Liberation in Libya? Sharia law and unintended consequences

According to the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph, Libya’s interim leadership has declared that Sharia – the traditional Islamic code of law – will play an integral part in the country’s new judicial system.

In describing the upcoming changes, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council and de facto president, stated that Sharia will be the “basic source” of Libyan laws in the post-Gaddafi era. Bank regulations will prohibit the charging of interest, he said by way of example, and a law banning polygamy has already been struck down.

Sharia, of course, has been criticized frequently in the West and among liberal Muslims for what many feel is its oppressive approach to issues like homosexuality, freedom of speech, and the treatment of women.

This is the “new era of promise” that we have helped to bring about.

Few people would dispute that Gaddafi was a tyrant whose brutality toward his own people was indefensible. But do we know that the Libyan people will fare any better in this new era? For that matter, do we know that the United States will be any safer with this new regime in power? The answer, to both questions, is no.

For much of the Libyan conflict, we were not even sure who exactly we were supporting, or what they were trying to do. By the time we realized the rebel forces we were assisting may well have included al-Qaeda fighters, the bombs had been dropped, our intentions had been made clear, and it was too late.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because this is far from the first time the United States has provided aid to those who would eventually become an enemy. The U.S. armed and trained Osama bin Laden and his mujahideen rebels in their fight against their Soviet occupiers, and supported Saddam Hussein diplomatically and materially in the Iran-Iraq war. How do we know that we are not headed for the same conclusion here? We don’t.

The fear of Sharia-based principles encroaching on the American judicial system has become a popular theme among conservatives, in particular. Yet its tentative implementation in Libya was made possible by the intervention of our military. As is often the case, this does not fit into the narrative of “spreading freedom” that is frequently used as justification for these actions.

When it comes to meddling in the affairs of other nations, the bottom line is that we just don’t know what the unintended consequences of our actions will be. It is easy to say that Gaddafi was “bad” and that we needed to “do something.” It is much harder to predict how the regime change – and potential cultural changes – we have facilitated will affect us in the future.

If Gadaffi’s overthrow is the key that allows a radical Islamic state with ties to al-Qaeda to emerge, will our role there still be cause for celebration?

The United States can no longer afford to plunge recklessly into conflicts that do not threaten our security. Years and years of history have shown us that this is a foolish idea. It’s time we learned our lesson and returned to the principles of nonintervention endorsed by our Founders.

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