I'm guessing that the crazies who stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi won't be reading this... but if they were, I'd say "Don't you know that you're killing yourselves!?"
Let's think carefully and clearly for just a moment. I know that's difficult in times like these. It was hard after 9/11 eleven years ago, and it's hard after 9/11 last week and what's followed. But as intelligent modern people we can actually do that -- think clearly.
I do not know the motivations of those who made this crazy YouTube film and I don't know all the stated or underlying reasons for those who attacked the Consulate in Libya or the Embassies in Cairo or Sana. But I have lived in and worked in the Arab Middle East for over 30 years, so I do understand the region.
Let's recount some recent history. Libya and Egypt were under crazy dictators just a year ago. The people got sick of it and rebelled. The U.S. supported one revolution from the background and the other one with our military. Both nations were cautiously thankful. Why "cautiously" thankful? Because they both knew that "support" always comes with a price tag. The price tag for U.S. support? Align with our foreign policy. Or at least our Middle East policy. And what is that policy? Simple. One word. Israel.
Egypt is over 85 percent Muslim and Libya is 97 percent Muslim. So when both countries elected "Muslim majority governments," well, that shouldn't be a surprise. Those Muslims don't necessarily hate Israel, but they have reasons to be wary of Israel, and therefore, the U.S. who constantly pledges its 100 percent undying one-sided support for Israel.
As we know, relations haven't been smooth between the West (America specifically) and the Arab Muslim world over the last 11 years. We blame them for 9/11 and they blame us for our blindly pro-Israel policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think they call it "colonialism." We call it "bringing freedom and democracy." Either way, we don't see it the same.
Mix into this a little Guantanamo Bay, the incidents at the Abu Ghraib Prison, tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Christian nut-jobs like Pastor Terry Jones wanting to burn the Koran, our troops actually burning piles of the Qur'an... and then make a movie that makes Islam and their prophet Muhammad look like Attila the Hun on heroin, and wham -- you have a ripe environment for some thugs to do what they did.
Was it right? Of course not. Those who lost their lives had NOTHING to do with any of this. It was pure terrorism. Inexcusable. But that doesn't mean we can't think about what led those crazy people to act the way they did. We can ask why! We need to ask why! It's not un-American to ask why!
America will respond how nations respond. In our best interest. We will think that means to "find the terrorists and bring them to justice, while continuing our mission of nation-building in Libya." I question if either of those are actually in our best interest long-term. Is there a third way? Another way to engage the Arab Muslim community that might make more sense to them. That aids their dreams -- not our dreams for them, but their actual dreams for themselves? And at the same time ensures equal rights and equal time for all parties involved? Arab Muslims and Christians. Israelis and Palestinians. Americans and angry mobs. Possible? Absolutely.
If you are an average American citizen, as I am, here are three ways to get started bridging this ever-increasing and globally dangerous gap:
1. Make a commitment to yourself, your family, your closest work colleagues and friends NOT to pass on emails, videos, blogs and films that make you afraid or angry. If you watch or read something and you have one of those emotions (fear or anger) simply delete it. Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult thing for you to commit to. It's fun to spread fear, anger, suspicion and lies. It's the age-old art of gossip and it's enjoyable. But don't. Commit to not doing that even if you think it might be true. All truth isn't helpful all the time -- and now is the time to be wise in what we say, watch and read.
2. If you're a committed person of faith, make a serious attempt to get to know someone of another faith. I challenge my Christian friends constantly to get to know a Muslim. Really get to know them. Have their whole family over for dinner. Visit your local mosque and ask questions to learn. (Not to judge or expose, but to inquire and learn).
3. Encourage your political leaders to ask the hard questions and not settle for bumper sticker answers. "Me Good, You Bad" might be funny or clever, but it's unhelpful at best. Demand that your local, state and national level leaders ask real questions about why these things happen, who is behind them, what percentage of the population support these things and what can be done to bridge the gap in concrete ways that lead to long-term hope.
It can be done. We are a democracy, so it starts with YOU. If you are reading this, then... tag, you're it.
Carl Medearis is an international expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He has written a number of award-winning books on the subject and speak around the world on issues of peacemaking and bridge-building between our communities. For more, visit his websites: www.carlmedearis.com and www.MiddleEastExperience.com