Murder in Benghazi

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by Eric Margolis

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The British used to call it the "cost of Empire:" occasional attacks on Her majesty's troops and legations by enraged, sword and spear-wielding natives.

Imperial troops would be rushed in and quickly put down the uprisings. In the 1920's, Winston Churchill authorized the use of poison gas against "unruly" tribesmen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fast forward to the British Raj's heir. This week's attacks on US embassies in the Arab world were a deeply disturbing sign of the violent, anti-American fury boiling across the Muslim world.

The latest spasm of violence resulted the tragic murder of Christopher Stevens, the new US ambassador to Libya, an Arabic-speaking career diplomat. He was just the kind of educated, experienced diplomat America so badly needs. Having myself almost joined the US Foreign Service many years ago, I feel particular sorrow.

We don't know yet who killed Stevens but two suspects come at once to mind: anti-western jihadists of al-Qaida in the Maghreb, or Ghadaffi loyalists seeking revenge for the US-assisted killing of their late leader, whose convoy was blasted by a US Predator drone.

Whatever the answer, more violence seems likely. The vile anti-Muslim film from California that sparked protests in Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa is only now beginning to be seen in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I watched 15 minutes of this crude piece of amateur propaganda. It slandered the Prophet of Islam and his faith in the most disgusting fashion. As of now, the real makers of this vile film are uncertain: a Coptic Egyptian convicted of bank fraud, a group of American pro-Israel businessmen, a fanatical Christian-fascist hate-monger and gun-lover.

Muslims everywhere blamed the US government for the film. In fact, Washington does not appear to have any link to the film; nor could it have prevented it under US laws.

But Republican candidate Mitt Romney lost not a moment to absurdly denounce President Barack Obama for "sympathizing" with the Benghazi attack. The stumbling Romney gave yet another example of why he may not be ready for the presidency.

The big question here is who set off this firestorm? If we were in the good old days of the Cold War, I'd say the film was made by KGB's special disinformation department to enrage the Muslim world against the United States.

Today, the most likely culprit are far right Christian fundamentalists, who hate Islam with religious passion, and a group of neconservative businessmen trying to promote war between the US and Muslim world — and namely, Iran. A network of Evangelical broadcasters, publishers and schools churns out a steady stream of anti-Islamic fulminations.

The latest anti-US riots across the Mideast further convinced many Americans that all Muslims are violent extremists. The hate film reinforced the mistaken notion held by many Muslims that the United States is bent on eradicating their faith.

All this fits nicely with efforts by right wing ideologues to push the US into war against Iran. President Obama has so far stoutly refused to give in to war-mongering, no mean feat in an election year in which he is neck-a-neck with Romney.

This week, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, demanded Obama openly define the conditions under which the US would attack Iran. Netanyahu's American supporters accuse Obama of "throwing Israel under a bus." At times, it appears there are three candidates for office in Washington: Obama, Romney and Netanyahu.

Netanyahu scolded and rebuked Obama for not sending American troops and spending American treasure to attack Iran because it is a potential rival or threat to Israel. Netanyahu is now openly backing Romney for president.

In Yiddish, such behavior is called "chutzpah," a mixture of brazen nerve and outrageous presumption.

Add all this up and we have evil memories of the hysteria and military posturing of August, 1914, the lead-up to World War I, a totally unnecessary conflict that ran out of control and wrecked Europe.

Opinion in the Muslim world, America and Canada is being manipulated by those seeking war. A few more killings, a clash in the congested Gulf, a bombing in the west, and a wider Mideast war could erupt.

One in which PM Netanyahu thinks he will be the winner. Unfortunately, he may well be right.

Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

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