Will provocateur film derail Arab Spring?
Our hopes that with this eleventh anniversary of 9-11 the world was finally moving on from the dystopian dialectic of jihad-versus-GWOT have sure been dashed over the past few days. Since the 11th itself saw twin clashes at the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate Benghazi, violence and protests ostensibly sparked by the Islamophobic "film trailer" (for a film that likely doesn't even exist) have now spread to Yemen, Tunisia, Iraq and Iran. The US has dispatched two destroyers armed with Cruise missiles to the coast of Libya, as well as a special Marines unit called the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) to protect the diplomatic corps there, and an FBI team to investigate the Benghazi attack that left dead the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, two Navy SEALS and a computer technician. The affair has notoriously become a political football at home, with Romney baiting Obama for "apologizing" for American power, even as Obama wields ultra-nationalist rhetoric about how "We are the one indispensible power in the world." (Pretty out of wack, eh?) The White House even officially disavowed a perfectly sensible statement issued by the embassy in Cairo condemning the film as the work of "misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The capitulation came after Charles Krauthammer baited on Fox News: "That's a hostage statement. That's a mob of al-Qaeda sympathizers in Egypt, forcing the United States into making a statement essentially of apology, on 9-11 of all days, for something of which we are not responsible." This despite the fact (although its is unclear that Krauthammer knew it) that the statement was issued before the embassy was mobbed. Oh well, so much for moving on. (Al Jazeera, WP, CNN, Sept. 13; CBS, ABC Political Punch, PolitiFact, Sept. 12)
Libya: Whither Ansar al-Sharia?
It increasingly seems like the Benghazi attack was not related to outrage over the "film" at all, and was not the work of an angry mob but a jihadist militia (armed with mortars and RPGs, not bricks and Molotov cocktails). Libyan authorities say they have arrested four men for involvement in the attack, all members of the Ansar al-Sharia militia led by one Ismail Salabi. With typical confusion for post-Qaddafi Libya (in which the fictional national army is really a patchwork of rival militias) the Defense Ministry was initially reported to have issued a statement pledging to disarm Ansar al-Sharia, then reported to have denied it. Salabi himself told a Derna radio station that the charges against his militia were fabricated. There is also confusion as to how many Libyans died in the attack, with the high estimate being around 10. (Libya Herald, Sept. 14; CBS, Sept. 13)
This is the first we have heard of Libya's Ansar al-Sharia, although there is a Yemeni militia of that name which has been mixing it up with the army, is said to be linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and has (of course) been targeted by US drone strikes. Weekly Blitz (warning luridly, "Rebels transforming Libya into Sharia state") tells us that Ismail Salabi is the head of the Benghazi Military Council, and a former member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—along with Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who is identified as head of the Tripoli Military Council. (Is he still?) We have made note of a fundamentalist mullah named Ali Salabi who has denounced the Libyan revolution's secular leadership. Flight of the Silawa blog tells us Ismail and Ali are brothers, although the links for this assertion do not substantiate it, only mentioning either one or the other.
As we have already noted, one day before the Benghazi attack al-Qaeda reportedly posted to Islamist Web forums a video in which leader Ayman al-Zawahri acknowledged the recent death in a US drone strike in Pakistan of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and called on Libyans to avenge him. So it seems likely that Salabi's militia answered this call, and chose Sept. 11 for symbolic reasons—having nothing to do with (although doubtless encouraged by after the fact) the simultaneous Cairo attack sparked by the stupid "film."
Jihad against the Phantom Menace?
In an echo of the 2006 "cartoon jihad" and 2010 Koran-burning controversy, outraged protests over the supposed film are spreading throughout the Muslim world. In a second round of protests on Sept. 12, demonstrators again besieged the US embassy in Cairo (do they really think the US government produced the damn film?) and mixed it up with police, who responded with tear gas. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood has also called for protests—but, they emphasize, peaceful ones. (Reuters, Ahram Online, Sept. 13) Police also fired tear gas, and rubber bullets too, to disperse protesters at the US embassy in Tunis, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we are here for the triumph of Islam!" (They seem not to have got the word that Obama is Muslim, maybe they should talk to Hank Williams Jr.) (Irish Times, Sept. 12) Several demonstrators and police alike (apparently) were injured in a clash outside the US embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. In Baghdad, followers of Moqtada al-Sadr marched in Shi'ite enclave Sadr City, chanting the perennial favorite "Death to America!" And in Tehran, students protested (peacefully, it seems) outside the Swiss embassy, which represents US interests in Iran. (WSJ, Sept. 13)
But it is starting to look like the neither the film nor its ostensible producer really exist. According to AP, federal authorities have identified the supposed film, entitled Innocence of Muslims, as the work of a California-based Coptic Christian businessman, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Mounting evidence suggests the "official" producer, supposed Israeli-American "Sam Bacile," is really just a pseudonym for Nakoula. Nobody seems to have seen the "film," only a "trailer" on YouTube (now removed), and the "actors" have told the media that they were duped—told they were making an historical drama to be called Desert Warrior, only to have their voices dubbed with all the disparaging garbage portraying the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, etc. The supposed "Bacile" told the Wall Street Journal that he had raised $5 million to make the "film" from "100 Jewish donors," and helpfully threw in that Islam is a "cancer." But AP traced the phone number used by "Bacile" to the Southern California home of Nakoula, and law enforcement confirmed to the agency that the two are believed to be one and the same. A day earlier, the 12th, AP had reported that "Bacile" had gone into hiding, fearing for his life. How convenient. (Round-ups at City News Service, Al Jazeera, Sept. 13)
Max Blumenthal in a commentary for The Guardian adds that the Israeli government could not confirm the citizenship of any "Sam Bacile," and that a "consultant" on the "film," one Steve Klein, is an "enthusiastic commenter" on Atlas Shrugs, the website (iced as a "hate site" by PayPal, LoonWatch informs us) of professional Islamophobe Pam Geller.
Additionally, as we noted, another US-based Coptic "activist" (read: provocateur) by the name of Morris Sadek apparently teamed up with pyromaniac preacher Terry Jones to publicize the "film" on the Internet—including a blog post in Arabic. The intent seems to have been to stir up trouble in Egypt.
So not only did Nakoula and Sadek maliciously draw heat on their own Coptic brethren in Egypt, but they had to drag the Jews into it too. Thanks a lot, guys.
Sabotaging the Arab Revolution?
There is a sickening sense of glee with which neocons are proclaiming that all this spells the end of the Arab Spring. Michael Totten a few months back told us in World Affairs that "Arab Spring" is a "misnomer," and we are really witnessing an "Islamic Winter." Now Britain's conservative Daily Mail is proclaiming the "Arab Winter." Other European commentators are opting for the term "Islamic Autumn," Global Voices informs us. Even Al Jazeera asks "Has the Arab Spring taken an Islamist turn?"
Noecons who were so recently cheering on the Arab Spring, or even—perversely!—trying to take credit for it, are now quick to declare its death, having finally realized the Arab revolutionaries weren't dancing to their tune. This ugly affair may indeed represent a turning point in which jihadists will finally usurp secular revolutionaries as the chief protagonists on the historical stage in the Arab world—an ignominious end to the Arab Spring that we have been warning of the since the Libya intervention. But if this proves to be the case, the Arab Revolution will not have died a natural death. It will have been intentionally sabotaged.