12 Sep 2012

Will Libyans heed the warning of the ambassador’s murder?

Who is to blame for the killing of the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and his colleagues?

Well, the violent men who killed him in the name of Islam, obviously. But they’re not the only ones.

The Israeli-American real-estate developer Sam Bacile, who made a provocative film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, must also take his share. The attackers said they were protesting about the video – although I doubt they had seen it. And what about the Libyan government? They failed to provide the protection any diplomatic mission should have in every country.

A journalist at the scene told me that about 400 heavily-armed fighters from an Islamist brigade called Ansar al Sharia attacked the consulate at 10pm yesterday evening. “We shouldn’t have these people on our land,” they told him as they fired a rocket-propelled brigade into the American compound. Soldiers from the national army came to the scene but were out-gunned.

The men who carried out the attack have the same ideology as those who demolished Sufi shrines in Tripoli and other Libyan towns last month. They follow a strict Salafi ideology which hates other forms of Islam, women and non-Muslims. In other words, anyone apart from themselves.

They do not represent a majority in Libya, but the authorities have pandered to their intolerance. Last month, the Interior Minister said that he would not intervene to stop them attacking Sufi shrines because it was not worth sacrificing any lives to protect a grave. This seems to be what emboldened them.

Today Libyans have called for demonstrations in sympathy with the murdered US diplomats and against those bringing chaos and violence to Libya.

“If our authorities continue to be impotent and, more importantly, our people continue to remain silent and complacent…then we will be in trouble as things continue to escalate further,” said Niz Mhani, of the Free Generation Movement, a group of young Libyans trying to build a tolerant and free country.

If the new Libyan government does not assert its authority, the violent men who want to force their kind of Islam on the country will succeed and the hopes of other Libyans who fought to overthrow dictatorship will die.

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