Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Salafi Grave Robbers in Tripoli

                       The remains from the grave of a Sufi saint has been removed from this mosque

Battlelines draw for fight over Libyan Islam

By Christian Lowe

TRIPOLI | Wed Nov 30, 2011 10:41am EST

(Reuters) - When night falls on the street outside Tripoli's Abdullah Eshaab mosque, theological discussions often break out. Lately, they have taken place at the point of a gun. On three occasions this month, groups of ultra-purist Islamists have turned up at the mosque gates after dark, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, 106-mm anti-tank cannon and truck-mounted Grad rockets, according to a cleric at the mosque.

They want to demolish the tomb, inside the mosque, of Suleiman Al-Feituri, a 12th-century holy man, because they consider such tombs as idolatry.

Facing off against them are the mosque's own, more moderate worshippers backed up by a militia unit armed with automatic weapons and two pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back.

"So far we've been trying to negotiate with them but if it does not work we will use force," said Omar Hajaj, a 30-year-old businessman who is also assistant to the cleric in charge of the mosque.

"They are a bunch of extremists who do not want this country to settle down," he said, as the mosque's security detail stood outside with the safety catch off on their weapons. "We warn everyone of the danger of these people."

Freed from Muammar Gaddafi's repressive 42-year rule, Libyans are now considering what kind of Islam they want and how big a role it should play in their everyday lives.
The process has turned into a contest between mainstream Muslims, on the one hand, and on the other, Islamists who follow a stricter interpretation of the faith and believe it should inform society's rules and government policy.

There's a huge amount at stake. Both sides have large quantities of weapons, and the outcome could also determine who ends up with political power in the new Libya.
So far the Islamists -- who are better organized and offer an ideology that appeals to the young and disenchanted -- are the ones filling the vacuum left by Gaddafi's fall.

"It is the law of physics," said Salah Ingab, a Libyan writer on Islam who is concerned about the rise of the Islamists. "An area of low pressure is filled from an area of high pressure. This is what is happening with Libya."


The resurgence of Islamist ideas has become a feature of the "Arab Spring" uprisings across the region. In Tunisia, a moderate Islamist party now leads a coalition government.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to do well in a parliamentary election.

In Libya too, Islamists have made their mark on the political landscape now taking shape.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a former Islamist militant who spent time with the Taliban in Afghanistan but now says he has renounced violence, heads one of the country's most powerful militias.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, Libya's caretaker leadership, has said he wants the new order to be based on Islamic sharia law and that a ban on polygamy will be lifted.

The Islamists' political role is in flux. In a caretaker cabinet announced last week, there was only one minister, for religion, who is an acknowledged Islamist. The full extent of their influence may not become clear until an election is held, probably around the middle of next year.

But on the streets and in the mosques, there is no doubt that more hardline brands of Islam are gaining strength.

Men with long beards and white robes -- the trademark dress of Salafists, followers of a purist interpretation of Islam -- can now be seen on the streets.

Under Gaddafi, who waged a 15-year campaign to stamp out Islamists who he thought were trying to overthrow him, those outfits would have attracted the attention of domestic intelligence agents.

Many Salafists were jailed by Gaddafi and those not imprisoned spent years avoiding any outward manifestation of their beliefs.

The majority of Libyan women have long worn the hijab, or Islamic headscarf. Now some can be seen shopping at Tripoli markets in the burqa, a head to toe covering that masks the face.

At Friday prayers last week at Al Nafathy mosque, which until now has attracted followers of traditional, mainstream Islam, the sermon was given by a new cleric, who spoke of the evil arising from the free mixing of men and women in public, and railed against the spread of songs in general and Western music in particular.

Both are themes favored by Salafists, but until now unfamiliar to Libyans.
A meeting of senior Muslim clerics in a Tripoli hotel this week adopted a recommendation that anyone who drinks alcohol should be barred from senior government posts.

The sale of alcohol has been illegal in Libya for decades, though it is available on the black market.

"If he repents, it's not a problem," for someone to join the government, said one of the clerics.


Many Libyans say the freedom to worship as they choose is one of the benefits of the revolution.

"During Gaddafi's time, people who came to dawn prayers were arrested," said a muezzin, who pronounces the call to prayer, at a mosque in Tripoli's old city.

"The police thought they were too religious and people were afraid to come, they were tortured. All the religious people were afraid to come to the mosque," said the man, who did not want to give his name.

"Now more people are coming. There is complete freedom."

For many, the new piety takes some getting used to.

"Many are dressed like people from Kandahar," he said, referring to the Afghan city where the extremist influence of the Taliban is strong.

Some people are sanguine.

"I am not afraid of Islamists in Libya. This is a moderate country and even if there is a small element of radicals, they won't be able to push their way through," said Houda, a 21-year-old engineering student.

"Abdel Jalil was wrong to talk about polygamy ... but we see it as a mistake and we forgive him," she said.

