The people of Libya, particularly the people of the provinces around the city of Benghazi, ordinary people, took up arms which they barely knew how to use and faced the well-equipped, well-trained, well-paid elite of the Libyan Army of Moammar al Qaddafi to win their freedom from dictatorship. At the start of the rebellion, al Qaddafi swore, through his son Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, vowed to make the desert run red with the blood of every man, woman and child who opposed him. He vowed to level the city of Benghazi where the rebellion began and where the rebels had established a provisional free government. The United States went to the United Nations and to NATO and received authorization for a NATO no-fly zone mission that enabled the rebellions to defeat al Qaddafi and keep Benghazi safe. During the rebellion, United States State Department envoy Christopher Stevens worked behind the scenes with the rebellion to begin the transition to a new nation with new relations with the outside world. Stevens once used a cargo ship to get into Libya. In recognition of the ties between America and the people of Benghazi, Stevens was in the process of establishing a new United States consulate in Benghazi when he was killed in an assault on that consulate on September 11.
Extremist Islamist groups have been trying to derail Libya’s evolution to democracy through hit-and-run attacks on both government and foreign facilities. One group, Ansar al Sharia, has been linked to the assault on our consulate. On Friday, the new Libyan government began a sweep of these extremist groups, rooting them out, making arrests. But Ansar al Sharia ran from the police and army in Benghazi. That infuriated the people who have, since September 12, expressed their own grief over the deaths in our consulate, the death of a friend.
Over one hundred Libyans, chanting “Libya, Libya,” “No more al Qaida” and “The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!” stormed Ansar al Sharia’s headquarters and gutted it.
Ansar al Sharia had taken over a compound that was used by the al Qaddafi regime for their security forces. One demonstrator, Hassan Ahmed, spoke with the press, explaining “This place is like the Bastille. This is where Qaddafi controlled Libya from, and then Ansar al Sharia took it over. This is a turning point for the people of Benghazi. After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists.”
In addition to the Ansar al Sharia compound, the demonstrators attacked the compound of another extremist group, Abu Slim Brigade.
The attack came as an afterthought to a huge demonstration in Benghazi in support of democracy and against the Islamist militias. While tens of thousands of Muslims around the world were using the post-Friday Prayer time to demonstrate against America over that damned video, the people of Benghazi were counter-demonstrating. The “Rescue Benghazi Day” demonstration demanded the government put down the armed militias that threaten to derail Libya’s future, and seize all the loose weapons floating around Libya.
Ever since that damned video was exposed on an anti-Muslim Brotherhood extremist television show in Cairo, analysts have postulated that the demonstrations are being set up by those who want to prevent democratization in the Muslim world and impose strict Islamist rule. The men fomenting these demonstrations from Morocco to Malaysia are reactionaries who want to take the Muslim world back to some imagined paradise of Sharia law that never really existed. They are intended to embarrass their own governments and create problems between their countries and America. But in Libya, it backfired completely. In using the anti-film demonstrations to cover the attack on the consulate, the extremists deflected the anger from a dumber-than-a-rock amateur filmmaker’s more-offensive-than-a-pile-of-offal movie trailers to the extremists themselves. Chris Stevens was respected and like in Libya. Only those under the influence of the extremists think Stevens represented an attempt by the United States to control Libya. And Sean Smith, who also died in the consulate, was a highly respected gamer in Eve-Online, which is played by gamers in those Muslim countries just as it is played by people in the Americas and Europe.
Though the “Rescue Benghazi Day”demonstrations were not supposed to be about the attack on the consulate, some protesters carried English-language signs saying “We demand justice for Stevens,” and “Libya lost a friend.” It was not a sentiment shared by all in attendance at the RBD rally, but everyone at the rally was demonstrating against extremists who want to take away many of the social rights they enjoyed under al Qaddafi.
Ansar al Sharia had also held a small rally in the morning, before their compound was overrun. There, demonstrator Abu al-Qaa, told the press, that Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi “preparing for the entry of American troops into Libya. The will of the Prophet was to expel infidels from Muslim lands so that Muslims prevail. Terrorizing your enemy is one of Islam’s tenets.” Their banners read, “Day to rescue Benghazi or day to rescue America?” It is a war of narratives, with the extremists warping the words of the Qur’an and history of early Islam to recruit members against the moderates in their countries who want to live in the 21st century.
Across the Muslim world, as the so-called Arab Spring waxes and wans, as governments are challenged or overthrown, the West needs to remember that the Muslim world is not more a monolithic entity than the West is. The initial drivers of the Arab Spring were younger, better educated, more global men and women who rallied protesters via FaceBook and Twitter. The extremists draw their recruits from more isolated population groups, more traditional lives. If we can keep out of the way, never again invade or attack a Muslim nation with some idiot idea that we will be greeted a “liberators” and focus our attention on spreading the modernity of these societies, the whole world will benefit.
In the meantime, we need to acknowledge and thank the ordinary people of Libya who are trying to sweep from their land those who want to use hyped up hatred of us to gain power there. Personally, the demonstrations against the extremists, the attack on Ansar al Sharia are very welcome. They have justified my support of their revolution. I hate feeling like I’m a naive, over-age hippie for believing in humanity’s better nature.