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Why Did Libya Vote Against the Muslim Brotherhood?

7:17 AM, Jul 10, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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As for Islamic fundamentalism in Libya today, the presence of Abdelhakim Belhadj, past head of the al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, as a leader of the Libyan anti-Qaddafi combatants, justifiably provoked concern among foreign commentators. But given the low number of Libyans favoring Belhadj’s Al-Watan party, those concerns may have been overblown.

In fact, the historical and religious antecedents of the anti-Qaddafi campaign could not be more distant from the radicalism of al Qaeda. The authoritative scholars of Islam Frederick de Jong and Berndt Radtke, editors of the massive 1999 volume Islamic Mysticism Contested, on Sufism and its opponents in Islam, wrote that the Senussi Sufis who ruled over eastern Libya did not persecute “those who were not in agreement with Sufism as adhered to and practiced by those in power.” According to Libya: A Country Study, published by the U.S. Government in 1987, as the founder of the Senussi order, Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Ali As-Senussi “did not tolerate fanaticism.”

In addition, Libya's recent history has been unlike that of Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt in that it was ruled by a deranged form of Islamist ideology. Crafted by Qaddafi and embodied in his World Islamic Call Society (Jamiat al Da’wa al Islamiya) it was expressed in his 1975 Green Book, which offered a theory of Islamic socialism, and intended as compulsory reading for all Libyans. The outcomes in Tunisia and Egypt may have reflected the absence of political experience with radical Islam in power, and a belief on the part of the populace that the Islamists were “clean” when compared with the corrupt minions of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in Tunis and Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

In Tripoli, however, things were different. Qaddafi’s corruption was presented under an Islamic guise. It seems unlikely that reform-minded citizens who have endured Islamist rule in countries like Libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia will rebel against strict Islamist governance in favor of a more repressive form of the same perverse precepts. That may be the most important result of the Libyan election.

The New York Times on July 8 quoted a Libyan who said of the MB Justice and Construction party, “Do they think they are more Muslim than we are?” That simple question reveals the deepest flaw in Islamist ideology. Classical Islamic faith is based on belief and intentions, not on the external practices mandated by radical Islamists, including weird beards and garments, face veils and full body covering for women, loud and obstreperous agitation, and gratuitous denunciations of “unbelievers” or secularism. Such bombast was considered by conventional Muslims as inappropriate if not hypocrisy—the ultimate sin in Islam—and was countered by Sufi humility. That is a lesson the Libyans seem not to have forgotten.

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