Others are very worried.

Ingab, the writer on Islam, says he is a devout Muslim who prays five times a day. But he says there is nothing in the Koran to say that woman should wear veils or that governments should impose Islamic laws.

The ring tone on his mobile phone is a song by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

"My friend said to me: 'He is a Jew.' I said I don't care. That is his problem. I do not care if he worships a cow. I love Bob Dylan."

He pulls out a manuscript he wrote challenging the Islamists' interpretation of the Koran.
"The time is not right to publish this because I will be killed on sight," he said. "It contains loads of things they disagree with. The Salafists are just ignorant people."


In the courtyard at Abdullah Eshaab mosque, Hajaj, the deputy imam, gets out his laptop.
With the mosque's armed guards standing nearby, he scrolls through photographs showing tombs that hardline Islamists have managed to destroy.

Some Islamists believe that tombs are a corruption of Islam's teachings because they turn graves into shrines and distract from the worship of God.

One image showed a small building in Misrata, 200 km (125 miles) east of Tripoli, in ruins. Hajaj said that was all that was left of the 400-year-old tomb of holy man Sidi Hamed al-Bikr, after the attackers fired anti-tank guns at it.

In Derna, near Libya's border with Egypt, he said Salafists had demolished the tomb of Sidi Nasr Aziz. He was a sheikh, or holy man, reputed to have been a companion of the Prophet Mohammed.

On the other side of Tripoli were more wrecked tombs. Attackers broke into the Sidi Nasr mosque at night, when no-one was there, said the head cleric there, Omran Ali Dayek.
They destroyed two tombs: one to a holy man who died in around 1760, and another to a sheikh who died 15 years ago. They removed the body from the more recent grave, and were about to dig up the second when they were disturbed and fled.

"We went to all the graveyards in the area looking for the body but we could not find it. His family came here crying, asking where the body is," said Dayek.

In the room where the tombs used to be, there are fresh concrete slabs where workers have covered up the graves.

Mosque-goers say the new authorities seem reluctant to take on the radical Islamists.
They point across the road at the offices of the state oil company, where a security camera points at the entrance of the mosque. They say it must have recorded the attack, but that the oil company will not surrender the tape.

"Lots of people have come here to ask questions and take photographs, but nobody does anything," said Dayek.

Libya: "Islamic hard-liners" desecrate Sufi shrines, dig up imams' graves and haul bodies away

Libya: "Islamic hard-liners" desecrate Sufi shrines, dig up imams' graves and haul bodies away

Wherever Sharia law experiences a revival, tolerance decreases, and harassment and violence increase.

As much as it is a frequent target, particularly of Salafist Muslim movements, Sufism is not the peaceful alternative to violent jihad and subjugation of non-Muslims that it is often advertised to be. Rather, its adherents are persecuted as they are accused of being purveyors of innovations (bida) over what Muhammad practiced and for their reverence for shrines and graves of their forebears, denounced as idolatry (shirk).

A few months ago, how many supporters of the Libyan uprising believed this couldn't happen there? We tried to tell you.

"Islamic hard-liners attack rival shrines in Libya," by Kim Gamel for the Associated Press, October 13:

TRIPOLILibya (AP) — Islamic hard-liners have attacked about a half-dozen shrines in and around Tripoli belonging to Muslim sects whose practices they see as sacrilegious, raising religious tensions as Libya struggles to define its identity after Moammar Gadhafi's ouster.

The vandalism has drawn concern at the highest levels as Libya's new rulers seek to reassure the international community that extremists will not gain influence in the North African nation.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the governing National Transitional Council, reacted with alarm to reports that graves were being desecrated and appealed to a top Muslim cleric, al-Sadek al-Gheriani, to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling, on the issue.

He also called for restraint. "I ask those destroying these mosques to stop doing that because this is not the time to do that," Abdul-Jalil said Tuesday at a news conference. "What they did is not on the side of the revolution."

The campaign appears to be aimed mainly at shrines revered by Sufis, a mystical order whose members often pray over the tombs of revered saints and ask for blessings or intervention to bring success, marriage or other desired outcomes. Hard-line Sunnis deem the practice offensive because they consider worshipping over graves to be idolatry.

In one case, witnesses said dozens of armed, bearded men wearing military uniforms ransacked a Sufi shrine in Tripoli this week, burning relics and carrying away the remains of two imams, or prayer leaders, for reburial elsewhere.

The assailants arrived in pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons and stormed the gate to the compound housing the shrine, then dug up the two imams, identified as Abdul-Rahman al-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, and took the remains to be buried in a cemetery, according to the witnesses.

Many residents in the Al-Masri neighborhood welcomed the attack, accusing worshippers at the shrine of practicing "black magic." Sufism is a mystical tradition in Islam. The order says its mission is to live a simple life of contemplation and prayer but followers are frequently targeted by extremists.

