Politics & Policy

Decoding Libya

Sharia can tell us how this story ends.

For nearly 20 years, we’ve willfully blinded ourselves to the Rosetta Stone that decodes our enemy’s war doctrine. But the jihad (or shall we call it “kinetic Islam”?) is catalyzed not by al-Qaeda but by sharia — by Muslim law. So is the “Arab Spring,” now playing in Tripoli (and elsewhere) after rave reviews in Cairo.

I have been opposed to our country’s starting a war against Libya. And starting a war is exactly what we have done, exactly what we would call it if the shoe were on the other foot — the “kinetic” and “limited” obfuscations of intervention proponents notwithstanding. My opposition is fourfold.

First, as a constitutional matter, Congress has neither declared war nor otherwise authorized combat operations. When there has been no attack on the United States, no imminent prospect of attack against us, and no vital American interest implicated, our system obliges the president to have approval from the people’s representatives before entangling the people in a foreign conflict.

Second, and more weighty than the legal prerequisites for war (about which there is considerable dispute), is the prudential policy implicit in this constitutional guidance (about which there should be no dispute). The American people are a free and self-determining body politic. It is we, not the president alone, who should make the most important decision a body politic can make: the decision to go to war.

Yes, the Framers understood the necessity of reposing in one official, the president, the power to unleash all the nation’s strength in the event of a real threat to our country, as quickly and decisively as the circumstances demand. After all, in the late 18th century, it was anything but clear that the United States would survive. That’s a big part of why the Articles of Confederation, with their potentially suicidal security-by-committee approach, had to be supplanted by the Constitution and its powerful commander-in-chief.

Nevertheless, the Framers also grasped the other side of the coin: creating a commander-in-chief made it possible for a single official, just as suicidally, to launch unprovoked wars, inevitably provoking retaliatory strikes against us. They checked this danger by endowing Congress, too, with war powers — with the means to starve executive recklessness of legitimacy and funding.

Bottom line: In a country where the people, not the president, are sovereign, it is foolhardy to go to war without public support. If the people are expected to pay for and die in a military expedition that we initiate against a country that has not threatened us, it is essential to have strong public support. That support is won — or not — by forthrightly seeking congressional authorization. Intervention proponents claim that it is manifestly in our interests to topple Colonel Qaddafi on behalf of the “rebels.” If they are right, it should be easy for the administration to get a legislative green light. President Obama hasn’t tried, despite marathon negotiations with NATO, the U.N. Security Council, and the Arab League. Nor does his rah-rah chorus seem especially anxious that he try. This testifies eloquently to the fact that there is strong public opposition, no matter how artfully polls confirming that opposition are depicted as signs of potential support.

Third, and no doubt at the root of much public opposition, is the fact that we are broke. After a decade’s misadventures in Islamic nation-building, we can safely say that “kinetic military actions” against kinetic Islam are prohibitively expensive. A people whose unborn children and grandchildren will start out life trillions in hock begins to realize that they can’t afford to go to war unless they have to go to war. Moreover, the real war inside our nation right now is against the Left’s unsustainable welfare state. Any more billions we pour into unnecessary wars are billions denied to necessary security spending — such as border security, as NR’s Kevin D. Williamson points out. More to the point, they are also billions the Left will use as a cudgel to beat back vital spending cuts. Can’t you hear it now: “We’re blowing a fortune to wage dubious kinetic military actions in the Middle East, but conservatives claim we don’t have comparative pennies for education, health care, mortgage relief, our bankrupt states, preserving our safety net, NPR, etc., etc.”

Fourth, and perhaps most significant, is the reason why war with Libya is dubious: We understand neither whom we are fighting for nor the consequences of invading a Muslim country. To apprehend these things requires a rudimentary grasp of sharia. You don’t need a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence. As I contend in The Grand Jihad, the basics will more than suffice. The problem is that, since the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993, the government has been telling us that Islam has nothing to do with the jihadist campaign against us, so we have studiously avoided informing ourselves about Islam and its law.

It has come to light in just the last few days that commanders of the “rebels” (you know, those secular freedom fighters who are supposedly better for us than Qaddafi) include one Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi. And, I’ll be darned, it turns out that Hasadi is a jihadist who fought the United States in Afghanistan, and was detained for years until our forces turned him over to Libya. That was during the Bush years, when, through democracy-project alchemy, Qaddafi was transformed into a valuable U.S. ally against terrorism. Our new friend Qaddafi promptly . . . released him in 2008, in a deal designed to appease his Islamist opposition — a common practice in the Middle East, where, because Islam dominates life, even dictators must alternately court and repress jihadists in order to hang on.

Hasadi is worth studying, and not just because he puts the lie to the interventionist fable about the noble rebels, those Benghazi Madisons just waiting to happen. Hasidi belongs to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which is an al-Qaeda ally. He also has many a fawning thing to say about Osama bin Laden. Yet, Hasadi condemned al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. In his mind, strikes against a non-Muslim country were counterproductive, both because they were indiscriminate, and therefore sure to kill some Muslims (as they did), and because they were certain to provoke a vigorous onslaught that would kill even more Muslims.

Interesting thing about that: Hasadi’s take on 9/11 is precisely the same as the Muslim Brotherhood’s. Like Hasadi, high Brotherhood officials are frequently complimentary of bin Laden (especially before Arabic-speaking audiences). And like Hasadi, the Brotherhood is in complete agreement with al-Qaeda on the ultimate goal of forging sharia states and, eventually, a global caliphate. The Brotherhood’s disagreement with bin Laden, like Hasadi’s, is strictly about tactics, especially in the West. In the United States and Europe, the Brothers think the best way to advance the sharia cause is stealth jihad, not violent jihad. They prefer having their sharia soul-mates (e.g., CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America) masquerade as civil-rights activists, the better to exploit Western freedoms and win the sympathies of the media and the academy.

