THE BLOG

Anti-American Sentiments in 20 Countries: Where Do We Go From Here?

Anti-American protests over a film insulting Prophet Muhammad continued into a second week in more than 20 countries, leaving in their wake more than 30 casualties. Among the dead are Chris Stevens and three other U.S. officials who perished when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked. The U.S. government has declared the consulate assault in Benghazi a terrorist attack by the Libyan Islamic fundamentalist group, believed to be connected to al-Qaeda. The Islamic group has used the protests as a diversion and cover for their operation. It is believed fundamentalist Islamic groups are also inciting protests in other countries such as Egypt and Tunisia to undermine the newly formed moderate governments of the post-Arab Spring.

The power struggle between radical and moderate Islamic groups and infighting among secular political groups characterizes recent politics in Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and others. The resurgence of political Islam in the past three decades has been a reaction to Western dominance and interventionist policies Muslims in the Middle East have experienced since the late 18th century. The policies of powerful Western countries shaping the politics and crises of the region have led to nationalist ideologies, among them religious nationalism.

Although the West supported most Islamic political groups during the Cold War to undermine communism, these Islamic groups dislike the West and East equally. They want to have control over their country's destiny internally and internationally with an emphasis on Islamic principles and culture. This independence from any foreign power has earned radical Islamic groups populous ground and the ability to organize and mobilize their followers.

Moderate leaders across the Muslim world are struggling to balance their relationship with the United States and other Western countries and the will of their people. They feel pressure from radical militant Islamic groups who are against relations with Washington or the West. The seizure of the U.S. embassy in 1979 by Iranian militant Islamic students, who took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran and brought down the moderate provisional government of the Iranian revolution, was very similar to what happened in Libya and Egypt last week. The militant students' demand for the release of hostages appeared to be aimed at the return of the deposed Shah, who had been allowed to enter the United States for medical reasons, to the Iranian government. However, their real objective was radicalization of the revolution and changing its direction, which has continued to this day.

Similar to the 1979 U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran, the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia Islamic group used Innocence of Muslims to mobilize anti-American demonstrations to attack the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. Salafies organized demonstrations in Cairo, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, Hezbollah in Beirut, etc.

The seizure of the U.S. embassy by the Iranian students created a foreign policy disaster for President Carter and cost him the November 1980 election. A major international event, such as a Middle East crisis, could be a game changer in the Oct. 22 presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Already under criticism by Republicans, President Obama will have to explain his policies in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. He will also have to explain the lack of protection for U.S. consulate personnel in Benghazi.

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