Witnesses offered conflicting details, with some saying the attackers were heavily armed and came from other parts of the city and others saying it was a small group of unarmed locals.

Abdul-Hamid al-Sunni, one of the residents, said the presence of the bodies had prevented people from the neighborhood from praying there. He claimed it was a small group of some 20 people that exhumed the bodies.

He said residents had long wanted to get rid of the graves and he presented a petition signed by 120 people supporting the action, which began about 11 p.m. Sunday.

Dirt and rocks were piled high around the empty graves that had been dug in the floor of the white and light blue building in Tripoli's al-Masri neighborhood. Blackened piles of ash and pieces of pottery were in the courtyard outside after the attackers burned relics and other items from the shrine, which sits next to a Quranic school in the same compound.

"We need to build a new school here, a Quranic school, and we need to build a mosque and we need to build a small hospital for the area," al-Sunni said....
Islamic conquest in a nutshell: "Unfortunately there is one thing standing between me and that property: the rightful owners." - Hedy Headley Lamarr,Blazing Saddles

Posted by Marisol on October 13, 2011 7:54

Libya: "Islamic hard-liners" desecrate Sufi shrines, dig up imams' graves and haul bodies away
Because nothing says freedom and democracy like *desecrating graves*. sarc/off
He also called for restraint. "I ask those destroying these mosques to stop doing that because this is not the time to do that," Abdul-Jalil said Tuesday at a news conference. "What they did is not on the side of the revolution."
Ah—the Muslim world, where the "moderates" are the ones saying it is 'not yet time' to impose Hudud laws, or massacre non-Muslim minorities, or desecrate the dead...
God, I hate Islam.

They need to build a mosque. Right on the same site.
And it will function as an embassy, like the others.
Islamic culture and nationalism at work.

Sufism is not the peaceful alternative

I think that much of the confusion in the West regarding the "peacefulness" of Sufism is due to the exposure to groups such as Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan's "Universal Sufism", a sub-branch of the Indian Chishti Order.

This group was very appealing to ex-hippie/ex-freaks in the 1960s - 1980s. But the religion was syncretistic and heavily saturated with Eastern Mysticism, including Hindu and Buddhist practices.

I was involved in some Sufi study, meditation and dance groups when I was younger. They were independent groups led by current and former members of this Sufi order.
I met a lot of very nice, certainly peaceful Sufis that I considered my friends. To this day, I hold absolutely nothing against them. But they had very little in common with other "genuine/traditional" Muslims.

The groups did NOT study the Q'uran, but rather the works of some Sufis of their order such as Vilayat Khan, or other famous Sufi Mystics such as Rumi.

I don't remember the others, but Samuel Lewis was highly admired. "Sufi Sam" was not only considered a Sufi Master, but also was Jewish and it was claimed he was a Kabalist and Hassidic Master. I have some doubts about the latter but the fact that the Sufis were proud to claim this was a pretty good tipoff that these weren't traditional Muslims!

The only reference to the Q'uran during my attendance was just for use of meditation. i.e. repetition of the Arabic words for the attributes of Allah, or repetition of the first part of the Shahada -- "La 'ilaha 'illallah","There is no God but Allah". (Interestingly, we did not repeat the part about Mohammad being Allah's prophet -- another tipoff!) There were some specific verses from the Q'uran, although I don't recall which ones, and they were simply repeated in Arabic as meditation devices.

I think to most of us, the Arabic words could just have well been Hindu or Buddhist mantras, and they were certainly being used that way by the Sufis.

Traditionally such Sufis have been denounced (correctly) as heretics and (tragically) persecuted in traditional Muslim countries.

Certainly some of the western practitioners of Sufism have virtually nothing in common with the body of Islam, and should not really be pointed to as examples of "peaceful/moderate" Islam.

As Abe said: A house divided against itself can not stand.
I would say that Islam's house isn't just divided, it's in splinters. Let's hope they destroy each other.


"He also called for restraint. "I ask those destroying these mosques to stop doing that because this is not the time to do that," Abdul-Jalil said Tuesday at a news conference."

Hey Abjul-Jalil....until you are completely brain dead you can never be Muslim enough...
Sufis can be Sunni or Shia. They can be Meccan Muslims or they can be Medinan Muslims like the Deobandis in Pakistan or the Muslims of the Americas who revere Sheik Gilani and practice all the types of jihad, including theft and violence.

Sufis can be duped Western kafirs who dance and chant, believing their ecstatic state is a 'higher' consciousness and will bring them enlightenment. I also knew many of these faux Sufis who thought they had found the secrets of the universe via their Sufi 'masters.'
In the end, a line in the sand is drawn and the Sufis have to accept the Koran as Allah's words, Mohammed as his messenger and sharia as their law. And there is no room in this line for the worship of saints or love for all humanity.

