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Innocence of Americans: E- Reactions to the Assassination of Christopher Stevens

One month later: an analysis of reactions to Ambassador Steven’s death, and the “Innocence of Muslims” movie on English-language Islamist forums.

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ambassador stevens libya death america

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The assassinations of United States Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three security attaches last month has caused me to read the discussions related to these topics on reputed English-language Islamist forums.

I should begin by explaining that forums I chose, Ummah.com and IslamicAwakening.com, are reputable for their tendency to be rather conservative. While they label themselves as moderate forums for all Muslims, certain sectors of these communities (particularly those that discuss political issues) tend to stray from the norm in their ideology. Pictures or videos posted containing women with uncovered heads are often labelled with a warning for men. In fact, in one thread a user’s account was disabled for failing to warn others of an uncovered women in a video. These forums are advertised as message boards for those interested in Islam, which means that article topics vary from threads on cooking, parenting, or Quranic interpretation, to threads such as ‘America is one sick place’, with over 500 replies. In this thread users post articles that exemplify their argument that America is sick, citing cases of paedophilia, drug use, and debauchery.Levine and Brachman have alluded to the fact that the Islamic extremist forum movement has been popularized due to gamification; meaning that users now post more radical or violent statements in order to improve their rankings amongst their peers. According to them, the violent rhetoric that one views on these forums may not necessarily be sincere. It may simply be a subconscious effort by a user to increase their popularity within the forum.

When one spends time reading the day-to-day discussions that take place, you realize that maybe it wouldn’t be completely insane to label the forum as normal. I use the term ‘normal’, in the sense that, like everyone else with internet connections, users utilize these forums as a method of escape, and a tool through which one can vent their frustrations. Yet while some choose to vent their emotions through passive-aggressive comments on YouTube, turning to games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, or posting attention-seeking statuses on Facebook, these individuals choose to focus their frustrations through a different lens; mainly, on which tends to empathise with Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliated organisations. Since the assassination of United States Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens I have spent time perusing a few of the more popular English language forums, hoping to draw conclusions not only about the types of individuals who frequent these forums, but also to see if I could draw any conclusions on how users interpreted the events on September 11, 2012.

First, let me emphasise that users on these forums are not terrorists. Reading the discussions on these blogs should not be viewed as similar to reading the internal notes from Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. They should, more appropriately be labelled as potential constituents and adherents to Islamist extremist ideology, and the undercurrent voice of a minority population of Muslims within the West. The individuals on these forums have varying levels of interest and faith invested in the movement and are essentially fence-sitters; while some may truly believe in the validity of the ideology, or pretend to with their virtual peers, they have not yet responded to the ‘call to arms’ and joined the mujahideen. Levels of devotion to the cause vary. Some may post every few days, yet some post multiple times every day, with the forum essentially becoming their social life. Some individuals involved heighten their responsibility and time commitment by volunteering their skills to create or edit videos, translate videos or text from Arabic to English (or other languages), or by creating original material for their peers’ enjoyment. These proactive individuals have been labelled ‘middle managers’, by Neumann, Evans, and Pantucci, and ‘jihobbyists’ by Jarret Brachman. Despite this increase in commitment, however, they are no different from their peers who devote less time. Though they are willing to donate time and energy, they have yet to make the ultimate sacrifice (these are their words, not mine).

I have spent the past month reading threads related to the death of J. Christopher Stevens and the “Innocence of Muslims” video, in order to understand the general consensus from users on the events, and, if the reaction to these occurences can indicate any broader trends within their community. My survey of these forums has left me with the following observations on the consensus opinion of forum users:

1. J. Christopher Stevens was not an innocent victim.

Leaders from around the world have spoken up against the murder of Christopher Stevens, and many Libyans have stepped forward to condemn the actions, claiming that he was well-received amongst the Libyan population. The opinion of that Steven’s death was unnecessary, and aimed at the wrong individual, does not match the opinion of a particular population of those on IslamicAwakening.com and Ummah.com. One of the first respondents to the thread that broke the news of the death stated that:

he is not a diplomat, a diplomat engages in diplomacy he does not assist rebels in overthrowing an on/off partner in the War on Terror nor does he try to commandeer the revolution or take part in OEF-TS doing so makes him a combatant not a diplomat

