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BURAK BEKDİL > Are you enjoying your Arab Spring?

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According to Los Angeles Times, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was a model diplomat who was “idealistic, eager and brave, and seen by some in Benghazi as ‘a friend to all Libyans.’” Mr. Stevens, God bless his soul, may have been idealistic, eager and brave, but apparently he was seen by some others in Benghazi not as a friend to all Libyans. As we celebrate a fresh month of democracy in the Arab world, Mr. Stevens became the first American ambassador to die in the line of duty since 1988.

Officially, Mr. Stevens and three other embassy personnel were killed because of a film which some Libyans perceived as blasphemous against Islam. You may choose to be naive enough to believe this. Ah, it’s because of that film! It was not. Without that film, your Islamist, who now enjoys his understanding of democracy, would find another good reason to fire another rocket in the name of jihad.

About three months ago I mentioned in this column how in Tunisia Salafis burned police stations, cafes and bars, lashed out at tourists and students, attacked dramatists and ransacked art exhibitions (Enjoy Your Arab Spring, this column, June 20, 2012). As a result, Tunisia, the “success story of the Arab Spring,” had to impose a curfew on eight regions, including the capital, Tunis. And the United States, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria had issued travel warnings urging caution to their citizens planning trips to “success story” Tunisia. That was long before the film that allegedly prompted the attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya was produced.

Meanwhile in “now democratic” Libya, the National Transitional Council had ordered the military to use “all means necessary” to end clashes in the country’s west. And in the country’s south, more than 20 people had been killed in inter-tribal clashes.

But most ironically, a vehicle carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya had been attacked by propelled grenades in Benghazi. Only a few days before that, a bomb had gone off just outside the U.S. consulate in the same city, the “cradle of last year’s uprising supported by the U.S. and Britain.”

So you still think that the idealistic American ambassador who was “a friend to all Libyans” was killed because of a blasphemous film? But that’s funnier than believing that deposing dictators will bring in democracy to the Arab Spring basin countries. This wishful process may always establish fair, ballot-box democracy, but that’s a lot different from democracy.

The Arabs’ Western friends had better make available in their contingency planning an answer to the simple and equally realistic question: What do we do if a democratically elected government based on a nation’s free will decided to annihilate the rest? What if a majority thinks it’s their right to kill if someone acts in a way they would deem “blasphemous” to their faith? Will it be democracy if a majority intimidated the minority through presumably legitimate means? See Exhibit A with a crescent and star on top.

Behind fancy words of eulogy for Mr. Stevens, the realists at the State Department might be thinking that the ambassador was merely a casualty in an effort to build democracy in selected parts of Muslimdom, just like thousands of soldiers who have died in various battles fought in foreign lands. In half a year it will have been a decade after Washington and its allies decided to depose the dictator of Baghdad and push the button for what would have been the Iraqi Spring. Oh but it’s the same malady: The Americans are always good at destructing but not quite so at constructing.

But optimism is always good. It refreshes hope. And it sells. I should close with my optimism in the final paragraph of “Enjoy Your Arab Spring:”

“Luckily, the first 18 [now 21!] tumultuous months of the Arab Spring have passed. Once we deal with the next 180 tumultuous months, then the final 1,800 tumultuous months will be very easy to tackle.”

September/14/2012

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