Well, so much for the discipline and unity of Islam, and its bringing "dignity" to its followers. I said it before, and will say it again, that even though I think that Moammar Qaddafi's only redeeming quality is that he looks like he might be the natural son of either Chico or Harpo Marx, his opponents are just the same kind of dreary thugs, and the USA simply doesn't have a dog in the Libyan fight.

People have said that Rauf and the mosque he was attatched to was sufi. So what has Imam Rauf said about this?

That's because he is only masquerading as sufi.
Have other sufi imams publicly blamed America for 9/11 and called for the US to engage with Hamas and Hizbollah?
Hellz no they haven't.
Only him.
He ain't no sufi.

If this what they do to other Muslims, imagine what they will do to us.

"He also called for restraint. "I ask those destroying these mosques to stop doing that because this is not the time to do that," Abdul-Jalil said Tuesday at a news conference. "What they did is not on the side of the revolution."
this isn't the time, you idiots! later, when no one is watching...

The point about Sufis being syncretistic is only partly true, but as the poetess points out, @ the end of the day, they have to acknowledge the supremacy of the Qur'an and Mohammed as the last messenger of allah. And they don't exactly worship their saints, thereby remaining compliant to that Muslim directive.

Besides, as has been pointed out often in the past, being Sufi does not imply being tolerant. The 14th century Turkic conqueror Timur/Tamerlane was a Sufi, and his two-fold mission was to conquer huge areas of the world - he covered Russia to Baghdad to Delhi - and slaughter as many Infidels as he could, which he enthusiatically did in Armenia and Delhi. Fast forwarding to today, both the Kashmiri and Chechen Jihadi movements are Sufi movements. Another thing, as Greg Davis, former Jihadwatch contributor once pointed out, only 2% of the world's Muslims are Sufis, so those who use them as examples of what Muslims are or can be are really missing the point.

Imo, the biggest problems of Sufi philosophy is to draw a moral equivalence b/w legitimate religions, be they Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism, and Islam. In other words, if someone is practicing any of the other religions, Sufi philosophers try and attract them to Sufism, like there was something wrong w/ what they were originally practising. Such a message doesn't, however, go out to orthodox Muslims, so that @ the end, the effect of Sufi proselytizing, be they thru their qawali or dance practices, is that the number of Muslims go up, and the number of Infidels down, which in Islamic terms is seen as a shot in the arm for Islam.
So essentially, I see the above story as a continuation of the Alien vs Predator trend in dar ul Islam. I do regret that Gadaffi is not in power, not b'cos of what Kepha wrote above, but rather, b'cos the civil war in Libya is almost @ an end, which is undesirable. Had Gadaffi still been in power, the civil war there would have continued indefinitely. Same goes for Egypt - Muslims vs Copts ain't good, but a full blown civil war b/w 2 major groups of Muslims would be. Similarly, I hope Assad lasts, since the number of Sunnis in Syria is too overwhelming even for Hizbullah.

One more question to Mustafa Abdul-Jalil - When is the right time to do that? ;-)

I'm just an ordinary guy, poetess. I stand on your side of that line that theo drew in that sand.

Salafi Violence in Libya
09/12/2012 Geoff D. Porter

Founder and Managing Director, North Africa Risk Consulting, Inc.
The news that US Ambassador Christopher Stevens died during an assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi came as a shock. Although there was already increasing awareness of radical Islamist sentiments in eastern Libya, and in fact throughout the country, their full extent and their threshold for violence were unknown. Even so, it may have been only a matter of time before the mix of radical Islamists and abundantly available weaponry in Libya catalyzed into catastrophic violence.

Apart from some very crude accounts of what sparked protests outside the consulate and the eventual assault on the building, it is not entirely clear what transpired in Benghazi. Nonetheless, the Libyan government's inability to curtail violence in the country has long been a concern, whether it was the ineffectual approach of the National Transitional Council (NTC) or infighting among the security services under the General National Congress (GNC) that have undermined any effort to establish law and order.

Several weeks ago, in a piece posted on the Arabist, I categorized violence in Libya and suggested ways in which it might be mutating. The takeaway from that piece was that there is a new strain of terrorism in Libya that is growing increasingly dangerous.
Briefly, there is a superabundance of violence in Libya. There are tribal skirmishes -- usually instigated by a desire to settle vendettas or to control parts of the black market economy. There has been a steady wave of assassinations of former Gaddafi intelligence officials in Benghazi, carried out by unknown groups. In late August, three car bombings that were allegedly perpetrated by Gaddafi loyalists rocked Tripoli.

