THE GARDENS of the Arab Spring are being watered by the blood of innocents.
This week, American blood was added to the flow. U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three embassy staffers were murdered by Muslim jihadists who were presumably angry at a film that "defamed" Muhammad. The consulate in the city of Benghazi, site of last year's anti-Gaddafi insurgency, was set on fire, and the American victims were killed by a hail of rocket projectiles while attempting to flee to safety.
The fact that this happened in a country that was famously "liberated" by American airpower last year was lost on no one. The fact that the embassy in Cairo was attacked on the same day by raging Islamists was also troubling. And the fact that these deaths and this assault on U.S. sovereignty occurred on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was a chilling reminder of those who cheered the incineration of 3,000 Americans.
Some will look at these incidents through a strictly political lens and charge Barack Obama with naivete, hostility toward Israel or worse. Others will take that same lens and focus it on Mitt Romney, a man with little foreign-policy experience but a significantly different world view than the man he's trying to replace in November.
And although it's completely understandable that in an election year these events will form another point of contention between two political philosophies, there is something even more fundamental that we have to address.
There is simply no bargaining with madmen. Muslim extremists are not a small and geographically limited group of sociopaths. They are a legion, and have sprung up in as many corners of the world as there is discontent, anger and resentment against the West. The political scientists can try to paint these criminals as the victims of poverty and the regressive policies of their leaders, but the truth is that their anger derives not from material discontent but from hatred of the "other."
Before anyone accuses me of bigotry against Islam, I want to say this. There is great beauty in any religion that advocates tolerance, moral coherence, peaceful intercourse and a love for God and the god in each human being. But among all the world's great religions, only Islam is susceptible to the dangerous and, as we have seen, murderous type of distortion and manipulation that results in the deaths of ambassadors, soldiers and civilians on their way to an uneventful day of work. That's at least the case in this enlightened age; the Crusades happened centuries ago.
We do ourselves no favor as a nation to ignore this simple fact. And although I hesitate to criticize this president for the deaths of his personnel at the State Department, I would point out that the administration's initial response to the attacks in Cairo were not only inappropriate, they were deplorable in their obsequious tone and character.
Here is what appeared on the State Department website hours after hostile and deliberate Egyptians (and I can promise you they were not Coptic Christians) attempted to storm the walls of the embassy:
"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions . . . respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
When I read this, I couldn't believe my eyes. Our administration's primary concern was that crazed jihadists not have their feelings bruised by a rather comical if offensive depiction of Muhammad. They also seem to be saying that the First Amendment shouldn't apply to those who offend the "religious feelings of Muslims."
This is the Stockholm syndrome, in which the victim identifies with the victimizer.
Feeling the political heat, the Obama administration distanced itself from the State Department by saying that the clumsy communiqué did not reflect Washington's position. But State is not a rogue agency, and either the president knew what was being disseminated or he didn't. And if, in fact, he didn't, that doesn't inspire much confidence in this administration.
Ultimately, Obama did issue a statement in which he condemned the "outrageous attack" on Ambassador Stevens in Libya, but the initial response was tepid, hesitant and showed weakness.
But there is something much more troubling here. Despite the best hopes of reformers, there was always the potential that the Arab Spring would not be a benign season. Good people tried to sow the seeds of democracy, and we were hopeful that this would yield a fragrant garden.
But now, tragically, we see its true nature. As Baudelaire would say, they are the flowers of evil.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and Friday op-ed columnist in the Daily News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: philly.com/flowers.