Faith requires so little – only the willingness to abandon what one knows to be true in family and society, in favor of something less certain, outside one’s usual life experience. That is where a prophet of faith begins his (or her) personal journey. It is not until after others have also stepped forward, into the uncertain chaos of new belief, that system and structure begin to emerge, and what once was an exiled gathering of like minded individuals is re-absorbed into the larger community from whence it came. There, after derision, discrimination and death, the movement finally takes hold as a religion, as true to its adherents as fire, air and water.
The Arab Spring, that began in the winter of 2011, could not have happened without the tenacity to true faith that Islam has in the everyday lives of people in North Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. These were not revolutions for individual freedoms, as some in the West may think of them, inasmuch as they were populist actions to overthrow dictators and despots. They were revolutions for democracy, because the people did not feel their voices were being heard. We can harbor no illusion that they would suddenly become reasonable players on the world stage, since it was often those dictators and despots who would have helped keep things, like what happened this week in Cairo, Benghazi and Sanaa, from getting out of hand. (Well, maybe not so much in Libya. If Gaddafi were still around, he’d probably lead the assault.)
In the Arab and Muslim world, this week, it is not the brambled hedge of religion that is under attack. It is the thorny vine of budding peace, trying to wind its way around the stake planted during the Arab Spring, that is struggling. Untended and untrained, it has clearly outgrown the small, gnarly branch stuck in the ground to support it, during the euphoric days when it was planted. It’s hard to grow a vine around a stake that doesn’t meet the plant’s needs or expectations. All we are left to do is send in personnel to keep the delicate vine off the ground, away from insects and bottom feeders, while the government in these nascent democracies establish their own footing.
This cannot be a task we alone do for them, but it is a labor for independence and self-determination we can do with them. In that, though, we should not stand alone.
The Romney campaign says it is the United States’ job to be the enforcer of stability on the planet. “A Romney administration would be there, would be more active trying to work with civil society, with reformer movements, so we would be partners in this evolution, not running behind,” Richard Williamson, a foreign policy adviser to the Republican nominee’s campaign, told CNN, Friday.
Williamson, of course, has the convenience of the hypothetical, since Romney can say, “I would do it differently,” at any action the president takes, domestically or internationally, particularly in a time of crisis, and have no accountability for the consequences of his language. There’s no oath in place, “to protect and defend,” for a candidate. He only needs to protect his campaign, until November 6.
What matters in this crisis are not hypothetical political stands, but the “active” role the U.S.already takes in the modern Arab world. Libyan ambassador to the U. S., Ali Suleiman Aujali, told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Thursday, that he and his people understand and appreciate the support of the administration through the “evolution” in Libya. “[Ambassador] Chris [Stevens] is a hero,” he said. “He is a real hero. He’s the man who believes in the Libyans and the Libyan ability that they will achieve democracy after 42 years of the dictatorship.”
He went on to add, “Chris, he loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he [was] committed — and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment.”
And at the somber ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Friday, when the remains of those who were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi were returned, Secretary Clinton emphasized the need for cooperation, not just from our traditional international partners in Europe and Asia, but from the governments of the countries which are now in turmoil, as well.
“The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” she said. “Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts. And we will, under the President’s leadership, keep taking steps to protect our personnel around the world.”
Perhaps hidden in all the political rhetoric surrounding the tragedy this week, was President Obama’s leadership in protecting American personnel abroad. He made it a point to assert his powers as commander-in-chief, issuing a letter to Congress, under the War Powers Act, to inform them of military movements in the volatile region. “A security force from the U.S. Africa Command [has been] deployed to Libya to support the security of U.S. personnel in Libya,” he wrote to Speaker Boehner, Friday. “Further, on September 13, an additional security force arrived in Yemen in response to security threats there.”
As he said at the Democratic National Convention, last week, he is the president, and as the president, Barack Obama has to stand for the best parts of being an American. That is what he expects us all to embody, and he made it a point to note, too, on Friday, that spirit was exemplified by the patriotism of the four people killed in the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
“They embodied it,” he said, at Andrews, AFB, Friday, “the courage, the hope and, yes, the idealism, that fundamental American belief that we can leave this world a little better than before. That’s who they were and that’s who we are. And if we want to truly honor their memory, that’s who we must always be.”
Getting peace back on track means having international cooperation in building an infrastructure around which the thorny vine of peace can take hold, and continue to grow until it blossoms into something meaningful, beautiful and lasting. But without our own resolve to hold that it is possible, our nation’s push for peace cannot succeed.
The commitment to peace has to happen regardless of extenuating political, social or economic circumstances, whether abroad or here, at home. It is only our ability and will, as a planet, to rush in and stave off violence in the name of race, religion, culture or ethnicity, that stands between the oppressed and those who work tirelessly to dehumanize them.
As President Obama said, Friday, “The United States of America will never retreat from the world. We will never stop working for the dignity and freedom that every person deserves, whatever their creed, whatever their faith.”