And there has been Islamist violence, especially in Benghazi, which served as ample warning for what transpired on 11 September 2012. In June an IED was thrown at the US Consulate in Benghazi and the UK Ambassador's convoy was attacked with RPGs, wounding two of his bodyguards. The Tunisian Consulate in Benghazi was ransacked in protest over a controversial art exhibit in Tunisia. Several car bombs have been detonated, targeting key Libyan government buildings. More recently, Salafist groups have destroyed Sufi shrines throughout the country, sparking outrage and dismay but no forceful government reaction and leading some skeptical Libyans to think that elements of the Libyan government were in cahoots with Salafists or at least sympathetic to them.
In the early days of the revolution in Libya, there were questions about whether al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group, would take advantage of the lawlessness in Libya. At the time, I argued that it was unlikely that AQIM would decamp from northwestern Mali to Libya, but instead it was likely that new radical Salafi groups would emerge in Libya. It now appears that there are at least two radical Salafi groups, if not more, that are either avowed allies of al-Qaeda or at least share al-Qaeda's salafi jihadi ideology. The first, which carried out the attack on the US consulate in June, was called the Brigade for the Release of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdulrahman, named after the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. The second group is Ansar al-Sharia, the Victors of Sharia.

The counterterrorism challenge in Libya is enormous. There is no shortage of weaponry in Libya, but there is an enormous deficit of state capacity. The Libyan government is trying hard to keep the political process moving forward, electing a congress and president, but it has done so at the expense of a deteriorating security environment. The gamble for the Libyans was that they would get their political house in order before the security environment became too difficult to contain. The government has lost that bet. Now it must deal with the consequences of having allowed the security situation to become so bad as to lead to the death of the US ambassador, the very country that helped the Libyan overthrow the brutal rule of Muammar Gadaffi.

I had the good opportunity to brief Ambassador Stevens in the spring of 2012 before he assumed his post in Libya. He was affable and insightful, with deep and genuine empathy for the challenges facing Libyans and Middle Easterners more broadly. He was just the kind of man that any country would have wanted to represent its interests overseas and the US was lucky to have him. I am sure that many of us in the community feel the same way. He will be sorely missed.

US consulate attack in Libya underlines threat of Salafi fundamentalists
Radicals who were kept at bay or in prison under dictators such as Gaddafi and Mubarak are now free to pursue their agendas

Ian Black
, Middle East editor
The GuardianWednesday 12 September 2012 0

If Muammar Gaddafi were still alive, he might give a bitter laugh at the news that the US ambassador to Libya has been killed in Benghazi. Hosni Mubarak, in his prison hospital, would growl a wry "I told you so" after the attack on the fortress-like American embassy in Cairo.

Two onslaughts in two of the cities that witnessed the historic drama of the Arab spring last year do not an Islamist winter make. But both underline the glowering and dangerous presence of the sort of radical Muslim fundamentalists whom the old regimes kept at bay and are now free to pursue their agendas. Gaddafi and Mubarak may have been unreconstructed dictators but, by and large, they did Washington's bidding while presenting themselves as the guardians of stability. And US diplomats were usually safe.

Libya is the more disturbing case. On a day when Gaddafi's democratically elected heirs were due to announce a new prime minister, it will be infuriating to have global attention diverted to the Salafi extremists who killed an American official who was instrumental in helping overthrow a hated tyrant. It will also highlight the grave problem of security as the authorities in Tripoli struggle to create a national police force and disarm militias.
Conspiracy theories are common in the Middle East, but it was surely no coincidence that these incidents took place on 11 September – a date that will be associated with the notion of an inevitable "clash of civilizations" long after the death of Osama bin Laden and demise of George W Bush.

In Cairo, much was made of the role of the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's Egyptian successor, and of the black Salafi flags carried by demonstrators. Still, the target was a crude and poisonously anti-Muslim film made in the US and circulated on YouTube, aided by the notorious Pastor Terry Jones – evidence of American arrogance and prejudice rather than anything directly political.

Barack Obama faced criticism for backing Mubarak until the end, but the US supports Cairo's new regime – now led by Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Libyans know the US backed last year's UN resolution that led to a no-fly zone, Nato intervention and Gaddafi's downfall. Salafi groups in Tunisia, a thorn in the side of its Muslim Brotherhood government, also called for anti-US protests. (Salafis, like Islamists, come in different shapes: all are socially conservative but not all condone violence.)
Islam is by definition wider than any national issue and this violence highlights the uncomfortable truth that the US remains deeply unpopular across the Muslim world, where Iraq, Afghanistan and, above all, the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain open sores.

But religion and politics make for a toxic combination. "The US has killed hundreds of thousands of unnamed Muslims in 9/11 revenge wars," commented the Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah. "Media dehumanisation helps make this possible."

Coming amid the US presidential campaign, the attacks are likely to curb what enthusiasm remains for US activism in the Arab world as the fear of Islamist chaos overwhelms hope for the springtime of Arab democracy. Syrians hoping that the US will back Libyan-style intervention or arm the rebels will be disappointed. Others pray that the influence of Saudi-financed Salafis will be limited.

Arab governments want to get on well with Washington but their relationships will always be vulnerable to provocations by extremists on both sides. For too many across the region, the Florida pastor Jones looks more influential than Obama.

