The spotting of al-Qaeda’s black flag flying atop the Benghazi courthouse a few days ago sparked much excitement on the Internet regarding the role being played by the Islamic terror organization in post-Qaddafi Libya. As I have pointed out, anti-Qaddafi forces had already been spotted flying the related “Islamic Caliphate” flag during the siege of Sirte: the decisive battle of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion.
But on Saturday — just one day after the publication of Sherif Elhelwa’s much-linked Vice article on the flag at the Benghazi courthouse — the New York Times published a story online accompanied by the below Reuters photo, which clearly shows protestors in Benghazi waving not one, but several al-Qaeda flags (including a novel black-on-white variant).
The accompanying caption, however, simply reads: “In Benghazi on Friday, several hundred men rallied to demand the application of Islamic law, or Shariah, in Libya. That could clear the way for polygamy.” There is no mention of the flag or its provenance.
This is to say, in effect, that one can wave the al-Qaeda flag in the noses of Western journalists in broad daylight in Libya, and they will either not recognize it, or if they do, not deign to inform their readers. The episode could serve as a parable for the virtual entirety of Western reporting on the Libyan war.
— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook.