Last Tuesday, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff were murdered in what was a preplanned attack by Islamist radicals.
President Obama’s spokesman denies that the attack was precipitated — most likely in fear of revealing inadequacies in national intelligence and embassy security in Libya, and not so much because of claimed lack of evidence.
Several media pundits and journalists, like The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, claimed the attack resulted from Muslim outrage over an American video portraying the Prophet Muhammad as an idiotic womanizer. While the film did spur the riots that occurred in Benghazi and may have influenced the time of the ambush, the attack was precalculated by al-Qaeda sympathizers, with help from the eastern Benghazi extremist group, Ansar al-Sharia, with the intention of damaging U.S.-Libya relations.
Stevens, who was fluent in Arabic, was a well-liked and respected diplomat in Libya. He shared a great relationship with Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, the president of the General National Congress, and the Libyan people followed his important influence in the ousting and death of Muammar Qaddafi. The militants who attacked him were not avenging Americans for some anti-Muslim video — they were attacking U.S. policy.
Disguised as a religious battle, the radicalization in the Middle East is really the result of a cultural war. Driven by notions of absolute male superiority, Islamic extremists hate Americans because we live in a culture where women are educated and think, speak and wear what we want. This is about a hate for U.S. and Western culture — not a devotion to religion.
The attackers were reported to be well-organized, well-trained and heavily armed with accurate aim. Given that only five U.S. ambassadors have ever been killed in the entire nation’s history — and a single ambassador in the last 33 years — the attack has much larger implications as to where America currently stands in the Middle East.
Although the Benghazi attack was premeditated, it does not necessarily mean intelligence was aware of their plans. It does, however, raise questions of national surveillance, considering Stevens was known to travel with rather little security, and the assailants may have devised a strategy to take advantage of that fact.
While President Obama has promised justice, sending 50 Marines to Tripoli and ordering heightened security at all American diplomatic locations, deep-seated security issues in Libya still remain. The government cannot curb the heavy artillery that multiplied during the protests, and there is no operating justice system. But more importantly, the fatal assault on the U.S. consulate demonstrates that extremism is still emerging from underneath the rubble of the Arab spring, and it is not going away. With Libya’s government still shaky and developing, it is crucial that the U.S. play a significant role in helping stabilize the nation’s political system in the face of radicals who will, at any moment, take the opportunity to take out its legs.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 20 print edition. Raquel Woodruff is a staff columnist. Email her at email@example.com.