<User from IA>

To many of these users (or, at least the ones who wish to discuss their opinions with their virtual companions), the right of a foreign embassy to be protected by domestic law enforcement does not parallel Islamic law. As an American diplomat, Christopher Stevens was involved in controversial, polarizing issues, such as legal rights, and militaristic issues:

I have to agree, America’s ambassadors cannot be classified as “emissaries” within the Muslim world according to Shariah, they are military commanders, espionage chief officers, and propagators of corruption. All of this can be documented. US ambassadors sign off on both espionage and military operations in host Muslim countries, including Libya. And in Pakistan the US embassy sponsored a gay rights event in open defiance of the Islamic culture there.

<User from ummah.com>

The problem is that some of us consider this ‘ambassador’ to be an innocent person, far removed from anything that the usa does or promotes. he is also innocent of whatever the usa does to muslim countries worldwide. and that he was there to ensure peace and stability. nothing could be further from the truth. in fact the people who are chosen to be the representatives of america -specially in the muslim countries-are the worst of creation. the diplomats are there to ensure that america’s will be done.this guy was there to ensure american domination in libia and to ensure subjugation of the muslims. just because you call yourself an ambassador doesn’t make you one.

<User from IA>

Ambassador Steven’s legal endorsements and interactions with military officials apparently validate the actions of those killed him; as an ambassador of American ideals, he was deemed an enemy to Islam by those who killed him. The statement above also highlights forum users’ belief that:

2. The American government; and, by extension, its citizens are hypocrites.

Forum users strongly believe that America’s lack of action regarding Sam Bacile’s film, “Innocence of Muslims” is deceitful and reprehensible. While the First Amendment does protect citizens from legal action against certain political or religious views, users cite Tarek Mehanna and Mohamed Mohamud as examples of individuals being jailed for hate speech that goes above and beyond what the law protects. Many forum users claim that, as the United States government has censored extremist Muslims, the video should be censored. Given the violent and aggressive content of the film, it should be taken off YouTube, Bacile should be arrested, and that Islamic law justifies his murder:

Freedom of speech’ excuse by the US government seems to be viewed as hypocritical, ‘The truth is that they have arrested and imprisoned many Muslims for what they call ‘hate speech’ and yet this film was not seen to have crossed any boundaries.’

<User from IA>

If the US are concerned about casualties and security, perhaps they should censor this kind of ‘uncivilised speech’ and put the culprits behind bars for two decades, the way they put Tarek Mehenna and others behind bars for exactly the same crime, but of a reverse polarity.

<User from IA>

Not only is America’s lack of action against Bacile seen as a hypocrisy, but, on a broader scale, their condemnations of violence and destruction against embassies is viewed as ludicrous to many forum users. They cite America’s War on Terror, and the many innocent lives destroyed as a result of the military actions that have been undertaken since 2001, as instances of persecution against Muslims:

Do you think what you i.e the west do is an acceptable excuse in the name Democracy? Were the war crimes of Blair and Bush forgotten that fast?..

<User from IA>

OK, but it is a bit rich for America to expect to be treated fairly when it has been on a rape and murder spree for the last decade. If they want people to respect international conventions, then they should apologise for all they have done and then lead by example.

<User from IA>

3. American Muslims and ‘Westernized’ Muslims, are ‘sickening’

It seems that these forums either a). attract those with extremist viewpoints b.) radicalise all members into adopting extremist ideology, or c) more moderate members choose not to post on threads that appear to be more extreme. I am of the opinion that the final conclusion is the most accurate; expressions of moderation such as this:

Such killing is totally wrong without doubt and I do not say it because I love americans, but because of many reasons. First of all you do not kill a messenger or an ambassador. Secondly, if he was accepted to the country as an ambassador by muslims (it does not matter whether they were fasiqs or not), so it is enough that he was given a protection by some muslims, and you should not kill an ambassador because a jew living in US insulted the profet, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.

