The roots of the current turmoil in Muslim countries stretching from East Asia to North Africa go much deeper than the violent reaction to an amateurish 13-minute YouTube video. These are simply the latest manifestations of a 33-year record of failure to address Islamic fundamentalism’s multiple acts of war against the United States. President Obama’s approach to Muslim countries in the Middle East has only compounded the problem because appeasement is viewed as a sign of weakness. When you are no longer feared, you do not have street respect, which is key in the Middle East. The result is that you invite the Islamists to take control. This is what we are witnessing as the outcome of the “Arab Spring.”
For years, the Islamists have used perceived affronts to Islam and their prophet to advance their agenda. This is what we witnessed recently in Cairo and Benghazi. The fact that this senseless violence occurred on our national day of mourning for the almost 3,000 innocent Americans murdered by the Arab hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, is no coincidence. According to Mohamed Magariaf, president of Libya’s National Congress, these events were planned in advance. Peaceful protests do not include rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. The mob violence was no spontaneous protest. Supporting this contention is the fact that the video was released in July. The video’s voice track with insults to Islam and Muhammad were unprofessionally dubbed in. It took two months for Wesam Abdel-Wareth, the radical Salafi president of an Egyptian television channel in Cairo, to air the video, which brought widespread attention. That in itself should be instructive. His call for demonstrations by the inflamed mob should have put the U.S. Embassy and the Egyptian security forces assigned to protect the embassy on full alert. Regretfully, this was not the case.
According to some reports, the Egyptian security presence assigned to protect the embassy was light and may have even backed off as the mob took control. Compounding the problem, it was reported that our U.S. Marines assigned to protect the embassy were not issued ammunition. Adding to the insult of a breached wall protecting the sovereign territory of our embassy was Egypt’s new Islamist Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi’s initial failure to condemn the protesters and the attack on our embassy.
In a Western-style democracy, Mr. Abdel-Wareth would be allowed to air the video. But in a Sept. 14 article in the Wall Street Journal, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, correctly points out that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a key mistake by denouncing the video, playing into the hands of the radicals. Her statement also played into the hands of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has been joined by the Department of State in an attempt to impose legal limits on all Americans’ freedom of speech by criminalizing criticism of Islam. This is embedded in Resolution 16/18, a declaration adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in April 2011.
As pointed out in a Sept. 12 Web article by intelligence analyst Clare Lopez on Foreign Confidential, Resolution 16/18 calls on countries to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization” based on religion, without criminalizing free speech — except in cases of “incitement to imminent violence.” But if a “test of consequences” is used to determine whether incitement to violence has occurred, whether or not the speaker intended to incite, then free speech will be gone. The clear intent of the OIC is to use this phrase to enforce Islamic law on slander. This is how submission (dhimmitude) to Islam is enforced. So much for our First Amendment.
The main point not be overlooked is that breaching our embassy compound in Cairo (and elsewhere), the total destruction of our Benghazi Consulate and the killing of four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador — are acts of war. We cannot continue to ignore these challenges. There must be consequences. Our failure to respond to similar situations in the past — such as the Iranian takeover of our Tehran embassy in November 1979 and holding of our diplomats hostage for 444 days — has sent the message that we lack the political willpower to respond. Our act of weakness in 1979 was compounded by our failure to respond to the bombing of our Beirut embassy in April 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, and the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. We had positive proof the orders for these bombings came from Tehran, and we did not act. When Judge George B. Daniels in New York’s federal court found Iran guilty of involvement in providing training and material support to the Sept. 11 Arab hijackers, our political leaders offered no response.
We can no longer ignore these acts of war if we hope to achieve our objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere. Furthermore, a full inquiry needs to be undertaken as mandated in a previous report by Adm. Bob Inman, conducted some years ago on embassy security. Separate inquiries will need to be conducted on our embassy and our Benghazi Consulate immediately.
Additional aid and other support to those countries that failed to provide the necessary security for our embassy and consulates should be curtailed until they have apprehended the ringleaders of this latest wave of violence and turned them over to U.S. authorities for prosecution. For Libya, as soon as we have sufficient intelligence on the groups that attacked our consulate, strikes should be launched to eliminate their bases of operations. Any ringleaders surviving should be captured and turned over to U.S. authorities for prosecution.
The jihadis have clearly co-opted the Arab Spring uprisings. We have to face the fact that radical Islam under Shariah can never co-exist with the freedoms embodied in our Constitution. Radical Islam must be defeated.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.