In Benghazi, a car bomb aimed at Libyan intelligence officials shook a crowded street. It's not the first car bomb to strike Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. Benghazi has its own insurgency and remains a flashpoint for the looming civil war that no one is talking about.
Postwar Libya has not received the same scrutiny that postwar Iraq did. The reasons for that revolve around partisan politics and differences in commitment. American soldiers are not patrolling the streets of Benghazi the way that they did in Baghdad, and that translates into a lack of public engagement. Unlike Iraq, Libya is a back-burner issue, even if the oil-rich country is beginning to look a lot like Iraq.
The fall of Gaddafi, like the fall of Saddam, unleashed simmering tribal and religious tensions. While Libya does not have the sharp indigenous split between Sunnis and Shiites that Iraq does, the Arab Spring opened the door to Salafi violence across North Africa from Mali to Tunisia and east through Libya and as far as Egypt.
The Arab Spring uprisings have been used by the Islamists as a pretext for purging Christians in Egypt and Syria, as well as Sufis in Mali and Libya. Despite a recent election in Libya that was widely hailed as a signpost of stability, the country is in no way stable and its central authority is an illusion. Tribal warfare, even of the kind taking place in Zitan, 90 miles from Tripoli, is however a lesser evil compared to the revelation that the Libyan government either cannot stop the Salafi violence or is unwilling to do so.
Both possibilities are present and plausible. The Libyan military under Gaddafi was a patchwork of expensive equipment and incompetent troops. The loss of much of that expensive equipment in Gaddafi's earlier wars and NATO bombing raids that targeted whatever was left over leaves the Libyan government with limited security capabilities.
The loose coalition against Gaddafi has been splintered by its own differing agendas. One of the few things that everyone agrees on is the necessity of using Islam and Islamic law to fill the gap left by Gaddafi and his charade of Libyan nationalism. If one of Gaddafi's kin were to try and reclaim Libya, enough factions might unite together to put a stop to his efforts, but no similar coalition can be assembled to protect Libya's Sufis or its women, the other group being targeted by the Salafis.
Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al has made it clear that the Salafis have a free hand to do as they please. "If all shrines in Libya are destroyed so we can avoid the death of one person," he said, "then that is a price we are ready to pay."
Libyan security forces have stood aside or even helped the Salafis do to Libya what the Taliban did to Afghanistan. But that is only to be expected when many members of those security forces, patched together out of bands of ambitious Jihadi fighters, are Salafis. The Interior Minister may have unilaterally ceded all of Libya's Sufi shrines to the Salafis, but the Salafis won't stop at destroying graves. Not when they can fill them as well.
In Tunisia and Egypt, Salafi violence has been met with similar inaction or delayed reactions from the security forces. The Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamists distance themselves from Salafi attacks on non-Muslims or on variant Muslim groups to maintain plausible deniability while the Salafis rid them of people they consider infidels and heretics. The Salafis have foreign backing and no shortage of recruits eager to kill and maim for the cause, and the Post-Arab Spring governments are staying out of their way.
"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are," Obama said, in his speech defending the Libyan intervention. But what does the current state of Libya say about who we are?
The Libyan intervention handed over the country to rule by armed militias and as car bombs go off in major cities, and religious, political and tribal violence reaches a boiling point; what has become of that responsibility?