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If these reports about the LIFG are accurate, then the U.S. endorsement and financing of the NATO operation to oust a defanged Gaddafi, who presented no immediate threat to us, without any idea of who would take his place, is as shortsighted as the abandonment of another unsavory but geopolitically stabilizing figure, Egypt’s Mubarak. This lack of prudence, moreover, is still being camouflaged by the usual question-begging rhetoric about the “march of freedom” and democracy’s irresistible spread, with all the liberalizing boons assumed to follow the removal of an autocratic thug and the establishment of democratic machinery absent the liberal values that such machinery is supposed to serve. We forget that those values in the West are the fruit of 25 centuries of difficult, doubtful development from the legacies of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. We simply keep repeating the mantra that the “love of freedom” exists in everyone, a half-truth that ignores the fact that many other desires inhabit the human breast, such as the desire to serve and obey God, and that these can conflict with the love of freedom, and often take precedence over it. And how do we know that the “freedom” demanded in the Middle East is the freedom we believe in? What if it means the “freedom” to be a good Muslim living under Shari’a law, as we are told by both the NTC’s draft constitution, and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, whose Article 24 reads, “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah”?
This is not to say that Muslims are incapable of liberal democracy, which is usually how reservations like those above are mischaracterized. It just means that for liberal democracy to develop in the Muslim Middle East, it will take much more than merely removing autocrats and holding elections. It will take a critical mass of Muslims themselves figuring out how to reconcile traditional Islam and Shari’a law with notions like universal human rights, tolerance for minorities, separation of church and state, and all the other bedrock principles of liberal democracy. Based on our own experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, the possibility of this sort of reconciliation seems remote. Despite our decade-long efforts in those countries, complete with billions in aid and the presence of thousands of our troops, the jury is still out whether genuine, lasting democracies will take hold there.
Seductive, unreflective idealism is no basis for a foreign policy. National interest and security are. In Libya, the alleged interest is merely the illusion that Middle Eastern “democracy” will trump the traditional theology of Islamic jihad that drives the jihadists, ultimately marginalizing them and removing them as a threat. In the process, we may be empowering and arming that same enemy, as seems increasingly to be the case in Egypt.
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