‘US consulate attack was planned to coincide with 9/11`

Kamna Arora in an exclusive interview with Nathan Lean, the editor-in-chief of Aslan Media.

By Kamna Arora | Updated: Sep 19, 2012, 18:14 PM IST

Another unfortunate episode of Islam vs West has caused the whole world to shudder. An amateur film, "Innocence of Muslims”, has fanned strong religious sentiments across the Islamic world. Uploaded on YouTube in July, the `crude` trailer portrays Prophet Muhammad “as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug,” reported the New York Times.

According to reports, the video was uploaded by Sam Beclie, a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer in California. The video, however, gained popularity when it was promoted by Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who drew global attention when he burnt a Quran despite US government’s pleas.

Outraged by the video, Egyptian protesters climbed the fortified walls of the United States embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. Later, armed militiamen attacked the United States consulate in Benghazi, killing US Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Nathan Lean, the editor-in-chief of Aslan Media, discusses how the incident could affect the US’ image in Islamic countries, reactions of the governments of Libya and Egypt, and challenges faced by US President Barack Obama.

Nathan Lean is also a contributing writer at Policy Mic. He is the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States (2010) and the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (2012).

Kamna: Terry Jones and a man going by the name Sam Bacile are said to behind "Innocence of Muslims”, the controversial, low-budget film which led to the violent protests in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Some political leaders have also condemned the film. But Barack Obama hasn’t done so in his statement. How do you see this?

Nathan: It is not the responsibility of the President to respond to every single incident of Islamophobia. The nation`s top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, did address the issue, however. Ultimately, as a matter that concerned the US` presence abroad, that was the appropriate course.

Kamna: How will this incident affect the US’ image in Islamic countries?

Nathan: It will affect the US’ image poorly. But just as Americans should not view all Muslims based on the horrible actions of a few extremists, neither should people in Muslim-majority countries view the US based on the actions of a handful of idiots.

Kamna: In Libya, how is it that Islamist militants armed with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades could attack the US consulate so easily?

Nathan: It was a perfect storm, sadly. The protests outside the consulate over the anti-Muslim film created an atmosphere of tension and instability. We are now learning that violent terrorists took advantage of that situation and were able to use it to carry out an attack that they had been planning for some time.

Kamna: What do you think about reports suggesting that the attacks on US consulate in Libya were coordinated to mark 9/11?

Nathan: I think it is entirely possible that the terrorists who carried out the attack on the consulate planned it to coincide with that anniversary.

Kamna: The US has dispatched two warships loaded with missiles and a Marine team to beef up the security at its missions in Libya. But the challenge is, however, much bigger than just securing the consulates. Isn’t it? What do you think is the challenge faced by US President Barack Obama, especially when Presidential Elections are just around the corner?

Nathan: The challenge will be figuring out how to regain stability in a country that was already unstable to begin with, but even more so in the fallout of these attacks. Convincing Libyans that Americans are not all Muslim-haters should not be a hard thing. Most of them know that. But convincing the extremists, of course, is another cup of tea. It will require working with the ordinary, peace-loving Libyans — who were happy to have the support of our government in ousting Gaddafi, and supported the diplomatic mission of the late Chris Stevens — to do some groundwork to quell the voices of the fanatical fringes.

Kamna: How do you assess the reaction of the governments of Libya and Egypt to the incident?

Nathan: I think the reaction of the Egyptian government was predictable, tepid, and bordered on insensitivity. (Egyptian President Mohamed) Mursi waited a full day to respond, and when he did, he demanded that the US take legal action against the propagators of the film. In Libya, of course, the reaction was quite different. The current government is secular and pro-American, and so it appeared that feelings were not hurt to the same degree as in Egypt. The real story, though, is the beautiful response by many Libyans, who poured into the streets voicing their opposition to violence, and promising to rebuild the consulate with money they would raise.

Kamna: Will the violent acts change US’ relations with Libya, Egypt and Yemen?

Nathan: That remains to be seen, fully. But in the short term, the likelihood is that the tensions will simmer and then taper off, and the US can begin to navigate its relationship more easily. I think there may be increased mutual scepticism with Egypt, which is never good for a relationship. In the long run this will be a sore spot that highlights long-existing tensions and sensitivities but does not thwart or impede the forward advancement of time, which heals all wounds.