The Real Culprit Behind the Attacks Across the Islamic World UPDATED

The Colors flying at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Egypt, at half-mast. September 13, 2012

I’ve been thinking about the attacks to our embassies all across the Islamic world. Like the rogue character Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, me thinking is a frightening prospect, I know. But I cannot help but do it, as I served in Cairo, Egypt and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia as a Marine Security Guard (MSG) at our embassies located in those two capital cities of predominantly Muslim countries.

I spent 15 months or so in both of these countries fairly soon after a barracks of Marines was blown up in Lebanon (1983), and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown to kingdom come (1984).  Under President Reagan, and his State Department, which at the time of my service as an MSG was under the leadership of George P. Schultz (who as a Marine Corps artillery officer, saw combat on Peleliu in WWII), the rules of engagement were a bit more straight forward than they seem today.

Nancy and me.

No one would be allowed to breach our walls and come into the embassy compound uninvited. Ever. Too many had died horribly in our recent collective memory to ever allow such an event to happen again.

Sustaining this resolve is the other awful memory of the American Embassy in Tehran having been sacked, and hostages held for 444 days, from November 04, 1979 until President Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1980.

Suffice it to say that when I served, it was a different time, under different leaders, who had a different background of experiences than what is the case today. Their idea that our embassies should be protected, and strongly, has merit. Actions approaching anything less courts disaster, and perceived weakness invites boarding parties to play “capture the flag” with impunity, as we are witnessing these days.

Shocking to no one with a brain, these latest acts of violence occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. September 11, 2001 is seared on our memories and the memories of those abroad. But as Hilare Belloc argued in 1938, this date has significance from a long time ago when the West held the line against Islamic armies bent on crushing Christendom. He writes,

Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history: September 11, 1683.

Which conveniently plays into the simple narrative that the reasons for this conflict is a war between incompatible religions. Islam vs. Christianity. I’m not saying there isn’t something to this idea, but as is true in much of world history, there is more to the story.

Image credit: AFP

In the background of all this recent violence, as many of you know, the Holy Father is in Beirut, Lebanon right now, on an apostolic visit. He signed and delivered an Apostolic Exhortation yesterday, and I’ve started to read it.  I’ve only gotten through a few pages so far, but already I can tell that it is something worth reading time, and time again.

Beirut Lebanon, formerly referred to wistfully as the “Paris of the Levant,” has a rich history of Christians, Muslims, Druze, Jews, etc., living together in communities on a small piece of real estate. Not always peacefully, truth be told, and with bloody civil wars and sectarian violence that has shattered the Parisian-like reputation for generations. To love Lebanon, you would have to be from there, as our love for our native land always holds an allure for us, no matter where we hail from, nor how corrupt the governments are that rule us therefrom.

Here is something our Pope said in his letter that I know is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Only by beginning with conversion to God, and by showing forgiveness to those close at hand and in the wider community, will the just respond to Christ’s invitation to become “children of God” (cf. Mt 5:9). Only the meek will delight in boundless peace (cf. Ps 37:11). In offering us a life of communion with God, Jesus creates true fraternity, not the fraternity marred by sin. “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Christians know that the earthly politics of peace will only be effective if justice in God and justice among men and women are its authentic basis, and if this same justice battles against the sin which is at the origin of division. For this reason, the Church wishes to overcome every difference of race, sex and social condition (cf. Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11) in the knowledge that all are one in Christ, who is all in all. This too is why the Church supports and encourages every peace initiative throughout the world and particularly in the Middle East.

Which brings me to the part of this post where you may decide to stop reading altogether, either in disgust, or in despair, and hang me up virtually as a traitor to Madison Avenue’s idea of the American Way.

Honestly, it’s taken me close to three decades, out of my near five on the planet, to see the truth as il Papa makes clear in that succinct paragraph above, and I sudder at its import and implications to life as we in the developed world know it. Facts of life that, as a Christian, I have turned a blind eye to for far to long.

Where words fail me, a song, edited along with motion pictures, and still photographs, will help bring to light the true culprit of the violence being projected towards us. Hint: it’s not really about religion, but about “the sin which is at the origin of division.”

