by Andrew Lam
Republished from New America Media
San Fransisco: In 2010 Time Magazine’s prestigious Person of the Year title went to two individuals. While its readers picked Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, Time’s editors picked Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
“Facebook is now the third largest country on earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does,” the magazine noted. “Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.”
Assange, founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, on the other hand, undermined entire nation states’ public narratives of themselves by providing a platform where individuals can anonymously whistle blow and show their government’s dark underbellies by uploading top secret documents. Spy agencies can only look on with envy and alarm.
In 2011, a fruit vendor made the cut. Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian who set himself on ablaze protesting police corruption, became literally the torch that lit the Arab Spring revolution that spread quickly throughout the Middle East. Bouazizi achieved this in his very public death because many who had cell phones saw it and the subsequent videos kick-started the uprising. The revolution took all governments by surprise.
Convicted Filmmaker’s Many Aliases
This year no doubt Time can add “Nakoula Basseley Nakoula,” aka “Sam Bacile,” as a major contender. An unknown amateur filmmaker until this week, fanned the flames in the Middle East with incendiary video clips. In effect, the film mocked and insulted the prophet Mohammed and turned the whole Arab Spring of 2011 into Autumn Rage of 2012 Against the USA.
Nakoula/Bacile is currently in hiding and may in fact be fictitious. Much evidence now points to him as a Egyptian Coptic Christian, who allegedly holds grudges against Islam. On Thursday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Nakoula was convicted two years ago on federal charges of financial fraud.
The jury is out on who instigated the violence against US personnel in Libya, resulting in the death of the American ambassador and three other personnel. The attack was carefully planned, it was reported, and not the mere work of angry protesters – but few doubt that the film has a direct effect in stoking a combustible anger in the Middle East against what many consider as yet another American act of profanity against the sacred.
In the global age, it seems that not only dictators or overzealous elected heads of state with power of preemptive strikes can direct history to the edge of an abyss, but also fruit vendors and lousy filmmakers.
If Zuckerberg is a kind of head of state of the third largest country and Julian Assange has become the equivalent of a CIA institution gone rogue, then Bouazizi, a private individual, has become the modern equivalent Joan of Arc.
Soon, too, the director of Innocence of Muslims, whoever he is, will become a kind of knuckle headed hater, who nevertheless emerged with the extraordinary power to incite violence against America. That would make al-Qaeda, by comparison, seem a tongue-tied shyster.
For all its planning, for all its propaganda and brainwashing of the illiterate and easily duped to blow themselves up – merely to garner dwindling media attention in the West –Al-Qaeda hasn’t achieved what an inane video has. The film and its 13-minute YouTube trailer quickly undermined much of the United States’ soft diplomacy in a region it considers of utmost important.
In a blog for the Boston Globe, a friend of slain Ambassador Chris Stevens shared her shock with this headline: “How could Chris Stevens die because of a YouTube clip?” Alas, the answer is: Why not? In our information age, the break up of a virtual friendship can lead to suicide, and misinformation can create a real lynch mob, half a world away.