Although the attack underscores serious security gaps in parts of Libya,, it must not overshadow the considerable progress achieved in just a year since the death of Muammar Qaddafi and his 42-year oppression. The attack was clearly perpetrated by well-organized radicals with specific intentions and advanced planning. Proper timing and pretext were the only requisites for execution. It was provided by a controversial film denigrating Islam’s chief prophet. Without it, another ploy would have been concocted.
Ironically, as the consulate attack unfolded, Libya’s newly democratically elected Parliament was choosing the new Prime Minister, a U.S.-trained optical engineer, to lead the country’s arduous road to recovery and rebuilding. The attack marks a tragic step in this process and will not be the last. Expectations on the pace of change in Libya must be kept in check. Progress will take time. Although oil is flowing largely unimpeded for now, and may soon top pre-war levels, there is no magic wand to address Libya’s multiple challenges immediately.
Furthermore, years of anti-Western, and particularly anti-American, sentiment in the region will not disappear overnight. Relations can only evolve gradually between the U.S. and newly emerging Arab governments and their transforming societies. Whether it is a filmmaker maligning Islam’s main prophet or burnings of the Koran, disengagement is not an option for either side. The drawbacks far exceed any rhetorical gains. Similar incendiary episodes are inevitable. Skillful management is required to minimize the impact. However, crossing the line from peaceful protest to violent action merits no tolerance. It simply demands responsible leadership across all sectors accompanied by firm response.
Vicenzino, director of the Global Stategy Project, provides geo-political advisory services and regularly serves as conference speaker and analyst for global media outlets.