Are Libya's Islamists scary?
Reminders that the Bush administration collaborated with Libya's Qaddafi regime on the detention and interrogation of Islamists makes some afraid. They shouldn't be.
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The Libyan group officials say they felt it was in Afghanistan to build its strength to a point where it could finally go home and change the country. Al Qaeda's grandiose and utopian desire for a global caliphate didn't appeal to them, as they were largely focused on the struggle against Qaddafi and a desire to bring religious law to Libya. Nor did Al Qaeda's excesses in murdering civilians resonate with the Libyans. In reading about the group's history, leaders like Belhadj come across as practical in their focus on matters at home.Skip to next paragraph
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Does this mean they're all sweetness and light? No. Belhadj and many others like them would clearly like Islam to be a central focus in the new Libya. He is reported to have argued for Islam to be described as "the" source of legislation in a draft constitution written by the NTC, though he lost out to others who wanted the more typical phrasing for Arab countries of "a source of legislation."
Is Islam going to play a greater role in Libya's politics than it did under Qaddafi? Almost certainly, if Libya's people are allowed a voice in choosing their own laws and leaders. As in Egypt, Islam is the most powerful cultural force in society, and Islamist groups, peaceful and otherwise, were viciously suppressed by Qaddafi.
That may be disconcerting to some in the West. But the alternative to these sentiments being politically expressed is dictatorship, which was what led to the creation of violent Islamist groups like the LIFG in the first place.
Mr. Hasadi, ex-LIFG and a rebel commander in the eastern city of Derna, told me in March that 9/11 was a "tragedy" and that "we completely reject attacks on civilians." He did, however, support attacks on US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that amounted to legitimate resistance against occupying forces.
“It feels a little funny,” he said then, recounting the dissonant moment when he realized NATO was fighting on his side. “We all saw the [French] planes on Al Jazeera when they started [bombing Qaddafi’s positions]. We were cheering them. We really have to thank [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and Obama.”
IN PICTURES: Rebels take Tripoli