed in order for democracy to work.
The second thing is the aforementioned assholes on both sides. The mysterious group that made the movie and Quran burning jackass Terry Jones coordinated these stunts in order to inflame Islamic opinion. Similarly, apparently Al Qaeda was at least partly behind the attacks in Libya. Both the Terry Joneses and Ayman al Zawahiris of the world NEED the clash of civilizations. They NEED hatred and mistrust between the Islamic and Western world.
And people who are willing to resort to violence (or instigate violence) will always have an advantage over those that seek the harder path to making peace.
Are Jones and the filmmakers responsible for the deaths of those Americans overseas (and the additional deaths in Yemen today)? That's a tough call. Precisely because America is a liberal country, in the sense I described above, we are used to people being assholes. We live with the Westboro Baptist Church and others of their ilk, left and right, because that's necessary for a free society. We condemn them, hold counter-protests or ignore them, but we don't stifle them and we don't burn down their churches.
Large parts of the Islamic world have not internalized this basic idea, that disagreement need not end in violence. Republicans and Democrats probably hate each other as much as they ever have, although 1998-2000 was pretty bad. But it almost never resorts to violence, because we have hundreds of years of dealing with disagreeing.
I think the instigators should be held somewhat responsible, because they were specifically seeking out this conflict. Their motivations matter. But these guys are just assholes, and there will always be assholes.
What's more worrisome is the fact that Egypt and Libya are lost in the woods. They may think they are headed to democracy - and they might very well have free elections - but they are unlikely to get there easily, as long as enough of them feel it's OK to kill people because someone from the same country as them did something obnoxious.
Oh, and Mitt Romney is a huge dick, because that can't be said enough.