Watching the jubilant Libyan rebels celebrating in the streets of Tripoli, it's easy to get caught up in the euphoria of the moment as a brutal tyrant is at last being brought down. The spokeswoman at the Department of State was giddy with visions of those "universal human rights" the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) supposedly espouses. RAND trotted out Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, who perfectly seriously discussed the "weapons buy-back programs" that he thinks NATO countries might launch in Libya to disarm everybody once the fighting is done. Even commentators at the usually more sober-minded Fox News were giving President Obama "B" grades for his "success" in helping remove Qaddafi from power. One of the only analysts of substance who seemed to be keeping his head even as all around him were happily losing theirs has been the IDC Herzliya Gloria Center's Barry Rubin, who rightly faults the Obama administration for approaching events in the Middle East "not as a lion but as a jackal" and projecting weakness by demonstrating a fundamental failure to perceive what is, in fact, a determined regional sweep by the forces of jihad and shariah. As Rubin wrote in his 21 August 2011 post, "The gap between dominant Western perceptions of the Middle East and the region's reality is dangerously wide."
Part of that reality is actually on full display with the online posting of Libya's "Draft Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Stage. As the equally level-headed Dr. Andrew Bostom wrote in his 22 August 2011 posting, "the salient feature of Libya's new draft constitution is Part 1, Article 1: Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." [emphasis added]
For those still unsure of what is actually happening in Libya, that Article, which places Islamic law (shariah) at the very top of the constitution, means that principles Jeffersonian republicans consider foundational to a democratic system—such as equality, individual freedom, pluralism, tolerance, minority protections, consent of the governed, natural rights/natural law derived through exercise of human reason, independent (secular) judiciary, and a vibrant free press—even if mentioned later in the draft text, have no real validity. It is what comes first and is stated explicitly in the constitution that carries the real weight. In Libya's case, that means Islamic law.
That should not surprise anyone who's been watching Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the Libyan Transitional National Council spokesman: that prominent bruise in the middle of his forehead is called a zubibah. It's the bump a devout Muslim gets from pressing his face to the floor five times daily while praying. Described by human rights advocates as a strong proponent of the rule of law, Jalil studied Islamic law at the University of Libya. He's also served as a judge, prosecutor, and Justice Minister under Qaddafi's rule. So, he's an experienced and knowledgeable jurist. The only question, then, is "Of which law is Jalil such a champion?" The obvious answer is Islamic law—shariah.
Western analysts, leaders, and media seem somehow oblivious to the fact that Middle Eastern Muslim Arabs have nothing in their experience to prepare them for anything remotely resembling "universal human rights." Quite to the contrary, these Islamic tribal societies jumbled together into nation states by arbitrary lines drawn on a 20th century map, are far more familiar with incessant, remorseless warfare than Western concepts of rights or reason. Islam is a belief system based on revelation, not rational thought. Neither democracy nor recognition of the worth of the individual is an automatic default position for human beings. And indeed, under the Articles of the 1990 Cairo Declaration, all the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—OIC) opted out of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and proclaimed instead their adherence only to shariah. Libya remains an OIC member and the new head of its TNC (just officially recognized by the U.S. as Libya's legitimate governing authority) is a shariah scholar.
It is impossible not to wish the Libyan people well in their quest to throw off tyranny. Their struggle is far from over, though, even as triumphant gunmen strut about Qaddafi's burned out Tripoli compound decked out in his headgear and jewelry. One suspects that the looting and revenge-taking has just begun even as a guerrilla insurgency by remaining Qaddafi loyalists sputters to life, well-equipped with all the latest weaponry from Qaddafi's armories, including Russian-made surface-to-air missiles that have many observers worried. Those taking over are no less a cause for concern: as Walid Phares points out in his insightful Fox News analysis of 23 August 2011, the Libyan TNC is a motley crew comprising "former diplomats, bureaucrats, and military officers from the old regime" as well as "politicians and leaders from movements and groups from the political left, Marxists, Socialists, Arab Nationalists, liberals and Islamists." As in Egypt and elsewhere across the region, however, it is the proponents of shariah who are the best organized and most determined to impose their agenda in the post-revolutionary milieu. Their push for power in Libya already is underway, openly supported by Yousuf al-Qaradawi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and will accelerate from positions within the TNC as its grip on the country is consolidated.
By dealing preferentially with the Muslim Brotherhood and other shariah-adherents in both Egypt and Syria, U.S. leadership is enabling the substitution of secular tyranny with Islamic tyranny in both places. That segments of the population in these places actually clamor to be ruled by shariah does not make them democracies. If the U.S. does the same thing in Libya and fails to provide strong, visible support to the genuine democrats, liberals, and reformers that do still exist in Libya, the outcome there will not be the one dreamy-eyed groupies of the Arab Spring envisioned, but another new regime, founded on Islamic law, that is hostile to American interests and those of our remaining friends and allies.