Pink Floyd, whose work I’ve showcased in this space before, provides the song from their aptly titled album, Dark Side of the Moon.  And a fellow calling himself “JoeVideo66″ provides the images, and editing.

The real culprit behind the disquiet, violence, and death? Why— isn’t it obvious?

It’s “us.”

YouTube Preview Image


And how we treat “them.” Even though “God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do,” and yet, this is what “we” do to “them.”

With. Without. And who denies it’s what the fighting’s all about? 

Said the artist.

“I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!

Said God himself, with an exclamation point, when he pitched his tent among us.

Forgive us Father, for we know what we are doing, and we continue to do it anyway.


Father Dwight Longenecker has similar thoughts regarding  Why Are the Muslims so Angry? 

John Allen in Beirut: Pope tackles elephant in the room of Christian exodus.

Mark Shea: I Went to My Neighbors House…

Living in squalor in Cairo’s “City of the Dead.”

  • calahalexander

    This is probably one of the best, most thoughtful posts I’ve seen on the subject. Thanks, Frank.

    • Frank Weathers

      Uh-oh. That’s what scares me, Calah.

  • Mary Emily

    I see your point, but how does this play out in practical application? It seems that no matter what we do, violence is the result. What are 2 or 3 concrete actions the US could perform that would lead the way to peace in the middle east?

  • karol

    We? Which we? Those with wealth beyond comprehension building monuments to excess in Dubai and elsewhere in the middle east? I am not sure which we you mean. Bill Gates? Warren Buffet? George Clooney and the Hollywood crowd? George Soros? Bill Maher?
    To quote John Lennon “Imagine” a world without hypocrisy.

  • Maxmilius.

    Oh you were stationed in Malaysia? How was your tour of duty here like? I hope it was peaceful.

    Thank goodness the Muslims in this country aren’t acting like that. Islam here seems to be relatively peaceful.

    • Frank Weathers

      Satay is one of my favorites.

      From a few days ago,


      About 20 protesters held a peaceful demonstration outside the US Embassy in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. They briefly shouted “Allahu akbar” or God is great, and handed reporters a letter addressed to the American ambassador expressing anger over the movie and calling for greater respect for religions.

      Subject to change.

  • Teri

    from the why muslims are so angry link. this from the comments:
    Glenn Juday says:
    September 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm
    The discussion in this thread includes a few responses that need to be clarified.
    Muslim true believers are taught and largely believe that the boundaries between the house of submission (societies forcibly placed and kept under the rule of Islamic law and polity) and the house of war (societies that have not yet submitted and thus are an affront to God) are fluid, not static. It is a failure of historical knowledge and interpretation of the first magnitude to misunderstand this point. Ask Christian immigrants from Islamic societies now living among you if you have any doubts – they certainly got more than a small taste of the flavor of the cultures they left. This failure to understand the mindset of Islamic societies is also a basic feature of “informed” elite opinion in western nations, and arguably the more secularized these societies are the more deeply held is this odd belief in a basically passive, benign character of Islam that could be satisfied by a few political arrangements.

    Of course, history provides examples of Islamic societies existing in long periods of inward-focused somnolent repose with respect to their Islamic “duties,” and thus not a significant threat to any external society. But this large exception also explains the reforming, zealous character of the most aggressive periods of Islamic mobilization.

    The “Nahda” (Revival) movement in the early 20th century was supported as an attempt by the diverse elements living in the polyglot late Ottoman Empire – Christians, Druze, Jews, secular intellectuals, revolutionary socialists, reformers, etc. – to produce or manufacture at least a partially non-Islamic identity suitable for a nationalist-like or pan-Arab movement to throw off the Turkish overlords of the Ottoman Caliphate. By the 1930s a structured pan-Arab movement and ideology was in place that combined nationalist and Marxist elements. National identities were strong in some places (e.g. Egypt) and weak in others (early stage Iraq). But the attractions of socialism have faded. So, in the end, Islamic ideology and character has remained or even grown compared to other elements of political/social identity. Now even the national rivalries (Iranian vs. Arab) are suffused with competing Islamic identities (Shia vs. Sunni). Ideological, cultural, religious cleansing is well advanced in the Islamic world.

