Courtesy of Juan Cole.
Posted on 09/21/2012 by Juan
As the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior announced that no demonstrations would be permitted on Friday, the Muslim leader Rached Ghanoushi warned of the dangers of violent fundamentalism. The Tunisian government invoked emergency powers on learning of plans for violent disruptions on Friday, in response to anti-Islam caricatures published in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Ghanoushi, the leader of the ruling al-Nahda Party and a long-time proponent of political Islam in Tunisia, has come out strongly against the small but violent “Salafi Jihadi” movement in an interview with Agence France Presse. He said that these violent extremists posed a threat both to his own al-Nahda Party and also to general liberties in the country, and said that such disruptive groups need to be dealt with decisively.
The Salafis, or hard line ultra-fundamentalists, in Tunisia, unlike those in Egypt, did not gain seats in parliament, and they are mainly known for a series of small but provocative public acts of violence and disruption, including throwing stones outside movie theaters, rioting outside art exhibits, harassing unveiled women, attacking tourist hotels for selling alcohol, and, last Saturday, attacking the American school and setting a fire on the grounds of the US Embassy in Tunis. The hard core of activists sometimes gets support in a few working class districts of the capital and some small rural towns, but it is far out of the mainstream of the country.
Many Tunisians are secularists, and there is a strong tradition of moderate Sunni Muslim reformism. Ghanouchi himself told me in an interview in May that his al-Nahda had unreservedly embraced democracy and the principle of popular sovereignty.
Other Tunisians when I was there viewed al-Nahda with suspicion and felt as though it was using the Salafis or at least not interfering with them, as a way of shifting the country toward the religious Right. Educated women often expressed fear of the Salafis taking away their rights.
The al-Nahda government is being criticized for not having arrested Salafi extremist Seif Allah Ibn Hussein, known as Abu Iyadh.
Ghanoushi has in the past condemned actions of the Salafis but at the same time complained of ‘provocations’ by secularists. In this interview, he appears to have made no excuses for them and to have condemned them roundly (though the Arabic version of the AFP interview condemns ‘Salafi Jihadis,’ not all Salafis).
I take it he has begun to worry, as I suggested last weekend, that al-Nahda itself may become associated in the public mind with the extremism and violence of the Salafis, and so could suffer in the parliamentary elections now scheduled for late spring, 2013. The proponents of political Islam in both Tunisia and Egypt face the problem that if they crack down on the extremist Salafis, they look like lackeys of imperialism defending attacks on the Prophet Muhammad. They could thus injure their standing with their own base. On the other hand, if they don’t dissociate themselves from and prove the can curb the disruptions of the Salafis, they could lose the general public in a future election.
Secular-minded Tunisians will be watching al-Nahda carefully to see if it follows through on its commitment to public order and to curbing the Salafi Jihadis.
The US State Department took revenge on the al-Nahda government for its failure to prevent Saturday’s attack on the American embassy by issuing a travel warning for Tunisia, discouraging Americans from going there. This step was a blow to Tunisian tourism and prospects of attracting foreign investment. Ghanoushi told me that the al-Nahda government had good relations with the US and was pleased with the support in Washington for Tunisian democracy. He couldn’t say so publicly, but some of his forthrightness in his AFP interview may have been an attempt to reassure Western powers about the new Tunisia.
Throughout the day today, pictures of young and not-so-young Americans showing their support for Islam in their own simple way in their own words popped up on the web. This movement of support has gone viral. 1000s of Facebook pages, blogs, tweets, and YouTube videos have been posted. It is truly sui generis and truly impressive movement.
Take a look, here are a few samples…you can find 1000s more on the web…
Sur la réaction des musulmans aux films/caricatures anti-Islam & l’industrie de l’indignation factice
The Industry of fake-outrage
Be advised, this is not an analysis. This is a rant. I will write an analysis in the upcoming days.
Enough is enough. That’s my reaction to this stupidity displayed by Muslims throughout the Muslim world. Every time there is a stupid cartoon or an asinine amateurish movie published in the West, the whole Muslim world plunges into a collective psychotic hysteria. People running around, foaming at the mouth, burning buildings, burning flags, burning effigies, killing people, suicidal attacks, two-bit fatwas flying left and right condemning people to death, and breaching embassies. For your information, embassies are sovereign territories by international law, and their breach, technically, constitutes an act of war.
