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(Part I of II)

Those who have been observing the Libyan scene for the past several years have not had much cause for celebration. Of late, however, certain aspects of life in Libya seem to have turned to worse, particularly the increasingly insidious influence of Madkhali Salafist ideology in the eastern part of that country. Over the past couple of months, some imported books have been impounded under the pretext of non-payment of customs duties and fees, women have been barred from travelling abroad without a male companion- allegedly for security reasons- and a fanatical Salafist cleric from Saudi Arabia was invited by the eastern authorities to preach sermons in the mosques of that part of the country, supposedly because those authorities found his anti-Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric to their liking (The Muslim Brotherhood dominates the western part of Libya and is held responsible by the east of Libya for having sabotaged the democratic results of the 2014 elections in which Islamists won only 16% of the vote.) It is certainly not entirely clear why the authorities in the eastern part of Libya have yielded so easily to the Salafists. Some have seen this as a sop to those who accuse the secularists of eastern Libya of being anti-Islamic, while others see in this a ruse designed to dispel any doubts- in the minds of those who still have any- about the intolerance and obscurantism of the Islamists.

 

The reasons given by the eastern authorities for their above-mentioned actions, however, do not seem to be that convincing. Firstly, if the said imported books had been impounded due to failure to pay the necessary customs fees, why did the Authority of Religious Endowments intervene in the matter? Secondly, if the Saudi cleric had been invited for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, were the eastern authorities aware that he was also vehemently opposed to secularists and free thinkers? And if Libyan women were banned from travelling for security reasons unless they had male guardians with them, what guarantees were there that those guardians were not accomplices in those women’s supposed misdeeds? Besides, did the eastern authorities think that the women in question would be incapable of misleading their male companions, if they were really set on some mischief? Furthermore, could those women not simply travel abroad through the western part of Libya where no such ban was imposed? To add insult to injury, the Authority of Religious Endowments has just published a communiqué stating that it condemns the Earth Hour celebration which was held at the School of Medicine in Benghazi on the 25th of March 2017: It describes the celebration as a heretic invention by the enemies of Allah and of his prophet, decries in strong terms the free mixing of both sexes at that celebration, connects the participants and what they did to freemasonry and Satan worship, and denounces what it considers as the moral turpitude and dissolute depravity exhibited during that celebration.

Up until very recently, Libyans had had to cope with Islamism in its ugly, multifaceted manifestations: the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, the Libyan Fighting Group, the Islamic State group, jihadists, Wahhabis, and so forth. All of those have always been known for their hunger for political power, lack of scruples, terrorism, tyranny, intolerance, fanaticism, violence, and corruption; the only difference between them was that some (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood) were better at disguising their intentions and designs than others. By contrast, the Madkhali Salafists had been seen by many Libyans as Islamists who were not particularly any of the above, in spite of their zealous religiosity; those Libyans thought of them as benign Islamists who were for peaceful religious piety and against religious violence and destruction. That is largely why they were accepted into the secular forces fighting the Islamists in the eastern part of the country. There are, however, ominous signs everywhere in the eastern part of Libya that those Salafists have in fact begun to gain increasing cultural hegemony in Libya’s social and cultural life, and the eastern authorities seem to be playing with fire in giving them free rein in that country’s civil life. If those authorities seriously believe that the Madkhali Salafists do not pose any danger to the country, given their historical loyalty to those in power, they may be making a colossal error of judgment whose ripple effects could be far-reaching: Cultural hegemony is actually much more dangerous than political or military domination; controlling people’s minds is far more ruinous than determining their political affairs or occupying their land. Islamism in all of its forms poses a grave danger to free thought, liberty, women’s rights, pluralism, tolerance, and hope for a better future. The sooner everyone knows that, the better.

Numerous students of Islamism have unfortunately fallen victim to the illusion that there is such a thing as moderate or peaceful Islamism. They appear to be complacent about what they perceive as the good sense of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they seem to like the political quietism of the Madkhali Salafists who normally shy away from politics and pledge their allegiance to those in power. Those students of Islamism apparently have no idea that Islamism is by definition extremist, in whatever form it chooses to manifest itself. While the Muslim Brotherhood certainly craves political power and is largely responsible in Libya for the initiation of that country’s civil war after Islamists won a mere 16% of the vote in the national elections of 2014, the Salafists have spared no effort in order to achieve cultural hegemony and play havoc with people minds through their infiltration of key sources of knowledge, such as the Ministry of Education, the mass media, and mosques. Far from being moderate or peaceful, the truth of the matter is that Islamism has much in common with two of the most destructive ideologies the world has ever known: Nazism and Communism. To illustrate this point further, let’s examine more closely the similarities between those three ideologies: