Death of an American Ambassador

From what we know now, the American Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, died as the result of a small, violent mob, enraged by a video What kind of a video? It was an amateur anti-Muslim screed, made by an extremist in the U. S., that denigrated the Islamic prophet Mohammed – and was posted on line.

Here’s what I wrote about the impact of technology on relations between leaders and led in my book, The End of Leadership:

“Using information technology to overthrow [or attack] the old is not new. Martin Luther employed a newfangled device, the printing press, to foment revolt against the authority of the papacy. In late-eighteenth-century America it was newspapers that did this sort of work, convincing “colonial readers of their personal stake in political protests against the English crown. And in mid to late twentieth century Europe, specifically in the Soviet bloc, dissidents used copy and fax machines to incite against communist autocrats in the Soviet Union and East Europe. So the Internet is only the latest iteration of technologies that have for centuries been used by the many without power, authority, and influence against the few with.”

I do not compare this most recent incident to the above-mentioned crusades. What I do point out is how new technologies have always cut two ways. Moreover in the 21st century, they can incite and empower the powerless, even a powerless few, with an intensity and alacrity the rest of the world finds shocking.

What happened in Libya is a wrenching reminder of how a small number of individuals – at home and abroad – now have the capacity to intrude on and unsettle the international system. Remember 9/11?.

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