The industry of fake outrage in the Middle East and North Africa has become the most productive and lucrative industry. The Muslim world produces nothing, but fake outrage. If Muslims really cared about the welfare of Islam and cared about the welfare of other Muslims, they should pay more attention to the abysmally catastrophic situation in their own countries; they should pay more attention to their bankrupted economies, to their medieval educational systems, to their diseased public health systems, to their crumbling infrastructures, and pay less attention to stupid amateurs in the West whose only aim is to foment troubles and excite the already hyper-excited Muslims.
If Muslims really cared about the welfare of Islam and other Muslims, they should have stood tall and denounced the horrendous murders committed by Al-Qaeda in the name of Islam in Muslims countries; they should have stood tall and denounced the killings by the 1000s committed by Muslims on Muslims in Algeria, in Egypt, in Sudan, in Iraq, in Bahrain, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in other places. Or is it okay for radical crazed Muslims to kill other Muslims? Are we so scared of the thugs of Al-Qaeda that we dare not criticize them, and we dare not oppose them? Where were these fake-outraged Muslims when babies were slaughtered, young girls were kidnapped and gang-raped, pregnant women were opened up and their fetuses ripped out of their bellies? Where was this outrage when Muslims killed Muslims by the 1000s in Afghanistan? I bet they looked away.
All this killing–the killing of a U.S. ambassador and 3 foreign service officers is an act of war if i may add–and all these millions of dollars wasted in this faux-outrage is the result of a movie (and other domestic struggles that i will analyze in my next post) that nobody saw and nobody heard of. It is the work of a twisted radical and former felon who is apparently a Coptic Christian with an ax to grind. This idiot named Nakoula Bassely Nakoula successfully manipulated millions of Muslims to engage in a total breach of international law and commit murder in cold blood. Yes, Al-Qaeda is involved in Libya, and the ambassador’s killing is most likely the work of Al-Qaeda splinter group. However, without the brouhaha caused by these idiot imams calling for Jihab because some idiot in Los Angeles said something bad about the Prophet Mohamed (saaws), this Al-Qaeda splinter group would not have had the opportunity to do what it did.
More importantly, and let me ask my fellow Muslims directly here: are we that insecure in and about our faith and belief? Are we this insecure about our religion? Are we? Is the divine status of the Prophet or the Koran in danger because a two-bit idiot said something bad about him or burned a couple of Korans in defiance? Is the reputation of our religion this fragile and our faith this friable that when a thug does something we start shaking in our boots, and we start doubting our belief and our principles? If you feel this way, let me tell you, you should not be part of the Islamic faith. I grant you the authorization to leave the Islamic faith because you are not Muslims, and you bring shame to my religion.
Juan Cole posted on his blog an excellent analysis of the movie that caused such an uproar in Libya, Egypt, and Muslim countries. He investigated in details (and with links) the origin of the movie, who shot it, who funded it, and for what purpose. As we already know, the U.S. government is in no way or shape linked to the production and/or promotion of this movie. Moreover, the U.S. government, federal and/or state, cannot shut down or ban this movie because it has no constitutional basis for doing so. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the first amendment protects your right to be a jackass.
So without further do, i let you read Juan Cole’s article.
The late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury authored a short story about time travelers. They were careful, when they went back to the Jurassic, not to change anything, but one of them stepped on a butterfly. When they got back to the present, the world was slightly different.
When scientists studying complexity put forward the idea that small initial events could have large effects in non-linear, dynamic systems like the weather, they chose the term ‘butterfly effect.” One of the images students of weather instanced was that a butterfly flapping its wings might set off minor turbulence that ultimately turned into a hurricane. (In the older model of Newtonian physics, small events have small effects and large events have large effects, so you wouldn’t expect a minor action to produce big changes).
So the Associated Press did a careful investigation of the ‘Sam Bacile’ who supposedly directed the hate film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims.’ And AP found that probably he does not exist, but is a persona used by a convicted Coptic Egyptian fraudster, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.
But the story gets more complex. Nakoula had Coptic and evangelical associates in the shooting of the film, including Steve Klein, a former Marine and current extremist Christian who has helped train militiamen in California churches and has led “protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.” My guess is that most of the Egyptian Copts involved are converts to American-style fundamentalism.
The Egyptian Coptic church has roundly condemned the hateful film they made smearing the Prophet Muhammad.
Anyway, the bigotry of the edited film, directed at Muslims, is part of a movement of religious prejudice that also targets . . . Mormons.