<User from Ummah>

Are refuted with responses like this:

That lot is whom Sheikh Anwar Awlaki described as Rand Muslims – Muslims for the sake of the kuffar. Same lot who cried foul when Nidal Hasan killed american soldiers.

<User from IA>

The user who found the attacks wrong and unjustified was quickly told off, and was told off with one of the most offensive terms user on these forums. A RAND Muslim is a term first popularized by Anwar al-Awlaki, used to describe a Muslim who has been moderated by western politics. Many of the users posting on political threads use terminology such as ‘RAND Muslim’, ‘house negro’, ‘Quilliam‘ and ‘Uncle Tom’ as insults for users who appear to sympathize with the murder of J Christopher Stevens, or believe that “The Innocence of Muslims” cannot or should not be censored. Such terminology, which stirs up images of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement, reminds us of how closely certain users on these forums mirror their struggle to that of African Americans in the 1960s; as a matter of fact, there are many users whose avatar features popular figures within the Black Power movement. A second response to the moderate users post states:

I wish these people would die. I don’t know if I’ve felt that way about Muslims before. I don’t know if this feeling will go away.

<User from ummah.com>

This user became so angry and upset that he was willing to wish a fellow forum user dead. It appears that there is a great deal of animosity and very little respect for American Muslims, who apparently are more moderate than other western Muslims. Along with negative statements about America, and proclamations that J. Christopher Stevens was a worthy target, many users direct resentment towards American Muslims, who apparently did not react as angrily as forum users would have wished. A picture of American Muslims, standing outside of the White House and holding a prayer session in honor of the late ambassador was posted, and the consensus was general disgust. Many individuals questioned where the American Muslim voice was:

Insha Allah, the [non-Muslim] americans will now turn against him. By the way. Where are all these American muslims. Have they gone into hiding? Bunch of cowards.

<User from IA>

So, while there does appear to be a minority voice of moderation within these threads, they appear to avoid some of the more contentious topics (such as ones involving controversial current events), and, when they do post, appear to avoid getting into in-fighting with those who insult them.

4. The assassination of J. Christopher Stevens and the release of “Innocence of Muslims” may be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’, for some Muslims.

Multiple users have approved of the riots, protests, and the assassination of J. Christopher Stevens as a strategic success for the global Islamic community. By strongly reacting to anti-Muslim sentiments, they are propagating the message that the global Muslim community will not tolerate such acts of aggression towards their Prophet:

Remember this year Quraan was desecrated by the US soldiers in afghanistan. Had the muslimeen over there not protested the way they did, had they remained peaceful – that would in no way have brought more converts to islam, it might have resulted in more such incidents. And the enemy is not getting aided by any means. It only shows muslims are getting stronger and more courageous.

<User from IA>

By rejecting the video’s sentiment that Islam is an intolerable, unsophisticated, and inhumane religion, they hope that the global Muslim community will grow stronger, and perhaps become a louder voice than those who are not Muslim:

I have read/heard somewhere that when the Sahabah would be attacking the enemy of Islam in their forts and the enemy would start cursing the Prophet Muhammad…the Sahabah would rejoice that victory is near. Why? Because anyone who insults the Prophet…cannot live in peace and harmony. So they would become more encouraged to fight and kill the enemy…And they charged at the enemy slicing them up and leaving no trace of those filthy creatures. A few years ago they made cartoons and look at where they stand. The black flag flies across the screens in the world. Allah u Akbar. Indeed the victory of Allah is near! May We live to see it and be a part of it and not just people on the sidelines!

<User from IA>

Along with believing that riots are an important precedent, some have expressed that the current environment may bring more Muslims to the global community, and swing their loyalties away from the western world. As previously detailed, the fence-sitting members of forums have a great deal of animosity towards Muslims with westernized sentiments, yet some users have faith that the current climate might cause some individuals to reevaluate their views on the West:

i was talking to someone tonight andwe agreed that this is the straw that will most probably break the camels back.i may be wrong as i am a mere human but dont know why my heart feels something big is near.anyway Allah knows the best.

<User from ummah.com>

[Rioters] should target parliament – the shrines to democracy next.

^ Don’t read too much into that post. It was just a suggestion; a dig at democracy and parliament. Of course we commend what the brothers are doing in smashing these shrines.