But what about attacking Americans and other Westerners in Islamic countries? Sharia makes that a much different story. Like Hasadi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sharia guide, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the world’s most influential Sunni Muslim cleric — condemned the 9/11 attacks. Yet, after the United States responded by invading Islamic countries, he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of American troops and support personnel in Iraq. Why the difference?

That brings us back to Hasadi . . . and sharia. Hasadi was captured by coalition forces on the Afghan-Pakistani border region in 2002. He was there because, like many Libyans, he went to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq, to fight against the invading American-led forces.

“But wait a second,” you say. “If he condemned 9/11, why would he oppose the U.S. response to 9/11?” It’s very simple: He is an Islamist, and he was following the dictates of sharia. When non-Muslim forces invade or occupy Islamic countries, Muslims must fight them as ruthlessly as necessary to drive them out. It does not matter if Muslims realize that the Western forces had a perfectly understandable reason for attacking. Even if they believe a Muslim has acted in a manner harmful to Islamic interests, sharia forbids Muslims to take sides against other Muslims for the benefit of kaffirs (unbelievers). Disputes within the ummah must be settled internally. Indeed, recall that the Taliban refused Bush-administration requests to hand bin Laden over to the United States, but said that if we provided them with our evidence, they would consider putting him on trial themselves.

Obviously, not every Muslim follows sharia’s injunctions, and individual Muslims may even temper adherence to them based on the situation. Recall that there was more violent jihadist opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (which many Muslims saw as unprovoked) than to our retaliation in Afghanistan. And there is more opposition to our operations in Afghanistan now than there was ten years ago: A decade ago our cause was understandable vengeance, but now it is primarily nation-building, and, under sharia, no infidel project is more condemnable than another civilization’s attempt to sow its institutions and its way of life in Islamic territory. That is why the Afghans fought the Soviets so ferociously.

The main point is this: What I have described here is a mainstream interpretation of sharia, not some purportedly twisted al-Qaeda construction. It is the Islam of hundreds of millions of Muslims. The fact that most of these Muslims disagree with al-Qaeda’s strategy of attacking the West in the West (however much they may applaud it post facto) is beside the point. All of these Muslims believe that non-Muslim forces must be fought aggressively if they occupy Muslim countries, especially if those non-Muslim forces get kinetic inside Muslim countries. It’s a very good reason to have as little as possible to do with Muslim countries.

My opposition to intervention in Libya has been misstated in the last few days. Some commentators claim I’ve said the rebels are really al-Qaeda. That misstates my argument. As I’ve repeatedly said, the rebels are a mixed bag. The strongest faction, particularly in ideological influence, is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been in Libya for 70 years. There are also militant groups, such as Hasadi’s LIFG, that have ties to al-Qaeda, though they do not necessarily agree with bin Laden’s decision in the 1990s to take the violence global. In addition, there are Islamist organizations (such as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya) that claim to be non-violent and that oppose Qaddafi because they have come to regard him as non-Muslim, an apostate whose eccentric brand of Islam is seen as heterodox, and who persecutes his Muslim people. Moreover, there are undoubtedly al-Qaeda operatives in the mix, because al-Qaeda goes wherever the action is.

To describe these factions is not to discount the existence of some secular opposition to Qaddafi: some leftists who see an opportunity, and even some Western-influenced freedom fighters. Interventionists delude themselves, though, when they portray the latter as predominant, as the face of the rebels. Libya is a tribal Islamic backwater. That is why Qaddafi has always had to couch his despotism in Islamist rhetoric. It is why Libya, more than any other country by percentage of population, supported the insurgency in Iraq. In fact, rebel leader Hasadi claims to have recruited more than two dozen jihadists to that cause.

Qaddafi’s opposition is not driven by al-Qaeda. It is driven by sharia. Various factions want Qaddafi out so that they can install sharia and build a real Islamic state — one that is virulently anti-Israeli, anti-Western, and anti-American, a mirror image of what the Muslim Brotherhood is now poised to sculpt in Egypt. For now, Islamists have encouraged military Western help because they lack the resources needed to oust Qaddafi themselves — just as Bosnian Muslims could not defeat the Serbs, Iraqi Muslims could not defeat Saddam Hussein, and Afghan Muslims could not defeat the Soviet Union without American help. But as we’ve seen time and again, the embrace of American support never translates into an embrace of Americans.

The Muslims of the Middle East will gladly use us, but they will turn on us the second our temporarily useful assistance becomes an intolerable transgression against sharia. That’s why the Islamists of the Arab League were all for a no-fly zone when it was pitched as a mere verbal warning to Qaddafi’s air force, but quickly condemned it when it turned out to require a bombing campaign that was sure to kill some Muslims.

We’ve seen this show before. The rebels are not rebels — they are the Libyan mujahideen. Like the Afghan mujahideen, including those that became al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Libyan mujahideen comprise different groups. What overwhelmingly unites them, besides opposition to Qaddafi, is sharia. The Libyan mujahideen will exploit us but never befriend us. If they succeed, so be it. But we have no vital interest in orchestrating that success, even if it would mean a thug like Qaddafi finally gets his just deserts. If we empower them, we will eventually rue the day.

 Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.


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