Mitt Romney may want to rethink his ‘visceral’ reaction to the US embassy in Cairo’s tweet condemning the group’s hate speech.
Then it turns out that the film was shot in such a way that there was originally no mention of the Prophet Muhammad in the script, and the cast had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and then the name of Muhammad was clumsily dubbed into the final edit.
So, the film was from the beginning a fraud. It was directed by a fraud. It was promoted by a militia trainer. And Nakoula marketed it fraudulently as the work of a fictitious Israeli-American Jewish real estate agent, ‘Sam Bacile,’ and falsely said it had been funded by “a hundred Jewish donors.”
The group behind the film, in other words, managed to evoke all the classic themes of anti-Semitism as a way of disguising the Coptic and evangelical network out of which the ‘film’ came. When they weren’t busy picketing Mormons and defaming Muslims they were trying to get Jews killed for their own smears of Islam!
Of course, given the strident hatred of Muslims promoted by a handful of Jewish American extremists such as Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and others, in which they gleefully join with white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, it was only a matter of time before their partners in hate turned on them and used them.
The bad, dubbed ‘film’ only had one theater showing in some dowdy place in LA. Then in July the group had the trailer for it dubbed into Arabic with subtitles as well, and put it on Youtube, where it was found by strident Egyptian Muslim fundamentalist Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, who had it shown on al-Nas television and caused the sensation that led to Tuesday’s demonstrations in Cairo and Benghazi. As I argued yesterday, the vigilante extremists or ‘jihadis’ have been left on the garbage pile of history by the democratic elections in Egypt and Libya, and are whipping up the issue of this film in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.
Aware of the building sensation about the film, an employee of the US embassy in Cairo condemned it as hate speech before the rally began outside its premises.
In other words, this is a non-film and a non-story, a fraud, promoted by the worst people in each culture.
In Cairo, the rally allegedly got out of hand because the Ultras or soccer ruffians joined in, and they were probably the ones who tore down the American flag and ran up a black Muslim-fundamentalist one. Ultras are not fundamentalists but they are mischievous and resent authority, so a superpower that backs the army and police they hate might be a target of their wrath. There may have also been a handful of al-Qaeda supporters there, not surprising on the anniversary of September 11. The crowd at the American embassy was tiny by Egyptian protest standards.
In Benghazi, Hadeel Al Shalchi got the story. She talked to Libyan special forces members who explained that there were three stages to the events there. First, there was a demonstration. Then when the police and consulate guards tried to curb it, the demonstrators got angry and some of them went for guns and a rocket propelled grenade, so that the consulate was set on fire and looted. It was at that second stage that US ambassador Chris Stevens and another diplomat were killed (Stevens inhaled too much smoke in the fire and the other man was shot). Stevens’ death is a great tragedy and irony, since he was liaison to the transitional national council during the Libyan revolution and many Libyans lionize him. Why in the world he was in an insecure minor consulate in a provincial city on September 11 is a mystery to me.
Then 37 embassy personnel escaped to a rural safe house. The Libyan special forces commander charged with evacuating them to Tripoli at first was stymied by not having enough vehicles for so many people. Then the safe house came under fairly precise mortar fire from members of an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Benghazi, which must have been surveilling consular personnel. Finally, the Libyan government forces got the Americans to the airport and they flew back to the capital of Tripoli.
It should be remembered that Libyan forces fought and risked their lives to protect Americans. In opinion polling in Eastern Libya, the United States has a 60% favorability rating, while the Salafis or hard line Muslims stand at only 28% favorable.
It was while all that was going on in Cairo and Benghazi that Mitt Romney took it into his head to condemn Barack Obama for the tweet issued by the Cairo embassy before the demonstration. He alleged that Obama had *reacted* to the embassy attacks by showing some sympathy for the attackers. This allegation is untrue and absurd, but Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan went on repeating it all day Wednesday.
Romney was caught on camera walking away from that shameful performance with a shark-like grin on his face. Since he was talking about matters of life and death, the expression was inappropriate. But a darker theory is that he was grinning about having stuck it to Obama.
Romney’s politicization of September 11 and of the horrible events in Benghazi was poorly received among opinion leaders, including prominent Republicans, and some observers suggest that this miscalculation may have been a decisive nail in the coffin of his sputtering campaign.
Meanwhile, the Libyan government apologized for and vehemently condemned the attack on the consulate and the killing of its personnel. And, on Wednesday Libyans staged pro-American demonstrations in several cities.