    So, if the principle is accepted that historically the boundaries of Islam were pushed forward aggressively, and that the fundamental belief structure of Islam holds that the boundaries must be further advanced, what possible legitimate objection in principle (not specific outcome) can the Islamic world have with the boundaries moving the other way? It is intellectually incoherent for western societies to hold simultaneously to a policy of accommodating the Islamic imperative for conquest and domination, essentially writing off their fellow Christians and the fundamental and universal rights of others, while simultaneously holding that intervention in Islamic states, particularly aggressive ones engaged in actual violence or tolerating violence in principle as an Islamic imperative (e.g. Pakistan) is a uniquely unfair stance that it is the basis for Islamic resentment and aggression. People and movements that declare openly that they are out to kill you, that have an impressive record of actually killing and planning to kill, can be safely assumed to be sincerely interested in conquest. The Islamic desire for conquest is antecedent to the track record of wins and losses, and so cannot explain the desire.

    What offenses have a Hindu society (India), or a Buddhist society (Thailand), committed that make murderous Islamic attacks “understandable?” Islam is comfortable in being at war with them plus Jews, Christians, atheists, secularists, animists, and others too numerous to mention.

    Given these facts, a more realistic appraisal of the Islamic phenomenon by the U.S. is needed. As a global power in the commercial, military, and cultural realm, and an open society capable of self-criticism, America is a natural and tempting target for Islamic advancement. A specialty of Islamic warfare is a steady stream of petty, harassing attacks, with strategically timed truces, and constant instruction in the natural right of Islam to dominant the target as a Divine mission. The opponent is to be exhausted morally, militarily, demographically, and especially in morale to the point that capitulation comes to be seen to be desirable. Failure to understand that is a fatal failure.

    Given the deep, deep division that has now emerged in America between the elite opinion makers with their aggressive, even punitive promotion of unsustainable sexual excess, materialism, and relativism, versus those who believe in objective truth and are formed to some degree in Judeo-Christian beliefs, America is vulnerable to a significant degree to the traditional Islamic approach to advancement. The crucial pivot point is our culture, and the Church, as always, has abundant riches to offer that will produce a confident culture of life and moral aspiration that will be immune to the threat. The outcome is up to us.

    • Frank Weathers

      Regardless, all moral people—whether Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists,Druze, agnostics, and even many atheists—agree that human persons should be respected, and that the Golden rule (treat others as you want to be treated, as persons, not as things) applies. Only tyrants, and terrorists deny this principle. Coloring all of the former for the deeds of the latter is a gross injustice.

      • jcd

        Reread Saint Matthew Chapter 10

      • kinana

        Yes, moral people treat all people with respect and the Golden Rule applies, but it seems like you miss the point of the previous commentor. Islam teaches that non-Muslims are NOT to be treated with the same respect as Muslims and the Golden Rule does not apply to Islam; however much some Muslims may apply in their own lives. regards

  • Laura

    Frank – have you ever read the Bible? Matthew 23:9 ??

    • Frank Weathers

      Thanks for asking! Of course I have. The Church says I can call a priest Father. And you know what the Bible says about the Church, right? She’s “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). And, of course, Jesus put stock in the Church as well (Matthew 16:18-19).

      Matthew 16:18-19 / Isaiah 22:22 (Authority)
      1 Timothy 3:15 (Authority)
      2 Thessalonians 2:15 (Tradition)
      1 Peter 3:21 (Baptism)
      John 20:23 (Confession)
      John 6:53-58, 66-67 (Eucharist)
      1 Corinthians 11:27 (Eucharist)
      James 5:14-15 (Anointing)
      Colossians 1:24 (Suffering)
      James 2:24 (Works)

      And check out Fr. Bampfield’s essay too. You’ll be glad you did.

      As for calling, and being called, “father,” that is not an anti-biblical title.