Autumnal Rage: Playing with Islamic Fire

18 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2012 Last revised: 23 Jun 2014

See all articles by Amit K. Chhabra

Amit K. Chhabra

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2012


American intervention in the “Muslim World” over the past several years has by no means been non-controversial; rather, critics often charge that we alternatively violate international law or selectively use its protective cloak to advance our own interests. Viewed through this lens, American pronouncements might understandably be received as edicts encroaching upon local autonomy and reminiscent of colonial days. Still, the unfolding acts of violence against Americans and Western embassies in the “Muslim World” following the online posting of a United States-made “Mohammad video” were not foreseen. If they had been, we can assume – and hope – that the relevant embassies would have recalled or at least reduced their staffs especially as violence in the region is not a new phenomenon. However, these unfortunate events present us with an opportunity to query whether these attacks were foreseeable, and to review the psychology behind our being caught off guard.

This solemn occasion perhaps reflects a warped understanding of our hosts’ cultural sensitivities, or even our limited genuine interest in what concerns them at all. We are led to question the ability and willingness of American policymakers to consider – and thereby respect – local priorities. Insofar as Islam permeates the culture of many of these host nations, our priorities reflect our foreign policy’s willingness to accommodate it; is this foreign policy so decidedly grounded in values antagonistic to Islam? To further pressurize the situation, the present conundrum coincidentally presents “Mr. Obama’s most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season.”

In order to strike a respectful balance among nations’ competing interests, international customary law provides standards that all states must respect in order to maintain the peace and stability. Additionally, all members of the United Nations must adhere to the tenets of its charter including principles relating to the use of force and the “sovereign equality of all its Members.” Moreover, the community of nations continues to have a duty to protect populations suffering from a humanitarian disaster. The issue presented before us, is whether we have failed to live up to this responsibility in our dealings with the “Muslim World.” Specifically, has the current Administration acted in violation of international law just as its predecessors are commonly charged to have done? Armed with this knowledge, we might re-consider our regional security expectations.

Keywords: Arab Spring, Autumn Rage, international law, Obama, Muhammad video, Benghazi, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iran

Suggested Citation

Chhabra, Amit K., Autumnal Rage: Playing with Islamic Fire (2012). 34 University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 389 (2013), Available at SSRN:

Amit K. Chhabra (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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