On Libya and Egypt

I got caught up, I admit it, in the fire and flyting, the exchange of insults, the contempt that boils right up into your heart until you feel bitter and spiteful and mean as a snake.

The anger, for that big agglomerated punching bag the mainstream media, has largely subsided. It was fuelled by some shocking, shoddy reporting by journalists who saw their job today as shielding the President they helped into office from any criticism for what happened in Libya and Egypt. The determination to make the timing and tone of Mitt Romney’s statement The Issue, rather than the attacks themselves and the President’s foreign policy failings, was unprofessional if by now unsurprising.

But amidst the heat and rage, I forgot the solemn facts of what happened on 9/11/2012, the new 9/11. People died. Good people. People who served their country with honour, who put themselves in harm’s way to help build up a fledgling democracy in a dry and unforgiving desert.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three fellow Americans, two of whom are reported to be US Marines, lost their lives when an Islamist mob attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Whether they were killed by the mob – roused, we are told, unconvincingly, by a crude low-budget internet movie demeaning the Prophet Mohammed – or, as has been reported, were murdered by terrorists who used the mob as a diversion tactic, the loss of life here aches the heart of every decent person in Libya and around the world. The date of the attacks, as Americans mourned their dead from another dreadful September 11th, makes the ache a little keener.

God bless these four brave souls and may He be with their families tonight.

If we must talk about politics, and we must, the picture is much more prosaic than the one painted by Twitter-warriors. The US Embassy in Cairo sent a series of bizarre tweets and statements prior to the attack there – which it then retweeted and stood by afterwards – that impugned the First Amendment and blamed a trashy film while absolving the mobs who rioted outside, and later, inside their walls.

The White House disavowed these pronouncements. The mindset that “offence” should be met with apology – or, worse, censorship – is the outlook of the appeaser and a cowardly escape route for those who would betray the liberties that underpin Western democracy. There have been calls for those responsible for the embassy’s ham-handed public diplomacy to be fired. I think they should be given a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and suspended until they understand it.

The President got it wrong in not addressing the attacks sooner. We are told he was taping an episode of the David Letterman Show. He needs to sort his priorities. He can be President or a pop star; he can’t be both, or at least not well. But when he did speak, he got this right: The United States will continue to support the new democracy in Libya; the blood-stained Islamists will not destroy democracy as easily as they destroy human life. It was important that the President said this.

Mitt Romney, whatever his antagonists in the media say, was right to speak when he did. No one else was. There was a vacuum in American leadership, always a dangerous situation. It was proper that he slammed those initial statements and the President for failing to speak sooner. At times like these, we need a daddy to talk tough, even if just to keep us calm and level-headed. He sounded like the President that he ought to be and, I hope, will be.

Hillary Clinton, however, spoke better than anyone. She was resolute, firm, and reassured Americans that the country would not genuflect to terrorism. She is a much better politician than she was even four years ago. If today’s Hillary had run for President then, she’d have taken the 3am call today and, I’m betting, handled it a lot better than Mr Obama. She’s going to run for President again. She will be a formidable opponent.

And then there are the forgotten victims, the Libyan people; the moms and dads, raising families, and the builders and leaders, constructing homes and constitutions. They are not responsible for this. (Nor are the Egyptian people for the attack in Cairo, though the Muslim Brotherhood government has been less fulsome in its condemnations than its counterpart in Libya.) Libyans have been rallying today against the attacks, denouncing the terrorists and apologising to the United States. These people did nothing to apologise for but they know it’s expected and, in a deeper sense, the right thing to do. Now is not the time to abandon them.

There is a Hebrew song that kept floating in and out of my head today. “Ein Li Eretz Acheret”, “I have no other country”, a folk record that burns with a pure, committed love of country — the patriotism of the under-fire.

“Ein li eretz acheret / Gam im admati bo’eret… Lo eshtok / ki artzi shinta et paneha / Lo avater lehazkir la / Ve’ashir kan be’ozneha / Ad shetiftach et eineha.”

“I have no other country / even if my land is in flames… I will not stay silent / because my country has changed her face / I will not stop reminding her / And singing in her ears / until she opens her eyes.”

I don’t fully know why but these words seem to apply to the Libyan people today. They are working and praying for a better Libya. We should work with them and pray with them and overcome the darkness together.

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