NEW DELHI – Following the death of Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government announced the “liberation” of the country. It also declared that a system based on sharia (Islamic law), including polygamy, would replace the secular dictatorship that Qaddafi ran for 42 years. Swapping one form of authoritarianism for another seems a cruel letdown after seven months of NATO airstrikes in the name of democracy.
In fact, the Western powers that brought about regime change in Libya have made little effort to prevent its new rulers from establishing a theocracy. But this is the price that the West willingly pays in exchange for the privilege of choosing the new leadership. Indeed, the cloak of Islam helps to protect the credibility of leaders who might otherwise be seen as foreign puppets.
For the same reason, the West has condoned the rulers of the oil sheikhdoms for their longstanding alliance with radical clerics. For example, the decadent House of Saud, backed by the United States, not only practices Wahhabi Islam – the source of modern Islamic fundamentalism – but also exports this fringe form of the faith, gradually snuffing out more liberal Islamic traditions. Yet, when the Saudi Crown Prince died recently, the US stood by silently as the ruling family appointed its most reactionary Islamist as the new heir to the throne.