This morning’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi by a Muslim extremist group should not be misinterpreted. Amidst our natural outrage at the tragic death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya (who was visiting Benghazi) and three other Americans, we should stop to consider the context. The incident by no means represents the general feeling to the US among Libyans—or even the feeling of a substantial minority. While Libyans are vastly more religious than Americans, they showed in the July 7th election that they reject even the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of an Islamic state. Rather, the attack is a sign of the way the current lawlessness in Libya is allowing a largely passive population to be tyrannized by a tiny, violent minority. That minority may be small indeed.
Yesterday, waiting in an endless line at Tripoli Airport for my flight to London, I made the acquaintance of a Libyan-British man from Benghazi, Ibrahim Isbag. Dressed in Salafi clothes and sporting a long beard, he had traveled around Libya during the revolutionary period. It turned out that he had been in Derna a little before my visit this September. We discussed the armed bands of al-Qaeda loyalists who have been a constant threat there. Some of them blew up the Sufi shrine in Derna’s central mosque during Ramadan. Isbag said he had visited the training camp of one such group, who disavowed the attack. He said there were only a tiny number of jihadis there—definitely fewer than twenty. Nothing too scary—if only there were government security forces. . . .