In Egypt, in contrast, small demonstrations were held again in front of the US embassy, until police pushed the activists back. When, on Thursday morning, protesters set two cars afire with Molotov cocktails, police arrested 12 of them. The police have the embassy surrounded and have closed the roads leading to it in Garden City.
Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, fell short of strongly condemning the Cairo and Benghazi attacks. Late on Wednesday the Muslim Brotherhood finally retweeted comments of one of its other leaders, Khairat al-Shater, in condemnation of the attacks. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood is sponsoring rallies protesting the film on Friday, a ‘day of rage.’ Morsi is no doubt worried that religious and political currents to his right will outflank him on the issue of the blasphemous film and its American provenance. But Morsi has a Ph.D. from the US and surely knows that the US government cannot suppress films, and it is shameful that he did not condemn forthrightly the killing of Ambassador Stevens and the others.
In Tunisia, Salafis rallied on Wednesday in front of the US embassy, but were fairly quickly dispersed by police deploying tear gas. Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki denounced the killing of Stevens and the others as an “act of terrorism.”
So the Butterfly Effect set off by a low-budget bad propaganda film gotten up by two-bit frauds and Christian supremacists, and then promoted by two-bit Egyptian and Libyan fundamentalists, has provoked some squalls and cost the lives of four good men.
The storm provoked by this butterfly has revealed character on an international scale. The steely determination of an Obama to achieve justice, the embarrassing grandstanding of a Romney, the destructive hatred of a handful of extremists in Cairo and Benghazi, and the decency and warmth toward the US of the Libyan crowds, all were thrown into stark relief by the beating of the butterfly’s wings.
In the end, the violence and extremism of the hardliners on both sides is a phantasm of the past, not a harbinger of the future. The wave of democratic politics sweeping the region has left the haters behind, reducing them to desperate and senseless acts of violence that will gain them no good will, no popularity, no political credibility.
A little-noted major event of Wednesday was the democratic selection of a new prime minister in Libya for the first time in the country’s history. Mustafa Abushagur defeated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate handily. Abushagur for a long time taught college in the US, at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Libyans again showed themselves nationalist and non-fundamentalist. This remarkable achievement, and what it portends for the shape of Libyan politics, will be drowned out by the atrocity in Benghazi, but it is the development that is likely to be marked by future historians as a turning point in Libya and in the Middle East.
Courtesyof Juan Cole
Posted on 07/08/2012 by Juan
Most Western reporting on Libya is colored by what is in my view a combination of extreme pessimism and sensationalism. It has been suggested that because most reporters don’t stay there for that long, many don’t have a sense of proportion. It is frustrating to have faction-fighting in distant Kufra in the far south color our image of the whole country. Tripoli, a major city of over 2.2 million (think Houston), is not like little distant Kufra, population 60,000 (think Broken Arrow, OK)!
In the run-up to the elections held on Saturday, a lot of the headlines read ‘Libya votes, on the brink’ or had ‘Chaos’ in the title. But actually, as the Libya Herald reports, the election went very, very well (which did not surprise me after my visit to three major cities there in May-June). The NYT post-election headline of ‘Libyans risk violence to vote’ is frankly ridiculous; in most of the country that simply was not true, though it was true in parts of Benghazi. Even then, how many people died in violence in this election? I count two, but in any case it is a small number. In Tripoli, the election was described as a big family wedding, with lots of loud celebration and tears of joy. Here are the top ten surprises of the election for Libya watchers:
1. Turnout was about 60%, with 1.6 million casting their ballots. This high turnout is especially impressive given how confusing the election procedures were, with 3,000 candidates and only 80 seats out of 200 set aside for political parties (most newly formed and not well known).
2. There was relatively little election violence, certainly compared to South Asia, where election day often entails dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths. The Libya Herald piece quotes the High Electoral Commission as saying, “…of 1,554 polling centres across the country, 24 were unable to operate, including two in Kufra, six in Sidra and eight in Benghazi.”
3. The remnants of Qaddafi supporters made no trouble, and many went to vote enthusiastically. One of the many wrong predictions made last year by opponents of the revolution was that after it was over, there would be an Iraq-style pro-Qaddafi resistance. It turns out that Qaddafi wasn’t actually popular, and now that he is gone no one is interested in making trouble in his name.
