Ominous: al Qaeda in Libya
A disturbing sight, the black flag of al Qaeda was spotted recently flying above a government building in Benghazi:
The flag, complete with Arabic script reading "there is no God but Allah" and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website Vice.com.
The flag was said to be flying over the building alongside the Libyan national flag but the National Transitional Council has denied that it was responsible.
Vice.com also reported that Islamists had been seen driving around the city's streets, waving the Al Qaeda flag from their cars and shouting "Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West".
The revelation came just days after it emerged that rebels in Libya have imposed Sharia law in the some parts of country since seizing power.
Critics of the Obama Administration's policy in Libya have been quick to warn that the country will become a staging ground for Islamic radicals in the tumult following Qaddafi's removal, while Westerners with a more sanguine view of the revolution, and even some Libyan clerics, assert (or complain) that the movement is dominated by secularists.
Captured records by Iraqi insurgents document that in the past a disproportionate number of Libyans were funnelled via Syrian ratlines into Iraq to fight for al Qaeda. And while the Benghazi pictures are indistinct, the banner specifically appears to have a globe under the Islamic script, which was a characteristic of the flag of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Truth be told, I'm not sure which strains of Islam will come to dominate the political discourse in Libya, and I think unequivocal assertions from all quarters are premature. Some critics who assert that declarations about the role of religion by Libya's new politicians are proof radicalism will dominate are overgeneralizing. But an empowerment of radicals has always been the concern posed by an unshackled Middle East. Fareed Zakaria laid out the circumstances well in The Future of Freedom: When you combine a massive youth bulge with repressive regimes that can squelch every institution but one - the mosque - the politics of protest gravitate toward Islam.
I wouldn't argue that the threat is a sufficient rationale for supporting genocidal, dictatorial regimes. But the risk, exemplified by the flag of al Qaeda flying over a courthouse, is a real one that bears serious scrutiny. And the National Transitional Council of Libya should work to scrub the revolution's ranks of those swearing fealty to the ideology of al Qaeda, especially its bloodthirsty Iraq branch, lest both NATO Reaper drones and al Qaeda's long knives be retasked to fellow travelers.