[Debate] Salafis Emboldened in Libya: "extremists running amok"
critical.montages at gmail.com
Sat May 19 15:36:02 BST 2012
But "British businessmen" are optimistic (@ <http://tgr.ph/KB8asQ>),
so who's complaining?
Dozens of Libya shrines destroyed
Chaos that has followed fall of Moammar Gadhafi has resulted in
Islamic extremists running amok
BY HADEEL AL SHALCHI, REUTERS MAY 19, 2012
Mohamed Salem believes it was divine intervention that saved the
Muslim holy site where he works from being destroyed.
In early March, word reached the keepers of the ornate shrine, the
most important of its kind in Libya, that ultra-conservative Salafis
were on their way to destroy it as part of a campaign to wipe out any
symbols they see as idolatrous.
The curators sent for help. Volunteer militia units came from nearby
towns. They surrounded the shrine complex - which houses the tomb of
the 15th-century Sufi scholar Abdel Salam al-Asmar - with pick-up
trucks mounted with anti-aircraft weapons, and waited to repel the
Then a sandstorm, rare at that time of year, whipped up and shrouded
the mosque from view. The attack never came.
"The dust was so thick and the wind so strong you couldn't see your
hand in front of you," said Salem, a caretaker and religious teacher
at the complex. "God protected the grave of this scholarly man and
protected us from harm."
Since last year's revolt ended Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule over
Libya, people have grown used to looking to their own resources, or to
God, to help them out, because they feel they cannot count on their
The struggle over this shrine in Zlitan, about 160 kilometres west of
the Libyan capital, is the story of Libya as it struggles to reshape
itself after Gadhafi's rule.
It is the story of the battle for the right to define what it means to
be a Muslim in Libya, of theological arguments being settled by
weapons, and of an interim government that is so weak that it cannot
impose its authority over opposing factions.
Files from Gadhafi's internal security agency, seen by Reuters after
the revolt, show there was a special department set up to track
hardline Islamists. Anyone suspected of affiliation was denied the
right to travel abroad, enrol in university or take public sector
Since that system of repression collapsed, Salafis have become
emboldened. Some have acquired weapons and used them to enforce their
ultra-purist view of Islam.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, organizers of a rap concert featuring
a famous Tunisian artist were forced to cancel the event after being
threatened by a Salafi brigade called Libya's Shield.
Worried that the Salafis would attack their joyful annual parades to
celebrate the Prophet Mohammad's birthday in February, Sufi mosques
sought safety in numbers and held a joint procession in Tripoli's
walled old city. The event, which Salafis also consider idolatrous,
went off without incident.
The government has a lot on its plate trying to run a country that,
since Gadhafi's downfall, has been floating on a wave of hope and
optimism but at the same time often seems close to slipping into
It is only beginning to build a state army and police force. There are
still armed militias that answer only to their own commanders and
refuse to disarm. It is trying to organize the country's first
election next month.
In March, government chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil met the mufti and
representatives of Libya's Sufi and Salafi camps. Salem, the curator
of Zlitan's al-Asmar shrine, was at the meeting. He said he asked for
security for the complex.
Instead, the issue was fudged. Salem said he left the meeting with an
order from Abdel Jalil to shutter the tomb and wait for further
notice. "We received no security," he said.
Since then, official institutions have been passing the buck. The NTC
said it is waiting for the mufti to make a decision on the religious
legality of the grave sites. And the mufti's office told Reuters it is
waiting for the government to make a final decision.
In the meantime, caretakers at the al-Asmar shrine have the more
immediate concern of how to stop the complex from being destroyed by
Salafis, without help from the state.
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