Nicolas Pelham writes: As in the time of Qaddafi, words and reality in postrevolutionary Libya often seem to inhabit separate spheres. Twenty minutes before landing in Tripoli, women returning from Egypt drape their highlighted hair and designer jeans in black cloth. The women at passport control have gone, and the man in charge of immigration is the one with the bushiest beard. Inside the city, Muslim iconoclasts are purging the capital of its colonial-era images. Soon after capturing the capital in August, they fired a shell through the belly of the Bride of the Sea, a sculpture of a bare-breasted mermaid entwined with a tender gazelle, which since Italian times had served as a backdrop for wedding photos. And last month they stole the sculpture itself. Herati only got it back because the thieves could be traced by the cameras Qaddafi hid in the capital’s roadside trees. For now, though, he says, it is safer for it to remain under wraps.
Other monuments in the capital are disappearing too. The three tombs of Ottoman mystics that graced the entrance of the eighteenth-century Ahmed Pasha Qaramanli mosque at the entrance of the souk have been smashed, and replaced with an already overgrown patch of grass. Islamists have snapped off the antique Koranic inscriptions in the souk’s other old mosques, lest believers be led astray into polytheism by venerating the ornaments instead of God alone.
Libya Dawn’s officials blame the attacks on the local followers of a Saudi scholar, Rabi’ al-Mudkhali. He works, says an official, with Saudi intelligence, seeking to tarnish the name of Islamist groups that do not follow Saudi’s puritanical doctrines or more importantly their politics. Others suggest that acolytes of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, or ISIS, are finding a foothold thanks to Libya Dawn’s relaxed approach to Islamic extremists. I failed to find evidence of the Islamic State cadres that had been reported in Tripoli, but cafés frequented by couples have been torched and embassies car-bombed. A couple of days after I left Tripoli, a gunman shot dead an unveiled woman driving home near the city center. Lest anyone be tempted to investigate, in mid-November Libya Dawn raided the National Commission for Human Rights, seized its database, and padlocked its doors. [Continue reading…]