No, really, this time will be different. When and how, pray tell, did he have his awakening to the values of a modern civil society? He promises Libya will shun “extremism,” but that is a uselessly relative term among the many platitudes the rebels have spouted off to reassure their Western backers about freedom, rights, liberty, and justice.
They are hiding behind generalities, in hopes that Western audiences will project their own understanding of those terms onto the rebels’ use of them, but it is Sharia that will determine the specifics. The draft constitution has already made that clear.
And the West is left to cross its fingers and hope that this cast of characters can make a U-turn from the tactics that brought them to power and pull a liberal democracy out of their hats. “Libya rebel commander plays down Islamist past,” by Hadeel al-Shalchi for the Associated Press, September 2:
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) “” The rebels’ Tripoli military commander, a former leader of an Islamic militant group that sent fighters to Iraq and Afghanistan, insisted Friday that the new Libya will shun extremism and won’t become a breeding ground for terrorism.
The commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, said he was detained in 2004 in Malaysia and sent to a secret prison in Thailand where he claimed he was tortured by CIA agents. Then he was sent to Libya and jailed for seven years by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
But Belhaj, 45, played down his Islamist past, seeking to allay concerns about his emergence as a prominent figure in the Western-backed Libyan opposition movement.
He said he had been blindfolded, hung from the wall and beaten on his back in Thailand but insisted he holds no grudges against the West because of the shared goal of ousting Gadhafi.
“Revenge doesn’t motivate me personally,” he told The Associated Press in an interview at his headquarters at the sprawling military airport in central Tripoli.
Belhaj was a leader in the now dissolved Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was deemed a terror group by the U.S. But he said he refused to join Al-Qaida because he disagreed with its ideology of global jihad, or holy war, and wanted to focus on ridding Libya of Gadhafi.
He lauded the West for supporting the rebels, saying that “the U.N. Security Council and the whole world stood by us in the cause and have helped us to get rid of Gadhafi.”
Gadhafi, in courting the West in recent years, has insisted al-Qaida would gain influence in Libya unless he remained in power.
Belhaj dismissed those concerns.
“We never have and never will support what they call terrorism,” he said.
“Libya is a moderate Muslim country,” he said. “We call and hope for a civil country that is ruled by the law, which we were not allowed to enjoy under Gadhafi. The religious identity of the country will be left up to the people to choose.”
He knows he’s going to get an Islamic republic. Even if the draft constitution stops short of using those two words together, its legislation is based on Sharia, and the document itself begins with the Bismillah. Then, what about individual religious identity? Can a Libyan leave Islam? Can a Christian propagate the Gospel or build a new church? Can a Muslim eat in daytime during Ramadan? All of these remain to be seen.