ANALYSIS    AIR DATE: Sept. 12, 2012
Libyan Salafists Assert Power with Embassy Attacks, Hoping to Catch Public Eye

Since Libya established a secular democracy, conservative Muslims in Libya known as Salafists have felt disenfranchised. Gwen Ifil speaks to Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and journalist Robin Wright about the link between Salafi Muslims and the latest attacks in the Middle East.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the developments of the last 24 hours, I'm joined now by two people with deep experience in Libya.

Robin Wright is a journalist and author who knew Ambassador Stevens personally and has reported extensively from Libya and the wider Middle East.

And Frederic Wehrey is a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Robin Wright, tell us about Ambassador Stevens.

ROBIN WRIGHT, journalist: Chris was an extraordinary envoy, in that he understood the streets as well as the elites. He spoke the language. He understood the culture. And he had seen Libya through -- all through three of its phases. He spent two years as the number two during Moammar Gadhafi's rule at the American Embassy. And then he was -- he spent a year during the transition as the liaison to the Transitional National Council in Libya based in Benghazi.

Slain U.S. Ambassador Was 'Excited to Return to Libya'
And then he returned to establish the American Embassy in the post-Gadhafi era. And he really was tremendously thoughtful.
He was willing to get out, even facing the extraordinary dangers of a country with 300 militias, going through a fragile transition, and trying to kind of change a country that had been the nemesis for the United States for 40 years into an ally.

GWEN IFILL: Frederic Wehrey, based on your experience on the ground in Libya and in Benghazi in particular, did any of this surprise you? Did it seem unusual? The latest reports we're hearing is that this attack was actually planned.

FREDERIC WEHREY, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: Tragically, I think there were a lot of indicators that this was coming. What you had was, since the July 7 elections in Libya, security really declined, especially in Benghazi. And this was really unnoticed by a lot of Western press. You had almost daily incidents of car bombings, attacks on Gadhafi officials, rocket attacks on Western icons like the Red Cross, and in May, an attack on a consulate in Benghazi. So, this wasn't the first of its kind. This is really a problem of the weakness of the government and the weakness of the police forces throughout the country.

GWEN IFILL: But one of the things we have been hearing, to the extent we have been hearing anything from Libya, is how welcoming Libyans were and how -- even Ambassador Stevens had been quoted saying how much better things had gotten. Was he misguided, or were we?

ROBIN WRIGHT: Well, I think the majority of Libyans are overwhelmingly welcoming of the United States and the role of NATO in facilitating the transition to post-Gadhafi rule. But as you saw in Egypt as well, there are a small group of extremists, hard-liners, ultra-conservatives of different ilks who are sensitive about the role of the United States, in the case of Egypt inflamed by a film about the Prophet Mohammad, that play into passions. It may also be that you have an al-Qaida affiliate involved in some way in the Libyan attack. We don't know, but there are early indications that what happened in Benghazi and in Cairo may actually have slightly different causes.

GWEN IFILL: There may have been a retaliatory effect, we think, perhaps. There are so many versions of what may have been the spark.

FREDERIC WEHREY: Absolutely. And I think -- just to echo, I think Libyans, culturally, temperamentally, historically, are not predisposed to support this sort of violent radical Islamism that is motivating these attacks. In many of the previous instances of violence, you have seen Libyans mobilize in protests or on social media against the violence. And, as Robin mentioned, this is a country that is still very grateful to the West for the intervention that toppled Gadhafi.

GWEN IFILL: What do we know, Robin, about this video, this film, whatever, however you choose to describe it, that was posted some time ago online and suddenly caught fire this week?

ROBIN WRIGHT: Very little. There have been different reports in the first 24 hours about who may have been behind it different sources, people from different parts of the world, different religions. And it's kind of dangerous to get into that turf until we really know more about where it came from. But it did portray, an excerpt from it that was put on YouTube, actions by the Prophet Mohammad that people in the region felt were sensitive, in the same way that people of other -- Christians might feel about the portrayal of Jesus in -- controversial. This is a sensitive issue for people of all faiths. And Muslims at this particular juncture, so sensitive about the roles and tensions of the outside world in countries as they are reclaiming control of their own faith -- and fate, political fate, you know, can trigger exceptional or extraordinary responses, but, again, by a tiny minority.
When you look at Egypt, 2,000 people in a country with 85 million people, that's almost infinitesimally, but it happened on 9/11 and it was something that echoed the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979. So, it clearly inflames us as well. And it's -- the tragedy is that this is a very small minority of people I think in both countries.

GWEN IFILL: Tell me about the Salafi Muslims. What role do we think they may have played? They have been stirring up some of this?

