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TIME: The Agents of Outrage

Author: Bobby Ghosh
September 13, 2012

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In the wake of the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, Bobby Ghosh writes that while newly-formed democratic governments which replaced long-standing dictatorships, as a result of the Arab Spring, has contributed to greater instability and a more chaotic and unstable Middle East.

The violence looked spontaneous; it was anything but. Instead it was the product of a sequence of provocations, some mysterious, some obvious. It seemed to start in the U.S., then became magnified in Egypt and was brought to a deadly and sorrowful climax in Libya—all on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. The cast of characters in this tragedy included a shadowy filmmaker, a sinister pastor in Florida, an Egyptian-American Islamophobe, an Egyptian TV host, politically powerful Islamist extremist groups and, just possibly, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya. The instigators and executors didn't work in concert; they probably didn't even know they were in cahoots. Indeed, some of them would sooner die than knowingly help the others' causes. Nonetheless, the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was the result of a collective effort, with grievous consequences.

As the Obama Administration struggles to contain the fallout of the killings—and even to piece together exactly what happened—there's an increasing apprehension that this attack may herald a new genre of Middle East crisis. The Arab Spring replaced the harsh order of hated dictators with a flowering of neophyte democracies. But these governments—with weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties and poor security forces—have made the region a more chaotic and unstable place, a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith.

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