Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Martyr for Democracy

For some time before September 11, tension had been simmering between various factions in post-revolution Libya. The weak transitional government has abdicated responsibility for security to armed militias, many of them Islamist.  One of those Islamist militias, Ansar al-Sharia, is widely held to be responsible for the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Chris Stevens was held in high esteem by Libya's revolutionaries, whose cause he supported last year. His death outraged many Libyans and may have inspired the populist demonstration against the militias that took place in Benghazi on Friday.

There were counter-demonstrators, but they were far outnumbered. The clashes killed at least 11 people and wounded 70. A day later, the Libyan government banned all militias and armed groups that are not under government authority and are working to cobble together a national security force.

There is no way to know what Libya will look like in a year. It may be taken over by Islamist militias in the end.  Or, it may install a secular democracy on the Turkish model.  There are no strong leaders, no Libyan Kemal Attaturk, but this weekend has shown that not all Muslims are anti-American, not all Muslims want to live in an Islamic theocracy, and many Muslims are willing to stand up and fight against the extremists in their midst.

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