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After Jihad

In Sabratha, a former prisoner reflects.

12:30 PM, Sep 19, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
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Youssef is no stereotype. He’s quick to tell me that his wife drives the family car, and the couple has Internet at home. Fauzia, who is confident and personable, tells me that she talks to her family on Skype regularly, but misses them terribly; she hopes to be able to visit them soon. And Youssef seems to bear little rancor from his years in jail. The new Libyan government, he thinks, may compensate him and other prisoners for their lost years. He intends to finish his long-interrupted degree in public health and perhaps go into business. 

Youssef seems immersed in his family and I would be very surprised if he went anywhere to fight in the future. But the question still arises, what effect will the returned jihadists have on the new Libya? The official TNC take seems to be inclusivity at almost any cost. I wrote to Mustafa Sagezly, deputy interior minister and deputy commander of the 17th of February Brigade, about al Madhoury and Tripoli commander Belhaj. I ask: Wouldn’t it be better to steer clear of men with such antecedents? The American-educated computer entrepreneur replied,

Libya is for all Libyans.
Having a beautiful rainbow of views is what we want, we are sick of the 1 color, 1 man show!
Let the Libyan people choose!
I know that people will choose moderates.
Don’t worry we will be fine.
Dialogue is better than steering clear of ...

To an American, this sounds dangerously naïve. This is a common viewpoint in Libya, a face-to-face society that considers itself more like one big family than like a pluralistic nation. Libya is small and an individual’s hometown can be pinpointed by his last name. A wayward son is always given the benefit of the doubt. The U.S. can only hope that Sagezli’s optimism is well founded, that Libyan social cohesion trumps ideology—and try to use its influence to promote Libya’s moderates. 

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