Virtual Voices

What's next for Libya?

North Africa

Forgive me if I don't join the State Department, American officials, and world leaders in their euphoric "Hallelujah Chorus" celebrating the demise of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. Oh, I'm happy he's dead, but I have as much faith that things will change for the better in Libya as I do in the Great Pumpkin rising from the pumpkin patch on Halloween night (sorry, Linus).

"Gadhafi's Death Ushers in New Era," read the headline in last Friday's usually sober Wall Street Journal. "West Hails a Turning Point . . . ," read the sub-headline. The question is, or should be: a turning to what? As Richard Boudreaux sensibly wrote in the Journal, "[Qaddafi] leaves a nation torn by war, devoid of civic institutions and difficult to govern." What can be built on that rubble when Libyans have no history of practicing any of the values the West holds dear? No functional nation can rise when it rests on such a weak foundation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has dropped an additional $11 million on Libya ($135 million since the uprising began), no doubt borrowed from the Chinese since we don't have that kind of money. Why do Democrats think money is the answer to everything? Let's see if the rebels submit receipts and expense vouchers showing what they spent. It's a safe bet much of it will go down the rat hole of corruption, as our money has in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

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We have been assured by various sources throughout the misnamed "Arab Spring" that these revolutionaries are genuine democrats, who want free elections and will guarantee at least some rights (if not equal ones) for women, religious minorities, and perhaps even political opponents. But the attacks by Muslims on Coptic Christians and their churches in Egypt ought to be a warning sign that an Egyptian (and Libyan) version of America is unlikely to bloom in such putrid soil.

Turkey was supposed to be the shining light of 21st-century Islam, a beacon to the rest of the Muslim world. Instead, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been turning more and more to Islam's conservative wing while rebuffing Israel and behaving in ways not befitting a U.S. ally or member of NATO.

In Tunisia, where the Arab uprisings began, an election was recently held. Initial returns indicate that a once-banned Islamist party, Ennahda, may have won a majority.

And Afghanistan isn't turning out as many had hoped. The U.S. State Department reports "there is not a single, public Christian church left in Afghanistan," the last one having been razed in March 2010. In March 2011 a Congressional Research Service report showed that Afghanistan has cost American taxpayers more than $440 billion (and counting), 1,700 lives (and counting), and the country is as intolerant of any faith other than Islam as when it was run by the Taliban. This is progress?

If real progress is to be made in Libya toward representative democracy, women's rights, religious pluralism, economic stability, and diplomatic cooperation with the West, the first step must be to rewrite the National Transitional Council's draft constitution. As I wrote in August following Qaddafi's ouster, Article 1 tells us all where the rebel leadership wants to take the country: "Islam is the religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence [Sharia]."

Should Libya's new leaders approve a constitution without that clause, if they keep the Muslim Brotherhood at bay-which is now active in other Arab nations experiencing upheaval-and if they turn toward the West for more than economic aid, embracing the most fundamental of human rights, I will move from pessimism to guarded optimism. Confidence isn't warranted when a headline in the London Daily Telegraph says, "Interim [Libyan] ruler unveils more radical than expected plans for Islamic law." Than expected? What are they drinking?

I remain a skeptic that Libya is capable of heading in a direction that improves the lives of its people, aligns itself with the United States and our interests, and lessens tensions in the region.

But I am open to evidence to the contrary, if it's not based on wishful thinking.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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