The cruel irony of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens’s death will not be lost on Americans. If it wasn’t for President Barack Obama’s decision, however belated and reluctant, to intervene in Libya, the brutal dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi would very likely still be in power today. Stevens, in particular, had gained the respect of Benghazi’s rebels for his strong support of their cause. He was, to use the cliché, a friend of Libya. But he is now dead, for reasons that are apparently tied to a movie that no one is Libya has actually seen.
For ordinary Americans, the understandable reaction is one of anger, even betrayal. We liberated them — this time for humanitarian reasons, and even though our vital interests were not at stake. And now they besiege our embassy and kill our ambassador. When I woke up today, a friend asked me half-jokingly, “What’s wrong with Muslims?” That is, whether we like it or not, the question that many — including American liberals who have, time and time again, given “Muslims” the benefit of the doubt — will be asking.
And it is here that narratives will collide. The anti-Islam film in question was a pretext much more than the cause of yesterday’s violence. It could have been anything. Anti-American anger, even in Libya, the most pro-American country in the Arab world, remains palpable, lingering underneath the surface of apparent gratitude. But, that aside, even if the United States did everything on Arabs’ wish lists, there would remain a small, influential fringe that would find another reason to hate — or at least dislike and distrust — the United States.