FREDERIC WEHREY: Well, they have certainly been behind a lot of the attacks in Libya against Sufism, which is a variant of Islam that they regard as heretical.
They have attacked other Western targets. My reading of the Salafis in Libya is that they're such a marginal minority, and Libyans are really predisposed to a more moderate interpretation -- and we saw this in the elections -- that the Salafis are grasping at relevance and they're trying to rattle their sabers. They're trying to muscle their way to prominence through this violence. And this is not the strategy of a movement that has grassroots support or a winning movement. So again they're a fringe movement. That said, they can still cause violence. They can still play a spoiler role. And, importantly, they're highlighting the weakness of the government. And what you're seeing is a lot of Libyans, they're mad at the Salafis for this attack and for other violence, but they're turning their anger toward the government and they're saying, why aren't you providing security?

GWEN IFILL: One of the interesting things is the difference between the reaction in Egypt and the reaction in Libya. The Libyan government came out. We heard the prime minister denounce this, the U.S. ambassador from Libya to the U.S. also denouncing it. We haven't gotten the same response in Egypt for the breach of the U.S. Embassy there.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Yes, it was very striking, the different responses in Tripoli and in Cairo. And I think that was a subtheme of the remarks by both the secretary of state and the president today, acknowledging the immediate and heavy-hearted response by the Libyan government, the role that the Libyan security forces played in trying to fight back those who were mobbing the consulate in Benghazi, and then trying to save Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. And by the absence of words about Egypt, it was almost as if saying, and where were you?
And I think this is a tragic moment, the timing of this, not just because of 9/11, but also because both of these countries need U.S., in the case of Libya, technological help, and Egypt financial help to deal with the issues that triggered the uprisings in the first place.
And you just had 100 top-level executives from American corporations in Cairo to talk about private investment, helping create jobs, which is what really is so critical in stabilization. And these kinds of attacks in Cairo and Benghazi undermine American faith, business or diplomatic, in the future of these countries.

GWEN IFILL: I think most Americans looked back at the Arab spring and think, good, done, that's all taken care of. But, instead, I wonder if both of these events happening within 24 hours in two different capitals should be sending us some sort of warning signal, something that the U.S. should be aware of, on alert for.

FREDERIC WEHREY: Well, certainly, I think it's an indication that revolutions are a long-term process, and the initial victors can sometimes lose out to more radical actors.
And I think, importantly, the international community shouldn't disengage from these countries, and especially in Libya. The country is grateful for our assistance, but they also need more assistance in building representative institutions and especially building their security forces.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Chris' message would have been, do not waver. That's the one thing he would have wanted more than anything, that this commitment to try to help stabilize fragile democracies is really what he had devoted his life to. And that -- the challenge now is to instill the rule of law and help them, not only find those who perpetrated, but to bring them to justice in fair trials, and to be a contrast to, for example, the execution of Moammar Gadhafi, but to put them in on trial in ways that reflect that these are new democracies committed to the principles of law and order.

GWEN IFILL: That's what we will be watching for next.
Robin Wright, Frederic Wehrey, thank you both very much.


As the death of a U.S. ambassador in Libya demonstrates, the ultraconservative Salafi movement is pushing to the forefront in the politics of the Middle East. The West should be careful how it reacts.

By now you've probably heard. Just a few hours after an angry mob of ultraconservative Muslimsstormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the U.S. ambassador to Libya was  killed  during a protest in the city of Benghazi. Both riots were provoked by the news that an anti-Muslim group in the United States has released a film that insults the Prophet Mohammed. In Egypt, the protestors hauled down the U.S. flag and replaced it with the same black banner sometimes used by Al Qaeda. Shades of Iran, 1979. Scary stuff.

Both attacks are utterly outrageous. But perhaps the United States shouldn't have been caught completely off guard. The rioters in both cases come from the region's burgeoning Salafi movement, and the Salafis have been in the headlines a lot lately. In Libya, over the past few months, they've been challenging the recently elected government by demolishing ancient Sufi shrines, which they deem to be insufficiently Islamic. In Tunisia, they've been attacking businesses that sell alcohol and instigating nasty social media campaigns about the country's female competitors in the Olympics. In Syria's civil war, there are increasingreports that the opposition's wealthy Gulf financiers have been channeling cash to Salafi groups, whose strict interpretation of Islam is considered close to the puritanical Wahhabism of the Saudis and others. Lately Salafi groups have been gaining fresh prominence in parts of the Islamic world -- from Mali to Lebanon, fromKashmir to Russia's North Caucasus.

Some -- like journalist Robin Wright, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed on the subject -- say that this means we should be really, really worried. Painting a picture of a new "Salafi crescent" ranging from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, she worries that this bodes ill for newly won freedoms after the revolutions of 2011. Calling the rise of the new Salafi groups "one of the most underappreciated and disturbing byproducts of the Arab revolts," Wright says that they're now "moving into the political space once occupied by jihadi militants, who are now less in vogue." "[S]ome Islamists are more hazardous to Western interests and values than others," she writes. "The Salafis are most averse to minority and women's rights."

