libya

Risky Business

iamshutter / Shutterstock
iamshutter / Shutterstock

ADD LIBYA TO the growing list of countries where the United States is conducting military operations in the name of fighting terrorism.

In February, a U.S. airstrike in the town of Sabratha in western Libya killed more than 40 people. The intended target was said to be Noureddine Chouchane, a senior commander of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) from nearby Tunisia, but there has been no independent confirmation that he was at the site. Among those killed in the attack were two Serbian embassy staff who were being held hostage by ISIS.

Since the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, Libya has been engulfed by chaos. There are now two competing governments—one in the eastern city of Tobruk (recognized by the United Nations) and the other in Tripoli—neither with much power or public support. Real power in the country is in the hands of hundreds of militia groups that rule local areas and often support rival government factions. Many of the militias oppose the presence of foreign forces, and the Tripoli-based government vigorously criticized the U.S. attack on Sabratha.

Pentagon commanders believe that bombing and commando operations can reduce the terrorist threat in Libya, but the experience of military intervention in other countries during the past 14 years suggests otherwise. U.S. military attacks have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya?

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress al Qaeda, but that organization morphed into the even-more-dangerous menace of ISIS. The U.S. has conducted more than 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq during the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

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Review: '13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi'

In marketing the film, Bay and the real-life men he portrays have stated that 13 Hours is not a political film. The goal, they say, is simply to show what happened, as it happened, and to recognize the courage and sacrifice of the people on the ground that day.

But it takes a more nuanced filmmaker than Bay (the creator of Bad Boys, Armageddon, and the Transformers films) to take an inherently political story like this one and truly make it free from bias. While 13 Hours doesn’t specifically call anyone out, or criticize (or endorse) the decisions of any particular leader or party, Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan mistake those qualities as the only ones required to make the film “non-political.”

Pope Francis Condemns Islamic State’s Executions of Christians in Libya

 Photo by REUTERS / Asmaa Waguih / RNS
Families of the 27 Egyptian Coptic Christians workers kidnapped in Libya. Photo by REUTERS / Asmaa Waguih / RNS

Pope Francis on Feb. 16 denounced the brutal slayings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by militants linked to the Islamic State, saying “they were assassinated just for being Christian.”

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland.

The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”

“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said.

He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.

Islamic Militias Continue Spread Beyond the Middle East Into African Nations

A street in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, before the war.​ Image courtesy Fredric
A street in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, before the war.​ Image courtesy Fredrick Nzwili/RNS.

An Islamist group has gained ground in the northeastern Libyan city of Benghazi, declaring it an Islamic territory and raising fears that radical Islamist militias may spread in the rest of Africa.

The declaration from Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia movement mirrors the rise of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. The two militant movements share similar goals.

The prospect of more fighting and the possible disintegration of Libya, the country where NATO allied forces helped topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, sent chills throughout the nation.

“I think this is a risky way to go,” said Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader who is the coordinator of Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa.

“It hinges on the failure of the governments, lack of democracy and poor and unequal distribution of resources,” added Saliou.

These latest actions reflect the growing influence of Islamists in Africa, where militants are challenging existing governments.

Christians in Libya Cast Anxious Eye at Religious Freedom

A Catholic priest converses with an Anglican pastor at Christ the King Anglican Cathedral in Tripoli. Photo: Fredrick Nzwili/RNS

Church leaders in Libya remain hopeful that Christians in the mostly Muslim country will be allowed to practice their faith, even as the country appears to be moving towards Shariah law.

In December, Libya’s General National Congress voted to make Shariah the source of all legislation and institutions. The vote came amid international concerns over the diminishing Christian populations in North Africa and the Middle East, and increased Islamist influence in countries engulfed by the Arab Spring revolution.

Libya has undergone a two-year transition since 2011 when demonstrations toppled Moammar Gadhafi. Before the revolution, Christians were granted religious freedom, but with the change of power, they have been arbitrarily arrested, attacked, killed, and forced by the Islamist groups to convert to Islam.

Don't Give Up on Global Friendship

Afghans who worked with Ambassador Dubs gather around a makeshift memorial at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. / Family Photo

WHEN AMBASSADOR Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi, Libya, in September, it was jarring for me to hear NPR refer to the last U.S. ambassador to be slain: my father, Adolph Dubs. He was kidnapped in 1979 in Kabul, Afghanistan, by Afghan extremists whose motives were never learned, and killed hours later in a botched armed response by the Soviet-allied Afghan government, even as U.S. diplomats pleaded for more time to negotiate.

My dad was 58, a career diplomat. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he had entered the foreign service, compelled by a deep desire to learn to use diplomacy to blunt the forces of fear and hate at the root of violent conflict. As a young man, he had considered the Lutheran ministry; he saw his work as a diplomat as a pragmatic way to build relationships, even with those whose histories and beliefs seemed alien to our own. People sensed this about him. Whether meeting with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War, with Serbian farmers in the former Yugoslavia, or, finally, with Afghans in the uncertain and perilous months before the Soviet invasion, he was universally respected for his integrity and commitment, and even loved for his genuine humanity and humor.

Among the many expressions of sympathy I received following his death, one photo is particularly meaningful. It's not the one depicting U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and other dignitaries receiving my father's casket at Andrews Air Force Base—rather, it's an image (above) taken in the courtyard of the embassy in Kabul. It shows the Afghan men who knew him, who had lived and worked around him during his time there. They are grouped around a memorial they had made, with his picture propped on it. These are the people who considered him a friend, understood what he was about in their country, and felt his loss, deeply and personally.

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U.S. Preparing Potential Targets in Libya Attack

The New York Times is reporting this afternoon that secret “target packages” are being prepared by the U.S. for potential action against militants suspected in last week’s attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“The American military’s top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is preparing detailed information that could be used to kill or capture some of the militants suspected in the attack last month in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, senior military and counterterrorism officials said on Tuesday.

“Preparing the “target packages” is the first step in a process that the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency are taking in preparation for, and in advance of, any orders from President Obama and his top civilian and military advisers to carry out action against those determined complicit in the attack on the United States Mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

“Mr. Obama has a range of options available — including drone strikes, Special Operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden; and joint missions with the Libyan authorities — but all carry substantial political, diplomatic and physical risks.”

Transcript: Remarks by the President to the U.N. General Assembly

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
President Obama spoke to the United Nations general assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, in which he condemns global violence and extremism, framing the speech around the recent tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Libya. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman:  I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician.  As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco.  And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life.  As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya.  He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile. 

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship.  As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work.  He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met.  And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital.  That’s when America’s compound came under attack.  Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old. 

Ambassador Stevens’ Death: Tragic, Hopeful, Ironic

I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.

There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

A shared meal in Hebron.
A shared meal in Hebron.

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen).  Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.

And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.     

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.

Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  

On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,

“Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

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