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Dreams of a liberal Libya

In his statement marking the death of Muhammar Gaddafi last week, President Obama inserted a mystifying passage: “[T]he Libyan people now have a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship….”

“An inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya.” Can we mull that over with a glass of wine at the faculty club?

Obama added this — it would be wrong to call it a demand, more of a request or an imprecation, yoking heterogeneous ideas by violence together, like metaphysical poetry: “And we call on our Libyan friends to continue to work with the international community to secure dangerous materials, and to respect the human rights of all Libyans –- including those who have been detained.”

Now Obama must have known what we were thinking, so he also added this somewhat self-refuting observation: “We’re under no illusions — Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy.”

“A long and winding road.” Isn’t that a Beatles song? “Why leave me standing here? Let me know the way.”

No sooner had Obama read his statement than Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council and de facto president, announced that Libyan laws would have Sharia as their “basic source.” Just to get the ball rolling, he immediately lifted one law from Gaddafi’s era that he said was in conflict with Sharia — the law banning polygamy. Happy days are here again.

He went a step further. He announced that in future bank regulations would ban the charging of interest, in line with Sharia. “Interest creates disease and hatred among people,” he explained.

Obama foresaw that “[t]here w[ould] be difficult days ahead.” But did he think they would come quite this soon?

Let’s see. There is precisely one Middle Eastern country that answers to the description of inclusive, tolerant, democratic and free. One of these days Obama might even get around to saluting it.

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