Legatum Institute

Others, like Egyptian journalist Mustafa Salama, dismiss this as hysteria. "The reality of the movement is that it is fragmented, not uniform, within Salafis there are various ideologies and discourses," Salama writes. "Furthermore being a Salafi does not boil down to a set of specific political preferences." The only thing that unites them, he argues, is their interest in returning to the beliefs and practices of the original Islamic community founded by the Prophet Mohammed -- a desire that, in itself, is shared by quite a few mainstream Muslims. (The Arabic word salaf, meaning "predecessors" or "ancestors," refers to the original companions of the Prophet.) This doesn't mean that they're necessarily opposed to freedom and democracy. During the revolution in Egypt, he says, some Salafis were "protecting Churches in Sinai and elsewhere from vandalism and theft" at considerable risk to themselves, though the fact wasn't reported in the Western media.

If the first death of a U.S. ambassador in two decades is any indication, it's probably time that the world starts paying attention to this debate. I think there are several points worth mentioning.

First of all, however we define them, these new "populist puritans" (as Wright aptly refers to them) are enjoying an extraordinary boom. Though solid numbers are hard to come by, they're routinely described as the fastest-growing movement in modern-day Islam. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's Salafis barely figured in the political landscape during the Mubarak years -- then stormed onto the scene to capture a quarter of the vote in the country's first democratic election last year. Their share of the vote could well increase, given that the new Brotherhood-led government is likely to have problems making good on the ambitious promises it's made to Egyptian voters over the past year. Their rapid rise in Tunisia is especially startling, given that country's relatively relaxed atmosphere toward religion.

Indeed, if the history of revolutions shows us anything, it's that transformative social upheavals of the kind we've seen in the Arab Spring don't necessarily favor the moderates. On the day that the Shah left Iran in 1979, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that the radical forces aroundAyatollah Khomeini, who followed his innovative theory of clerical rule, would end up running the country. Secular socialists, communists, liberal democrats, democratic nationalists, moderate Islamists, and even other rival Shiite clerics were all vying for power. But Khomeini ultimately triumphed because he offered forceful, uncorrupted leadership with a simple message -- "Islamic government" -- that cut through the mayhem with the authority of faith. Lenin understood the same political dynamic: Hence his ruthlessly straightforward slogan "Bread, Peace, Land," which was perfectly calculated to appeal to Russians wearied by anarchy, war, and social injustice.

The Salafi notion of returning to the purity of 7th-century Islam can have the same kind of draw for some Muslims exasperated by everyday corruption and abusive rule. Syria offers a good example. If you're going up against Bashar al-Assad's helicopter gunships armed with an antique rifle and a few rusty bullets, you'll probably prefer to go into battle with a simple slogan on your lips. "Power sharing for all ethnic groups in a liberal parliamentary democracy" might not cut it -- especially if you happen to be a Sunni who's seen your relatives cut down by Assad's murderous militias. This isn't to say that the opposition is now dominated by Salafis; far from it. But it's safe to assume that the longer the war goes on, the more pronounced the extremes will become.

At the same time, the Sunni Salafis are a major factor in the growing global polarization of the Islamic community between Shiites and Sunnis. (The French scholar of Islam Olivier Roy arguesthat the intra-Muslim rivalry between the two groups has now become even more important than the presumed confrontation between Islam and the West.) The fact that many Salafis in various parts of the world get their financing from similarly conservative elements in Saudi Arabia doesn't help. Perversely enough, Iranian propaganda is already trying to portray the West as backers of Salafi extremism in order to destabilize Tehran and its allies. We'll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing in the future, I'm afraid.

In short, no one should count on the Salafis to go away any time soon. So how should the outside world deal with them -- especially if they're going to go around storming foreign embassies?

I think the answer is two-pronged. First, don't generalize. Not all Salafis should be treated as beyond the pale. Salafis who are willing to stand by the rules of democracy and acknowledge the rights of religious and cultural minorities should be encouraged to participate in the system. With time, voters in the new democracies of the region will discriminate between the demagogues and the people who can actually deliver a better society.

Second, don't allow radicals to dictate the rules for everyone else. This is why the outcome of the current political conflicts in Tunisia and Libya are extremely important for the region as a whole. In both countries, voters have now had the opportunity to declare their political preferences in free elections, and they have delivered pretty clear messages. Libyans voted overwhelmingly for secular politicians, while Tunisians chose a mix of moderate Islamists and secularists. But the Salafis in both places don't seem content to leave it at that, and are trying to foment instability by instigating a culture war.
What's encouraging is that we're beginning to see some pushback from ordinary Libyans and Tunisians who don't want to submit to the logic of radicalization -- not to mention scholars at the Arab world's most prestigious university, also in Cairo. Don't be fooled by the rabble-rousers. The story in the Middle East is still more interesting than the stereotypes.

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