TAG | Libya
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Over in the Financial Times, there’s an interesting piece on Putin’s friends abroad, but this passage in particular caught my eye:
The current Egyptian government believes that the Obama administration’s failure to support former President Hosni Mubarak, during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, revealed the US to be both duplicitous and naive.
Hold that thought, now read this (from the Daily Telegraph) (my emphasis added):
Islamic State militants are planning a takeover of Libya as a “gateway” to wage war across the whole of southern Europe, letters written by the group’s supporters have revealed. The jihadists hope to flood the north African state with militiamen from Syria and Iraq, who will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people trafficking vessels, according to plans seen by Quilliam, the British anti-extremist group. The fighters would then run amok in southern European cities and also try to attack maritime shipping.
The document is written by an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) propagandist who is believed to be an important online recruiter for the terror in Libya, where security has collapsed in the wake of the revolution that unseated Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 . . .
[British] security officials also share Isil’s view about the possibility of using people trafficking boats to smuggle fighters into Europe. Thanks to its vast, porous desert borders with Sub-Saharan Africa, Libya has long been a key operating hub for trafficking boats heading into Europe, but numbers have escalated dramatically since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. Italy’s interior ministry estimates that at least 200,000 refugees and immigrants are poised to make the crossing from Libya to Sicily or the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost territory. Last year more than 170,000 arrived in Italy by boat, including tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the civil war in their home country. . . .
Nasser Kamel, Egypt’s ambassador to London, warned Britain brace itself for ‘boats full of terrorists’ unless action was taken in Libya. He spoke after 2,164 migrants were rescued at sea in a 24-hour period over the weekend in what has been described as an ‘exodus without precedent’.
“Those boat people who go for immigration purposes and try to cross the Mediterranean … in the next few weeks, if we do not act together, they will be boats full of terrorists also,” he said. . . .
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isil’s leader, has since laid claim to Libya as part of his “Caliphate”. Whilst on the whole that remains more rhetoric than reality, support for the group in this war ravaged state is growing. In September, Abu Nabil, an Iraqi and key leader within Isil, travelled to the country to build support for the group. His men took control of much of Derna, a traditionally conservative city in the east of the country, that is now being run according to the extremist group’s strict Shariah law. Hundreds of Libyans who had travelled to fight alongside Isil in Syria have started to return to fight for the group on home turf, residents say. They have expanded the group’s influence into the east of the country, taking controlling of parts of Sirte, a former Gaddafi stronghold.
Barack Obama (January 7, 2014) on ISIS:
I think the analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
And since then there has been the claim that ISIS is somehow “not Islamic.”
The term “out of his depth” comes to mind.
In this context, this lengthy, intriguing piece by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic on ISIS is very well worth your time. Its implications are terrifying.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
The millennialist temptation takes many forms, is perennial and, at its worst, very, very dangerous, but it is not something that a president wrapped up in the soft certainties of the end of history can be expected to understand.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it….
Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute . . .
Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State.
The incredulity and denial are true enough, and, ironically, Wood’s history (at this point) in a sense reflects very similar thinking. Contrary to his assertion, wars of religion (even if largely unacknowledged as such) did very nicely for themselves in Europe during the last century. Both communism and Nazism were, in many respects, millennialist cults (think of that “thousand year” Reich), and, as such cults can do, they killed millions.
ISIS may well try the same.
As for ISIS attacks on southern Europe (and in the end it would not just be southern Europe), it’s important to remember that the writings of one propagandist do not necessarily translate into deeds, but . . .
As the atrocities in France and Denmark remind us, Europe’s intertwined immigration and Islamist crises are already bad enough. They may well be about to get much worse.
A quick footnote to Matt’s excellent post about the Cairo embassy’s comments on “religious incitement”: In addition to being wrongheaded, these little announcements are self-defeating. When you issue such statements, you encourage the view that the government is somehow responsible for the speech you’re condemning. Even if you succeed in calming the crowds — and to judge from what happened yesterday, you shouldn’t expect to achieve even that much — any fringe film that you haven’t anathematized can become the next cause célèbre. And if you think you can keep pumping out statements attacking every one of them, ponder what will happen if a mob decides to riot over the comments of a congressman, or someone else that a diplomat wouldn’t want to officially denounce. Better to embrace free speech from the beginning than to lend support to the idea that your job requires you to sort acceptable expression from bad.
As Mark notes:
The mob of “Islamic rage boys” gets mad about all kinds of stuff — cartoons, dogs, teddy bears. You can never make a long enough list to satisfy them. So you might as well tell them you’re not going to start.