4. One of the last cities to fall to the revolutionaries was Bani Walid, and it was alleged for a long time after the revolution to be in the hands of Qaddafi loyalists. This allegation was always a vast exaggeration. There were only a few militiamen there, who made demonstrations downtown. In fact, if anything, it was the revolutionary militias that controlled a city that somewhat resented them because of their high-handedness. Luke Harding of The Guardian, who bothered actually to go to Bani Walid, found people there as excited about the elections as elsewhere, and eager to combat their city’s reputation as a refuge of former regime loyalists. 46,000 had registered to vote, out of 85,000 inhabitants– i.e. most of those eligible to vote must have registered.
5. The formerly upscale city of Sirte, which had been seen by the revolutionaries as favored by Qaddafi, and near which he made his last stand, decided not to boycott the vote after all, according both to Agence France Press and to the following:
Rena Netjes @RenaNetjes
Corresp alHurraTV in #Sirte: “Turnout 70%, women 35-40%. Ppl very very happy to be able to vote for the 1st time” #Lyelect.
There are genuine resentments toward Sirte on the part of the revolutionary cities, and locals complain about discrimination of various sorts. They clearly feel that being well represented in the new parliament is a way of gaining a voice and being reintegrated into the new Libya. It was places like Bani Walid and Sirte from which trouble on election day had been expected, and it did not happen.
6. The Muslim fundamentalist parties that were expected to dominate the new parliament may not do so. First of all, only 80 of the 200 seats are allocated to parties, and the liberal party of former head of Qaddafi’s National Economic Development Board, Mahmoud Jibril, is said to be doing well in early returns and exit polls. Because of the large number of independents and uncertainty with whom they will caucus, predictions about the shape of the government are premature. The West is more secular than the east or the south. In Libya, the remnants of the old regime are called ‘seaweed’ or ‘algae’ (tahallub), i.e. the flotsam left behind when the tide recedes. As in Tunisia and Egypt, there has been a lot of debate around what to do with them. They often have a lot of money, and are regrouping to succeed in the new system. Since a lot of prominent Libyan technocrats had been lured back to the country in the past decade, with Qaddafi’s and his son Saif al-Islam’s attempt to open to the West, leaders like Mahmoud Jibril (al-Warfalli) are considered by some to be leftovers, while others see him as someone who went over to the revolution and served as its first transitional prime minister.
7. Despite the faction-fighting that has plagued some desert cities, such as Zintan and Kufra, in southwest Tripolitania and the Fezzan region of Libya, respectively– its third traditional region after Tripolitania and Cyrenaica– went to the polls quietly and peaceably for the most part. Two of the polling stations in feud-ridden Kufra could not open because of tension. Here’s what my Jabal Nafusa and Fezzan twitter feed looked like:
“Women crowds in Zintan for voting …
9:16 AM – 7 Jul 12 via Twitter for iPhone ·
22h Libya.elHurra Libya.elHurra @FreeBenghazi
July7: Election observers at a Zintan polling station. Reports of good turnout from women but no pics yet #Libya
20h AC Tripolis AC Tripolis @david_bachmann_
Very big crowd in front of voting room for people from #Ghadames – quite noisy, but relaxed #LyElect #gheryan #Libya”
8. A big surprise is that what little election day trouble there was came from the East, from the center of the revolution. Thus, small crowds or small militia contingents attacked or tried to attack polling stations in Ajdabiya, Sidra, Ras Lanouf and Benghazi itself. But aside from a few stations in Sidra and 8 in Benghazi, all of them reopened and some stayed open till midnight to make up for having been closed in the morning. In one incident in Benghazi, pro-election crowds actually drove off a group of states’ rights protesters who want decentralization.
9. Women registered to vote, ran for office, and went to the polling stations in surprisingly high numbers. In some small cities, eyewitnesses thought the women’s lines were much longer than those of the men.
10. Among this generation of Libyans, democracy is really, really popular.
Dr. Cole was in Libya. So, I am tempted to use the cliché and say that he went, he saw, and he is recounting what he witnessed. So, without further ado, here is a good analysis from Dr. Cole from Libya
Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole.
Posted on 06/05/2012 by Juan
I spent May 27 through June 3 in Libya, and flew out of Tripoli airport to Cairo a day before a small Tarhouna militia came there to demonstrate against the disappearance of its leader. Despite that close call, I came back optimistic about Libya over-all. The Tarhouna demonstration was dealt with efficiently by the new Libyan army, which took control of the airport weeks ago, and there is every reason to believe that it will reopen shortly. When I flew in and out of the Tripoli airport, there were no militiamen there, just regular army and police (who have distinctive red-marked vehicles). There are also now regular flights from Cairo, e.g., to provincial cities like Misrata.
