Islamist Neocons?

The effort to paint the Libyan rebels as freedom-loving democrats is visibly faltering, especially in view of the rise of Abdelhakim Belhaj, alias Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, as the top military commander in Tripoli.

Belhaj’s biography is interesting, to say the least: the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), he traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s, where he met Osama bin Laden and fought against the Soviet-backed regime. After the war, he eventually returned to Libya, where he founded the LIFG and took the nom-de-guerre Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq. An Islamist revolt in Eastern Libya, led by the LIFG, was defeated by Gadhafi in 1996, and Belhaj fled the country for his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan.

He was welcomed by the Taliban and al Qaeda, where he was especially close to Mullah Omar. LIFG set up two training camps in Afghanistan, one of which was headed up by Abu Yahya, now Al Qaeda’s top ideologue, also a Libyan national. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the LIFG was listed as an Official Terrorist Group and Belhaj was targeted by the US.

The CIA traced him to Malaysia, in 2004, and he was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport. They shipped him to Bangkok, where he was held in a secret CIA prison, “renditioned” back to Libya, and jailed by the Gadhafi regime, where he says he was tortured. Freed after a seven-year stint in the hoosegow – due to the efforts of Gadhafi’s son, Saif – Belhaj underwent a “deradicalization” conversion – I’m sure the torture helped – and renounced “extremism.” As the Guardian reports:

“The British government encouraged and helped publicize the Libyan ‘deradicalisation’ effort, modelled on what was being done with former jihadis in Egypt. In a program overseen by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, the LIFG produced a 400-page theological document entitled Corrective Studies explaining its renunciation of violence. Ironically, in an al-Jazeera film in March, Belhaj praised the mediation of Saif al-Islam for his release. Gaddafi’s son said that the men who had been freed ‘were no longer a danger to society.’”

The British investment in “deradicalization” paid off when Belhaj and his associates in the ex-LIFG formed their “Islamic Movement for Change” and called for NATO to intervene on the rebels’ behalf. Soon after the assassination by Islamists of the rebels’ top military commander, Abdul Fatah Younes – a former Interior Minister in Gadhafi’s government who defected to the rebel camp amidst much ballyhoo – Belhaj was made chief of the Tripoli Military Council, the Libyan rebels’ equivalent of the Pentagon, and given the official imprimatur of Western elites. As the Guardian notes, citing jihadi “expert” Noman Benotman:

“The experiences of the LIFG leaders in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Algeria have forced them to mature politically, recalculate strategically, moderate behaviorally, modify their ideological beliefs.”

Modified them to allow for NATO intervention on behalf of an emerging Islamist emirate, lorded over by “Emir” Belhaj?

Benotman, himself a former LIFG fighter, now works for the Quilliam Foundation, which is described by the Guardian as “a UK government-funded counter-radicalization think tank in London.” The Quilliamites are the institutional expression of the West’s latest grand strategy in the endless “war on terrorism,” a campaign of ideological warfare aiming to split the Islamist movement into pro- and-anti Western factions. The Libyan intervention is the culmination of this co-optation strategy.

The Foundation is named after William “Abdullah” Quilliam, a British solicitor of radical political opinions who converted to Islam, in 1882, on a trip to North Africa, and returned to London to found a uniquely British variant of his adopted religion. With a small group of British converts around him, he founded a mosque, a Muslim college, and wrote several books, claiming Queen Victoria (who ordered five copies of The Faith of Islam) among his readers. The Victorian equivalent of the EDL, however, apparently made life difficult for Quilliam and his group, and “Abdullah,” as he was now known, made off for Turkey, where he was designated the “Sheikh of Britain.”

This is where the trail gets murky, but it seems Quilliam returned to Britain in 1914, under an assumed name, “Prof. Henri Marcel Leon,” where he continued his activities on behalf of Islam. An alternate story is that he stayed abroad until just before his death in 1932.

The same murky dodginess permeates the activities of the Foundation that bears his name. Funded by the British government, and now simply called “Quilliam,” the organization deploys its “experts” – ex-jihadis of one sort or another – whenever some event requires a pro-government “spin.” It is a replication of the CIA’s orientation during the cold war, when a cadre of ex-radicals was recruited to do Washington’s bidding in the fight against Communism. By aligning with anti-Communist socialists, particularly ex-Trotskyists whose “Stalinophobia” had become an obsession, the CIA funded and helped organize the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which included such luminaries as Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, and James Burnham. By mobilizing socialists in their anti-Communist crusade, the geniuses over at the CIA hoped to split the left-wing movement internationally and undermine Soviet support. This tactic was deemed especially crucial in Europe, where pro-Moscow Communist parties controlled the labor movement and had gained new prestige as leaders of the anti-Nazi Resistance. There the CIA deployed followers of Jay Lovestone, the former American Communist party leader, who had formed his own ostensibly communist party in the US and later developed extensive ties with US government agencies on the trail of the Reds.

The Quilliamites are, in short, the Islamist equivalent of neoconservatives – those migrants into the conservative movement from the left who later went on to become the loudest and most bloodthirsty advocates of an all-out war against the Soviet Union.

That the Quilliamite strategy has its uses as an instrument of Western foreign policy is underscored by the “success” of the Libyan operation, which funneled money, arms, and most importantly militarily experienced Islamist cadre into Libya to commandeer the rebel movement. The assassination of the former rebel commander-in-chief, and, in effect, an Islamist coup d’etat inside the rebel camp, was the logical outcome of this policy.

If you’ve been baffled by the installation of an Islamist regime in Libya by force of NATO arms – well, now you know. We’re aiding one wing of the Islamist movement in order to fight the “extremist’ wing, on the theory that we can domesticate these tigers and turn them into tabby cats.

If ever a policy was destined to provoke blowback of the worst and deadliest sort, then this is certainly it. The unintended consequences of building up an Islamist movement, not only in Libya but throughout the Middle East, are too obvious to require much explanation. Suffice to say here that the citizens of the newly-minted Libyan “emirate” – forced to live and suffer under a regime of imposed Sharia law – will pay the price of our “strategic” cleverness. So much for the myth that the West is “exporting democracy” throughout the world. What is being exported here is a cadre of Western proxies, whose role as servitors of Washington, London, and Paris is clothed in the religious robes of Quilliamite Islam.

One fully expects a repetition of this ploy in Egypt, and throughout the Muslim world. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, one thing is clear: we in the West have learned nothing about how to avoid the unintended consequences of our interventionist policies.


I want to thank everyone who contributed to the success of our summer fundraising drive – including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose ridiculous “investigation” of, myself, and webmaster Eric Garris was exposed during the drive and contributed greatly to its success.

Every fundraiser provokes waves of anxiety in me, which only get stronger as the days and weeks progress: but this time, with the economy tanking so dramatically, I was especially petrified at the prospect of having to ask my already impoverished readers for money. Miraculously, however, I was rescued from the Vale of Depression when a blogger published a secret internal FBI memo online, released through the Freedom of Information Act, that deemed us “a threat to National Security” and in all likelihood “agents of a foreign power” The outcry was immediate and our readers and supporters rallied ‘round a trickle of donations became a torrent.

As one wag put it: “Who says government intervention is always a bad thing?” Well, I’d rather not be the subject of an FBI witch-hunt investigation, but then again sometimes good things come out of the worst travails.

We are pursuing this matter further, and I’ll let you know when there are new developments. Although the FOIA documents are highly redacted, the rationale for and extent of the FBI’s inquiry is highly ominous, and I look forward to learning more about the criminal activities of professional sneaks and provocateurs as they tried (and, no doubt, continue to try) to bring down the best foreign-policy oriented web site on the Internet.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].