On Thursday, Britain’s David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first Western Heads of State to visit liberated Tripoli, where they were given a warm welcome by Libya’s Transitional Authorities. “The Libyans will not forget the 19th of March, when the international community acted to protect Libya and pass a no-fly zone,” Jalil said at a joint press conference. He promised a close friendship going forward. And it’s kind of paradox that has become increasingly evident on Libya’s streets in recent weeks. Across rebel-controlled territory, Libyans are becoming more expressively religious; holding Islamist group meetings and discussions on the management of mosque funding even as they verbalize an enthusiasm for NATO rare in the Arab world. To that end, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former jihadist rebel commander in Tripoli, has disavowed extremism and pledged tolerance toward other religions, despite recently discovered Libyan government documents that corroborate his story of rendition by the CIA. “I’m not motivated by revenge against those who did that,” he told TIME. “We are very close to our European neighbors, and we want good relations with those countries, both economically and even in security.” The idea of an Islamist-led democracy may jar with post-9/11 thinking in the West, but not necessarily in the Muslim world. “It’s not something we’re inventing,” says the NTC official, citing Turkey and Qatar — although the latter, despite its support for the rebellion, can’t exactly be called a democracy.
“Generally, in the West, they confuse Islamist with Bin Laden,” says Saleh Ibrahim, a Libyan journalist, exiting one of Tripoli’s largest mosques following the Friday noon prayer. “I think a moderate government will be put in place that will reflect Islamic values, but it won’t be extremist.”