The Great Libya-Shariah Freakout of 2011

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fortinbras/2633789104/sizes/z/in/photostream/">fortinbras</a>/Flickr

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Between the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Moammar Qaddafi, it’s hard out there for conservatives trying to portray President Barack Obama as weak on foreign policy. But with Libya Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil’s announcement over the weekend that Libya would have “Islamic Shariah law [as] the basis of legislation,” the right is settling on a narrative: Obama is making the world safe for Shariah!

There are a few problems with this line of argument, but the most obvious is that President George W. Bush invaded two mostly Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and both of them adopted constitutions that identify Islam as the state religion and decree that laws have to be consistent with the precepts of Islam. Despite this, both constitutions contain provisions respecting the rights of religious minorities—as does Libya’s draft constitution.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing to worry about—any country that identifies one particular religion as its “state religion” will, by definition, end up treating religious minorities as second-class citizens in some fashion. Indeed, Iraq and Afghanistan’s religious minorities continue to face persecution. But it’s not like the Libyan TNC writing Islam into its constitution is an Obama-sponsored departure from the Bush policy of midwifing fully formed Madisonian democracies from the ashes of despotic regimes. You can have American-backed dictators forcing nominal secularism onto Muslim countries at gunpoint or you can have popularly elected governments reflecting the will of the mostly-Muslim populations of these countries, but you can’t have both.

Conservative blogger Scott Johnson mocks Obama for saying shortly after Qaddafi was killed that “We’re under no illusions—Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy.” Now you’d think that people from a country that wrote the right of white people to own black people as property into its Constitution and then fought a brutal civil war over it that killed a full two percent of its population might have some understanding of the fact that the road to “full democracy” isn’t exactly a smooth one, but, you know, Orientalism.

As the process of building democratic societies in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia goes forward, the rights of women and minorities should remain a priority for the US and the world at large. But wringing one’s hands over the idea that Islam will likely play a prominent role in the Middle East’s fledgling democracies is pointless. The US can’t force its preferred outcomes in those countries any more than the fallen dictators who used to be in charge. It’s hard to teach pluralism and tolerance at gunpoint. Those are values societies have to learn on their own.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate