by Bruce S. Thornton
The fall of Muammar Gaddafi is making some in the West giddy with the usual “Arab Spring” wishful visions of democracy and freedom flourishing throughout the Muslim Middle East, even as the last binge of democratic intoxication, the fall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, has left the hangover of a newly empowered Muslim Brotherhood, increasing assaults on Christian Copts, growing anti-Americanism, and terrorist attacks on Israel originating in Egypt and including Egyptian citizens among the attackers. And now, according to DEBKAfile, we may see Libya heading in the same anti-Western, Islamist direction.
“Members of the Al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) are in control of the former strongholds of Muammar Qaddafi captured by Libyan rebels last Sunday,” DEBKAfile reports. “They are fighting under the command of Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj, an al Qaeda veteran from Afghanistan whom the CIA captured in Malaysia in 2003 and extradited six years later to Libya where Qaddafi held him in prison. Belhadj is on record as rejecting any political form of coexistence with the Crusaders excepting jihad.” Despite the media’s depiction of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) as a coherent, controlling leadership structure, it is unclear who controls Tripoli at this point, the NTC, or the LIFG, and it is doubtful that the NTC will in the future be able (assuming they are willing) to control or disarm the Islamist outfits.
Worse yet, in addition to being armed with weapons looted from Gaddafi’s weapons depots, the fighters in Tripoli succeeded in capturing the compound because they were given advanced weapons by British and French special operations forces, in addition to US-supplied intelligence. As DEBKA concludes, “Tripoli’s institutions of government have wound up in the hands of fighting Islamist brigades belonging to al Qaeda, who are now armed to the teeth with the hardware seized from Qaddafi’s arsenals. No Western or Libyan military force can conceive of dislodging the Islamists from the Libyan capital in the foreseeable future.” And let’s not forget the remnants of Libya’s WMD program — including 10 tons of mustard gas and dumps of raw nuclear fuel — that we are depending on the NTC to secure, on the assumption that the NTC actually is in control of the country. This is the same NTC, by the way, that has just announced it will not hand over Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
If these reports about the LIFG are accurate, then the US endorsement and financing of the NATO operation to oust a defanged Gaddafi, who presented no immediate threat to us, without any idea of who would take his place, is as shortsighted as the abandonment of another unsavory but geopolitically stabilizing figure, Egypt’s Mubarak. This lack of prudence, moreover, is still being camouflaged by the usual question-begging rhetoric about the “march of freedom” and democracy’s irresistible spread, with all the liberalizing boons assumed to follow the removal of an autocratic thug and the establishment of democratic machinery absent the liberal values that such machinery is supposed to serve. We forget that those values in the West are the fruit of 25 centuries of difficult, doubtful development from the legacies of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. We simply keep repeating the mantra that the “love of freedom” exists in everyone, a half-truth that ignores the fact that many other desires inhabit the human breast, such as the desire to serve and obey God, and that these can conflict with the love of freedom, and often take precedence over it. And how do we know that the “freedom” demanded in the Middle East is the freedom we believe in? What if it means the “freedom” to be a good Muslim living under Shari’a law, as we are told by both the NTC’s draft constitution, and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, whose Article 24 reads, “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah”?
This is not to say that Muslims are incapable of liberal democracy, which is usually how reservations like those above are mischaracterized. It just means that for liberal democracy to develop in the Muslim Middle East, it will take much more than merely removing autocrats and holding elections. It will take a critical mass of Muslims themselves figuring out how to reconcile traditional Islam and Shari’a law with notions like universal human rights, tolerance for minorities, separation of church and state, and all the other bedrock principles of liberal democracy. Based on our own experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, the possibility of this sort of reconciliation seems remote. Despite our decade-long efforts in those countries, complete with billions in aid and the presence of thousands of our troops, the jury is still out whether genuine, lasting democracies will take hold there.
Seductive, unreflective idealism is no basis for a foreign policy. National interest and security are. In Libya, the alleged interest is merely the illusion that Middle Eastern “democracy” will trump the traditional theology of Islamic jihad that drives the jihadists, ultimately marginalizing them and removing them as a threat. In the process, we may be empowering and arming that same enemy, as seems increasingly to be the case in Egypt.
©2011 Bruce S. Thornton