The wave of protests by Islamic demonstrators in front of U.S. Embassies reflects the volatility of the political climate in this part of the Middle East. This situation requires a flexible diplomacy in changing times, in order to maintain a viable U.S. presence in the region.
The United States played a positive role in the progress of the “Arab Spring,” especially in Egypt and Libya, helping end decades-long dictatorships. These changes were inevitable; therefore, it was important for Washington to have the political foresight not to remain uninvolved.
This is a delicate time when every country undergoing these transformations must deal with changes that mean new internal balances of power.
In Egypt, the new Muslim Brotherhood government walks a tightrope to govern in a way that is responsive to political expectations without falling into radicalism. In Libya, a democratic -and more secular- government is still not in control of the entire country and even less the extremist armed groups that want an Islamic nation.
Given this outlook, all that was needed was the spark of a deliberately offensive film insulting Muslims to set the region on fire. Today it is necessary to get through this storm, as happened with other previous demonstrations caused, for example, by an accidental burning of the Koran.
As we have said before, here there is a conflict between the value placed on respect for freedom of expression -even the most hateful expression- and those who consider Muhammad’s image as sacred. People with a more radical agenda are now taking advantage of this clash of values, which has happened several times. It is important not to fall into the unfair generalization that all Muslims react violently to this type of situation.
Therefore, it is necessary to keep a cool head and a politically realistic perspective. There is no point in reviving centuries-long conflicts with Muslims or invoking American “exceptionalism” to call for a flag-waving global leadership that is unrealistic.