Fareed's Take: Vivid protest images do not tell whole story
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia on Wednesday.
September 14th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

Fareed's Take: Vivid protest images do not tell whole story

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Fareed Zakaria

The images of the American embassy burning in Benghazi might have conjured up memories of Tehran in 1979 but the analogy is false.

In Libya, the government is not fomenting Anti-Americanism, it is fighting it, openly declaring America an ally and friend. The country is pro-American by a 2-to-1 margin, and the violence there appears to have been the work of small, extremist elements that lack much popular support. But the storm has spread from Libya.

Across the Middle East, there have been protests railing against the United States and the West in general. Even in these places, however, keep in mind that these crowds number in the hundreds - perhaps thousands - in countries with tens of millions of people. They make for vivid images, but they do not tell the whole story.

What can we say about these places and protests? First, in many of these countries - particularly those that have toppled dictatorships - the most important reality is not of bad government but of weak government.

In Libya, Yemen and even Egypt, the state has lost its ability to control its public. In a sense this might be progress. Egypt didn't see protests like this before because Hosni Mubarak's regime would arrest or even shoot protesters. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is an elected politician, and he is trying to pander, appease, direct and guide people. I wish he were bolder and fought the extremist elements in his society head-on. But let's face it, he's behaving like an elected politician.

Second, what we are witnessing is indeed the consequence of the Arab Spring. Arab societies were locked down for 50 years. The lid has come off them and we're seeing what's inside.

Q&A: What the protests reveal

There are some good elements - moderates, liberals, pragmatists - and there are some very nasty elements - extremists, jihadis. And let's be honest, there is a cancer of extremism in the Arab world, one that was diagnosed extensively after 9/11 by many, including me. That cancer has not been cured; most of the forces that produced it still remain. We should be honest that it exists, we should be honest that moderates in the region tend to be weak and often cowardly, but we should try to help them. If the United States pulls out, the crazies will only get stronger.

The clash of civilizations exists between those who want to burn American embassies and those who want to partner with them in building modern societies. We have a stake in who wins that struggle.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Libya • Middle East

soundoff (755 Responses)
  1. Archer

    Fareed is an admitted plagiarist, who cares what he thinks? How can CNN call itself "the most trusted name in news" while employing a plagiarist???

    As to the mob protests... are these the "moderate" muslims protesting or the "terrorist" muslims? If they are the terrorist, who cares why they are protesting? If these are the "moderate" muslims, why are we trying to make peace with them?

    September 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  2. Skorpio

    Long term solution against Islamic violence & irrationality is a MASSIVE CONVERSION OF MUSLIMS TO CHRISTIANITY, preferably to any Middle Eastern Christian Church which share the same language, culture and traditions as Muslims but NOT their SATANIC Islamic faith.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  3. Mubeenhavaldar

    Mr Fareed it seems plagiarism charges against to you made you insane you have started to write one sided stories you were neutral most of the time in your business could u please tell me why anti semitism is a crime and anti islamic is freedom of speech

    September 23, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
  4. YHD

    For a Muslim who prays five times a day his religion and faith occupy the deepest place his heart. These are the most important moral and religious values in his life much more precious than anything on earth, even much bigger than the values of freedom of speech and expression. Unfortunately, some of us fail to understand the values of others are as important as ours. As much as we defend and cherish our freedom of speech and expression rights, we need to understand the responsibility that goes with it. We need to say no to those who use freedom of speech to spread hater.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:04 am | Reply
  5. Nayna17

    What bothers me most about these so called 'isolated extremist attacks' is the lack of public outcry from the mainstream Muslims who live here. Never heard them spontaneously denounce this level of violence and Anti American sentiment. Yet on issues which directly affect their 'turf', eg: the proposed mosque near the 9/11 site in NYC, they are all over the media singing the praises of their peaceful faith and crying over the world's distorted view of their religion.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
  6. alex La Belle

    I just watched a very interesting program by Bill Moyers on Super Pacs and disclosure. Apparently it is possible for foreign interests to contribute to whichever super pac that supports the candidate they feel will best represent their wishes and no disclosure required. In the case of Israel that would be Mitt Romney and the Neo-Cons who are merely laying in wait for their next puppet. Imaging Israel deciding when the USA will enter into a nuclear confrontation with Iran effectively offering up America's blood and treasure on Israel's behalf... I laugh at the motto so often spouted "America, Greatest democracy on earth..." you mean the greatest democracy money can buy...thanks to the supreme court. The greatest democarcy money can buy. Watch for Bibi Netanyohoo's add to come out in Florida...

    September 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  7. Archer

    Fareed is a plagiarist and a Liar. Why is he still on CNN??? CNN is no longer the most trusted name in news because of Fareed Zakaria!

    September 25, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
  8. Jodo

    Yeah sure Fareed. They really love us. Now isn't it time to stop covering for obama and start telling the truth?

    September 28, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Reply
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  10. Ken

    Fareed – with due respect, you made a mistake. It was not an Embassy burning in Benghazi, but a consulate building. You are kind of playing into the misinformation by suggesting that the Embassy was stormed.

    January 23, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply
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