The question of whether Moammar Gaddafi deserved to die following his Oct. 20 capture and the startling revelations that he may have been sodomized raises troubling issues for Muslims. Do we celebrate the death of a despot or should we set aside our joy to consider that Gaddafi's enemies violated the basic tenets of Islam to kill him?
By focusing on what kind of government Libyans will form ignores the big picture that the manner of Gaddafi's death will likely bring an intense period of tribal warfare.
There is no question that Gaddafi's end was inevitable. He wreaked terror on his people for 42 years. He was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, supported the Irish Republican Army and he engaged in assassination plots. Even Gaddafi's closest neighbors were not safe. He conspired in 2003 to assassinate Saudi King Abdullah while the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Gaddafi was responsible for killing thousands of Libyans. Vengeance, more than justice, was on the minds of most Libyans.
Yet his death could very well derail Libya's pursuit of a new government that embraces the democratic ideals the international community wants so badly. At the end of the day, tribal politics and vengeance for the flagrant disregard of Islamic principles may dictate the course Libyans take.
Gaddafi belonged to the small, but influential Gadhadhfa tribe. Gaddafi's minister of information, Moussa Ibrahim, who is believed to still be alive, also belongs to Gadhadhfa, which had dominated the Libya's security groups and militias.
Tribal law, more or less, ruled Libya. It matters little whether Gaddafi's tribe condoned or opposed the dictator's treatment of his people. Tribal leaders will use a mix of tribal law, pride and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as very potent reasons to avenge Gaddafi's death. The man responsible for killing Gaddafi was videotaped and his image played worldwide. It is beside the point whether the allegations are true that some individuals sodomized Gaddafi. The hint alone further humiliates a captive at the mercy of his enemies.
Under tribal law, Gadhadhfa leaders will target the people responsible for Gaddafi's rape and death as a matter of honor. Retaliation will follow from other tribes and Libya could fall into chaos.
From a religious standpoint, Islam is specific in its instructions that the elderly and children should not be killed in warfare. Gaddafi was 69 years old. The Holy Qur'an also stipulates:
• Wounded soldiers unfit to fight or not fighting should not be attacked.
• Prisoners of war should not be killed.
• Any person tied up or in captivity should not be killed.
• Corpses of the enemy must not be disgraced or mutilated.
• Corpses of the enemy must be returned.
These aspects in Islam are not lost on the Libyan population, which is 99 percent Muslim, and it furthers the justification in the minds of some Libyans to seek vengeance.
Gaddafi was cunning in his treatment of Libya's tribes. He played on intra-tribal rivalries and often bribed tribal leaders to secure their loyalty. Major tribes such as Zawiya, Zentan, Bani Walid and Obeidat backed the rebels. The Maqarha tribe, with its estimated 1 million members, was pro-Gaddafi. Libya's largest tribe, Warfalla, was a pillar in Gaddafi's regime, but in the waning months of the war waffled over its allegiances between the pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces.
The Gadhadhfa and Maqarha tribes are centered in Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, while Warfalla stretches from Bani Walid to Sirte and on to Tripoli and Benghazi. The three tribes are a powerful combination that before engaging in rebuilding Libya likely will seek out and punish individuals responsible for Gaddafi's humiliating end. Millions of Gaddafi sympathizers, or perhaps more accurately people once sympathetic to Gaddafi but consider themselves pious Muslims, will not sit idle until they deliver justice.
Tribal conflicts at the height of the civil war foreshadowed the climate in a post-Gaddafi Libya.
In Yafran, for example, Mashasshia tribe members who supported the Gaddafi government fled to the mountains after anti-Gaddafi forces burned their homes to the ground. The Amazigh, the Berbers who long suffered under the Gaddafi regime, say they do not want the Mashaashia tribe back. And last month, rebels looted and the destroyed the homes of the pro-Gaddafi Hasoun tribe.
Given these early signs that the civil war threatens to fall into insurgency and tribal warfare, Gaddafi's death all but seals the bloody path these tribes are likely to take before Libya's Transitional National Council can form a lasting government. The transitional government's failure to protect Gaddafi from the very public tribal revenge does not bode well for the immediate future of Libya.