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Libya, Sharia, and Us

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What should we think of this sharia affair? Could it be that we have supported the insurgents of Benghazi, only to discover, when it's all over, a State that forbids divorce and re-establishes polygamy? Details. Explanations.

1. It all began with one phrase. A single phrase. Of course, this phrase didn't come from just anyone, since it was uttered by Mustafa Abdeljalil, the President of the National Transitional Council and father of the victory. But, president or not, Abdeljalil is a member of a Council whose decisions are collegial. And this Council is, as its name indicates, an organ of transition whose purpose is not to decree the laws of the future Libya.

Abdeljalil expressed an opinion.

Perhaps a wish.

Perhaps it wasn't even a wish, rather a pledge granted the minority of Islamist fighters who paid the heaviest price in lives for this liberation.

And although he may have expressed what he really thinks, what weight should his opinion carry, considering that he, like all the members of the NTC, has promised not to seek any office in post-transitional Libya?

In order to know what this future Libya will look like, we must wait for the Constituent Assembly in eight months. Then the general elections. And then what type of government will be the result. To behave as though this little phrase, uttered in the heat of a rally by a man who is highly respected but about to leave the scene, were enough to "topple" the country amounts to malevolence, a biased standpoint.

2. There is sharia, and then there is sharia. And before going on and on about regression and glaciation, we would do well to know what we're talking about.

Sharia, first of all, is not an obscene word.

Like "jihad" (which means "a spiritual effort", and which the Islamists ultimately interpreted as a "holy war"), and "fatwa" (which means "religious advice" and which, due to the Rushdie affair, everyone has come to understand as "condemnation to death") the very word sharia is at the heart of a merciless war of semantics but, fortunately, continues to signify something eminently respectable for the majority of Muslims.

It is a term that appears five times in the Koran and that French translations render as "path".

It is not the name of a code, even less of an exhaustive straightjacket of rules, but that of a body of values subject to the interpretation of Doctors of the religion.

It is a generic term; in other words, it is the task of the legislators to propose an application of sharia that is more or less progressive or more or less strict.

Taking this into consideration, virtually all Muslim countries refer to sharia.

Most of them, including Gaddafi's Libya, from 1993 on, make it one of the sources of law.

When they do not, as is the case of Morocco, it is because Islam is already the State religion.
And the whole problem amounts to knowing what, then, is included in this term: the stoning of adulteresses, as in Iran? the amputation of thieves' limbs, as in Saudi Arabia? Or rather a sum of moral precepts one strives to combine with the Napoleonic Code, as is the case in Egypt?

3. In light of this problem, the question of what "path" Libya will chose is to be expected.
It goes without saying that we can anticipate a new battle, an ideological one in which the task will be to arbitrate between the minority who interpret sharia as the fanatics do and those who wish to see a compromise between sharia and the democratic ideal.

It is obvious that those of us who are among the friends of the new Libya, the allies who contributed to her liberation from one of the most bloodthirsty dictatorships of our times, have a role to play in aiding the country not to fall under the yoke of another kind of tyranny.

But, for pity's sake, no bad faith.

Let's not pull the number of a civil version of the proverbial "quagmire", when, after a week of air strikes, time already seemed to be dragging on, on the Libyans again.

And let's not demand of this Libya, crushed by 42 years of despotism, let us not ask of this country with neither a State nor a judicial tradition, without an actual civil society, to become in the space of three months a society of human rights.

Thirty years after Solidarnosc, Polish democracy is still in the stage of self-searching. Russia is still in its Putin phase.

France went through the Terror, the Restoration, two Empires and several blood baths before it was able to embody the republican ideal of 1789, and after that the ideal of a secular society.
And we expect Libya, itself, to pass from a dark night into light?

The battle will be rough.

There will be swerves, steps backward, moments of wandering off course.

But I know the men and women who wanted this revolution, in Benghazi or Misrata, well enough to know that they will not allow the rights they have won after such an intense struggle to be confiscated.

Post-Gaddafi Libya has become a major forefront of the great schism that is rippling through the Muslim world, the historic (and, from now on, democratic) confrontation between the two Islams, that of the Enlightenment and that of the shadows, that of the moderates and that of the extremists, the one that reaches out to Europe and that of the clash of civilizations. And I am willing to bet that, upon this stage, the friends of liberty will be victorious.