On the surface, the latest wave of anti-US rage in the Middle East, which left Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, and three other Embassy staff members dead, was triggered by a controversial US-made film deemed offensive to Islam. However, the longstanding animosity toward the US in the Middle East has at least four causes that Washington needs to address. First, although the seven-month revolution in Libya was concluded with the killing of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, democracy has failed to flourish. Ever since the collapse of his regime, the interim government has been struggling, and so far failing, to rein in the armed militias that emerged from the civil war, most of which refuse to disarm or join the national army or police force. Gaddafi once said that should he be gone, Libya would sink into chaos and people would be lost and confused. One year after the revolutionary triumph, Libya is still facing complex challenges, including corruption, the pervasive use of arms and a weak economy, and these to a certain extent justify his prediction. Second, in North African countries, such as Libya and Egypt, some Islamic groups that have gained popular support by safeguarding religious purity, are becoming increasingly influential in opposing the USA‘s pro-Israel diplomatic policies. The Islamist groups were suppressed by the Mubarak regime in Egypt and the Gaddafi regime in Libya. However, after these regimes collapsed, the Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, soon emerged as a leading political force. Anti-US and anti-US-backed-Israeli groups seem politically justifiable, as the people believe that the former dictatorial regimes worked too closely with Washington to defend their own interests, and now they no longer want to subject themselves to the USA‘s command. Third, Washington has obviously not prepared for the changes in these countries, and its inherent sense of cultural superiority and its lack of tolerance for other religions are deep-rooted causes for widespread hostility toward the US. The Islamic civilisation enjoys a time-honoured history, with a global Muslim population of 1.5 billion. However, Islam is often misinterpreted by the West and viewed as an extreme religion, especially since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. The US political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, proposed the clash of civilisations theory and pointed out that the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict would be cultural. Unfortunately, the West has failed to heed Huntington’s words, and instead chooses to provoke Muslims by mocking Islam. The Western world, especially the US, must learn to respect other civilisations, cultures and religions. Fourth, the US should reflect on its policy toward the Middle East. Last year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the rebels in Libya for “taking back their country.“ After the US Ambassador was killed, Clinton could not help asking: “How can this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city (Benghazi) we helped save from destruction?” Indeed, Stevens worked closely with the Libyan rebels to overthrow the Gaddafi regime and remained a key figure pushing forward the “Arab Spring”. As a commentary from the USA‘s Foreign Policy pointed out: “It is a tragic irony that the US diplomat, who had done so much to free Benghazi from the grip of a dictator that it despised, would die at the hands of that city’s residents’ only months later, in a spasm of religion-fuelled hatred.” Anti-US protests have swept across the countries that have been through the Arab Spring and have spread to countries such as Iraq that Washington believed had entered a period of stabilisation after democratic transition. Indeed, the US is now paying a bloody price for facilitating the so-called democratic transitions. In response, the US will be even more cautious in developing its relations with the Islamic regimes and will seek to enhance its cooperation with moderate Islamist groups in a bid to crush the radical Islamic forces. 

The writer is a professor and the director of the African Studies Section at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This article has been reproduced from China Daily.