On the other hand, here’s Karzai:
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday condemned an American-made film that mocks Islam, galvanizing fears among Westerners that the Afghan leader’s denunciation could be read as a go-ahead to stage violent protests. The presidential palace said in a statement that Karzai “strongly and resolutely denounces this desecrating act” and expressed “abhorrence in the face of such an insult.”
… A condemnation from Karzai was thought to have inflamed passions in the spring of 2010, after Jones and his followers staged a Koran-burning. Nearly two weeks elapsed without any reaction in Afghanistan, until Karzai issued a call for Jones’ arrest and prosecution. The next day, April 1, a furious mob descended on the U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven foreign U.N. workers.
Karzai’s public stance toward the NATO force and his U.S. patrons has been somewhat hostile of late. He issued a strident statement accusing the United States of disregarding Afghan sovereignty after American authorities retained some Taliban and other insurgent suspects when handing the country’s main military detention facility over to Afghan control. And the Afghan leader commemorated Tuesday’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by criticizing the West’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan.
And in so doing Karzai insults those who serve and have served in (and, in no small way, for) his country, and desecrates the memory of those who have been killed while doing so.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in Religion
Back at the time of the Mohammed cartoon troubles, an article published in the embattled Jyllands-Posten included this phrase: “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
The appalling attacks in Benghazi and Cairo only underline the importance of repeating that point again and again and again.
Over at Reason, Matt Welch explains:
My government has no business giving a whirl about “hurt[ing] the religious beliefs of others” (a standard both elastic and asymmetrical, virtually begging for a heckler’s veto) . . . The fact is that the First Amendment, no matter how embattled, protects a range of expression unthinkable even in Western Europe. Because of that unique position, and because the U.S. seems doomed to play an outsized diplomatic and military role in the tumultuous Muslim world, it behooves the State Department to constantly explain the vast differences between state-sanctioned and legally protected speech in the so-called Land of the Free. If the U.S. government really was in the business of “firmly reject[ing]” private free-speech acts that “hurt the religious beliefs of others” there would be no time left over for doing anything else.
It’s really not that hard. The values in that film (or “film”) are not our values; our government respects religion, religious expression, and religious pluralism (including and especially that of Muslims, even in the wake of murderous Muslim-led attacks on American soil); and we are not in the business of approving or (for the most part) regulating the private speech of our citizens. To the extent that that message is not sufficient for rioters, the problem is theirs.
Some liberal Tweeters this morning are pointing out that, hey, the Bush administration condemned the Mohammed cartoons, too!, but this mostly goes to illustrate how bipartisan cravenness can be. We know that this issue will keep coming up; maybe it’s about time the American government, and the rest of us, develop a more American response.
Bamiyan, Timbuktu, and now Tripoli.
Attackers in Libya have bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the centre of Tripoli, a day after Sufi shrines in the city of Zlitan were wrecked and a mosque library was burned. The demolition of the large Sha’ab mosque happened in broad daylight on Saturday, drawing condemnation from government officials and Libyans across the country and abroad.
…A man who appeared to be overseeing the demolition told Reuters the interior ministry had authorised the operation after discovering people had been worshipping the graves and practicing “black magic”. The ministry was not available for comment . . .
In Zlitan, witnesses said that an armed group, claiming to be Salafis, carried out the assault on the Sufi shrine, the tomb of Abdel Salam al-Asmar, a 15th-century Muslim scholar…The attackers also set fire to a historic library, reducing years of academic and religious writing to ash. While the official line from the government is condemnation, there are reports security forces stood by and just let this destruction go ahead.
One of Libya’s highest-profile cultural clashes since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi has been between followers of the mystical Sufi tradition and ultra-conservative Salafis, who say Islam should return to the simple ways followed by its prophet.
Salafis have formed a number of armed brigades in Libya. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi devotions – which include dancing and the building of shrines to venerated figures…
What seems so striking to me, though, from the perspective of being in Paris and London, is the default belief among so many in the U.S. that America needs to “be a leader” on this. I think that over time, whatever our tactical decision with respect to this particular crisis, we need very much not to be a leader in this sense. We can’t afford it.
On a more prosaic note, it seems to me that:
1) If the USA and the West did not act they would be damned
2) As the USA and the West did act, they will be damned
The Arab League’s equivocation on the matter shows that the rest of the world, and the Arab world and Africa, are operating to generate the best “optics” for their position. Support air strikes, but criticize their implementation.
All I can do at this point is sigh. Will nothing but explicit national bankruptcy check our hubris?