<User from IA>

As can be seen, the rhetoric and subject matter appears to be quite anti-American, including the direction of negative energy against fellow Muslims situated in Western countries. Of course, one could say that violent rhetoric is common in online platforms, that virtual communication allows individuals to be more aggressive than they could be if they were communicating face-to-face. Users on a variety of platforms have no problem becoming aggressive with each other. The internal aggression directed at peers shows the polarized nature of these forums. For those that are intent on the validity of the assassination of Stevens and the targeting of Bacile, one must wonder if and when users will feel that words within a forum are not enough. For most followers of extremist ideology, the ability to vent their frustration through discussions and remain politically active within the democratic system will allow them to feel as if their voice is valued. As one active user on the forum suggested:

I find it difficult to have sympathy for an American diplomat. However, what makes us better than the US is the fact that we lay down our lives for our values, whereas they lay down their values for their lives. If we also start laying down our values, the difference between us and them wouldn’t be much.

<User from IA>

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Photo Credit: Secretary of Defense

Author’s note: Usernames were withheld for sake of privacy; membership is needed to access certain parts of the aforementioned forums.  If anyone is intent on validating my sources, feel free to email me at [email protected]

7 thoughts on “Innocence of Americans: E- Reactions to the Assassination of Christopher Stevens”

  1. I fail to understand the point of this article. So some forum members vent some ‘anti-American’ views. So what? What bearing does the view of a couple of people on the internet really have? It’s amazing what kind of message you can send by cherry picking some quotes. Yes, I am a member of Ummah.com. Sure, there are some conservative views there, however, what I have seen on this forum is absolutely nothing compared to the vitriol and hatred portrayed by a wide range of anti-Muslim YouTube channels and blogs, including JW. Including examples such as how Muslims should all be killed or how Mecca should be bombed. If you think those ‘Islamist’ forums are passive-aggressive, then frankly you’ve seen nothing yet. But really, this really is a biased and slanted article. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that these are merely voices of frustration. Too much blood has been shed in the past decade, whether that includes the war effort or the CIA-led drone strikes. The rest of the world doesn’t care about the masses of Muslims that have been killed. So, are you REALLY surprised that some of these posters don’t give a damn about some US Ambassador? I believe we are all being conditioned to accept the death of foreign blood, but if an American suffers, then it is quite clearly a tradegy against humanity. In case you infer incorrectly from this post, my stance is simple – it is unacceptable to kill anyone unless it’s for self-defense.

  2. you see, she needs to say that stuff or she wont get paid.
    thats her job- to be biased & use her “credentials” to legitimise her article.

    many diplomats, aid workers, journalists etc are CIA agents-these professions are just a cover for the “important” work they do.
    shes getting paid-thats her excuse
    whats the excuse of the millions of fools who swallow the nonsense people like her write?

  3. I have seen the amount of anti American and anti moderate Muslim vitriol that is spewed in forums like Islamic Awakening and Ummah forums. The sad part is that most who spew the hatred belong to UK, Europe and US and they hate the very societies they belong to. I can never understand why they just not leave the western societies they hate so much. The level of hypocrisy in these forums boggles my mind.

    1. @Spencer and Milla.

      From what I know, IA is a pretty ‘extreme’ forum. But LOL at the fact you are making a generalisation over a small vocal minority at Ummah.com. Yes, I know who they are, and yes they are all the same voices. Nevertheless, perhaps you should pay a visit to Stormfront, or the English Defense League forums to see what kind of opinion they have of others.

      But you see, this is hilarious. One cannot claim to be against extremism when you also tolerate government sponsored terrorism. There is a reason why most of them are anti-American. Would you like China if they were bombing American cities with predator drones? Or how about if China invaded the US?

  4. I agree with Spencer above. These two forums have become magnets for airing extremist and militant Islamic views while also being used to suppress any moderate Muslims who advocate toleration and peace. There are groups within these forums who pounce upon anyone who expresses an opinion that counters the extremist views that they cultivated long back on the forum. These forums stifle free expression of thought if it counters the extremist Sunni and Wahabi ideals that they espouse.

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