Radical Islamists are out to kill non-radical Muslims, along with anyone else who might get in their way
By David Blair World Last updated: September 13th, 2012
The protests now taking place outside US embassies across the Middle East have been whipped up by a very modern phenomenon: an inflammatory video on YouTube, plus the incitement provided via Twitter and Facebook.
But there is an uncanny precedent for today’s violence. Back in December 1979 – long before the advent of the internet or even satellite news channels – the American embassy in Libya was burned to the ground. Earlier, the US embassy in Pakistan had received the same treatment, costing the lives of two American Marines.
The attacks on both embassies were triggered by an almost forgotten event. In November 1979, a gang of Sunni extremists led by Juhayman al-Uteybi – the Osama bin Laden of his era – managed to take over the Grand Mosque in Mecca and murder hundreds of Muslim pilgrims. When news of the capture of the holiest site in Islam spread across the Muslim world, rumours and conspiracy theories were quick to start. The most poisonous suggested that America had somehow carried out the attack on the Grand Mosque.
This preposterous nonsense was widely believed, stirring such anger that the US embassies as far apart as Tripoli and Islamabad were wrecked. Before Twitter, Facebook, Emails or YouTube, globalised rumour and conspiracy-mongering was already powerful enough to persuade people thousands of miles apart to burn down the nearest US embassy. The only difference with today is that it took much longer for the message to spread. The attacks on the US embassies in Libya and Pakistan were separated by 10 days in 1979, whereas today’s incidents are almost simultaneous.
If you are interested in the attack on the Grand Mosque, let me recommend an excellent book, “The Siege of Mecca” by Yaroslav Trofimov. In the meantime, let me offer one other thought.
We are often told that Islamist radicals are roused to fury by US foreign policy. If so, it’s odd how often they choose targets that have nothing to do with America. Instead, they tend to attack places that Muslims are supposed to value very highly. Juhayman al-Uteybi – en early inspiration for bin Laden – chose to defile the holiest of all the holy sites and murder hundreds of pilgrims in Mecca. More recently, al-Qaeda has bombed mosques and pilgrims in Iraq and Pakistan. Rather than being motivated purely by anti-Western sentiment, let me suggest that radical Islamists are out to kill non-radical Muslims, along with anyone else who might get in their way.