There is a kind of black legend about Libya, that it has become a failed state and is a mess, that there are armed militiamen everywhere, that everybody is a secessionist, that the transitional government is not doing anything, that people of subsaharan African heritage are bothered in the streets, etc., etc. The black legend is promoted in part by remnants of the Qaddafi regime and his admirers in the West, in part by overly anxious middle class Libyans navigating an admittedly difficult transition, in part by media editors looking for a dramatic story.
Henry Kissinger, in his recent op-ed against intervention in Syria, listed the erasure of the Libyan state as an argument against such interventions. I read the allegation with disbelief. Libya is not like Somalia! It isn’t even like Yemen. (The Libyans I talked to about Yemen sympathized with the country’s problems but were astonished to hear that some Western observers looked a their situations as similar!)
So imagine my surprise on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children’s carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 pm, that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.
As someone who has lived in conflict situations, I take as a very serious gauge of security whether shops are open and how late they stay open. Jewelry shops in particular are easily looted, and the loot is light and easy to fence. But in Tripoli there was loads of gold in rows of jewelry shops, along with clothing stores newly stocked with Italian fashions. Shopkeepers I interviewed were fully stocked, confident and glad to finally be rid of Qaddafi’s erratic governance, under which they were never sure if they would make a profit because policies changed frequently.
I caught a little celebration by recently graduated Libyan police at Martyr’s Square in Tripoli last week:
And here is a little set of carnival rides near Martyr’s Square in the capital:
Children’s Rides in Tripoli, Libya, June 2012
Shopping in Tripoli
Life is pretty normal. I talked to a Libyan of African heritage who had worked in Germany 14 years and recently had returned. He said he is *much* happier in Libya, even though he is working two jobs (one of them teaching Arabic). A friend of mine is organizing a music festival in the capital. People are gearing up for the election of the National Congress, which will draft a new constitution and gradually create a new government.
Cities unhappy with the foot-dragging of the transitional national government have simply staged their own municipal elections. Benghazi just held its successfully, and Misrata did this months ago. I met the husband of a newly-minted female city council member in Benghazi; she was the number one vote-getter among the candidates that ran, and may chair the council. The municipal governments have the legitimacy of the ballot box and are beginning to address local problems.
Campaigning in Benghazi, May 2012
So if you aren’t in danger of being mugged at night in Tripoli or Benghazi, are there other problems? Sure, loads of them. While I was there the dock workers went on strike at Tripoli to complain about the poor management of the port. Then, in an oil state, money flows to municipalities rather than cities raising money through taxes, and the transitional government still isn’t very good about remitting the money. There is a human rights situation that needs to be addressed in the small town of Tawergha, the militias of which committed war crimes on behalf of Gaddafi; Tawergha has been cleared of its inhabitants, and they need to be allowed to return to their homes. And while security on the whole is fine for individuals in the big northern cities, it probably is still not entirely satisfactory for new investors bringing in expensive equipment to places like Benghazi (though BP has decided to get back into Libya). You have occasional moments of militia protest like the one yesterday at the airport in Tripoli.
But I was struck at the air of normality everywhere I went, and by the obvious comfort people had in circulating, selling and going about their lives. There are no bombings, there is no civil war, there is no serious secessionism. One man told me that the biggest change is that people are no longer afraid. They had been captive of the revolutionary committees and the secret police. And that end of political fear, the Libyans I talked to insisted, made the uncertainties of this transitional period all worthwhile.
I went to Libya expecting to find people nervous about going out, expecting to find a lot of shops shuttered, and expecting to be stopped at militia checkpoints (which was common in Beirut in the late 1970s when I lived there in the first years of the Civil War). Maybe such things exist in smaller provincial cities that I didn’t visit, like Gadames in the South. I don’t know. In the urban north, I found a society actively reconstructing itself where people clearly were going about their ordinary lives, where stores were open and people were sitting in sidewalk cafes, where there were no militiamen on the streets, no checkpoints, and where there were actually traffic cops directing traffic.
So while I wouldn’t want to minimize what difficulties remain, and while I am aware that a week on the ground won’t reveal all the society’s problems, I can say with certainty that the image found in the Western press of the place is far more negative than what I saw with my own eyes and what I heard from locals in Arabic-language conversations.
And I can say categorically that Henry Kissinger is wrong about Libya.