One week into the Libyan revolution, and the world is failing the Libyans. With the country split in two, and the popular resistance holding the east, Gaddafi’s forces appear to be holding Tripoli and surrounding towns.
By now it seems unlikely that Gaddafi will regain power over the whole country. He may be gradually edged out, or he may consolidate and try and move eastward, starting a territorial civil war. Most likely, he will try to hold on to what he has, with a potential for great violence in a series of locked-off cities.
So 20 years after the fall of the Wall, a decade after 9/11, eight years after Iraq, an actual revolution has come along — one even more dramatic and striking than the Egyptian one, and that may succeed or fail depending on the constellation of forces. If ever there was a case where other force might be needed, to help a people exercise the will they have unquestionably demonstrated, it is now.
And the West would rather talk about anything or everything else.
The UK news is exclusively occupied with the minor scandal as to whether the government bungled the evacuation of its citizens (it did; amazingly tendering the process out to private charter firms didn’t cut it); the legal-humanitarian establishment is talking about the prosecution of Gaddafi, with everyone consulted except the Libyan people (they were busy).
Straight down the line neocons have become so bamboozled by the whole thing they just want to change the subject — such as Greg Sheridan’s tired by-numbers piece about Gaddafi, Castro, Edward Said and blah blah, saying precisely nothing about the momentous situation now unfolding.
Meanwhile, the Israel-tilted neocons have abandoned with joy the brief post-Iraq argument that Arabs had just as much right to democracy as anyone, any opposition to invasion of Iraq, cultural relativism, etc. Now after a surge of bewildering forces, they’ve washed their hands of it, and returned to their old obsession, unvarnished Muslim-hatred.
Thus, the s-xual assault of US reporter Lara Logan became an opportunity to disown the Egyptian revolution, effectively removing all the meaning that the neocons had projected onto the Middle East at the time of Iraq. Then, the region’s future validated the West. Now, it was devoid of it, simply mob against mob.
It’s a judgment they’ve rolled over to Libya, which is why this extraordinary uprising is passed over virtually without comment. The last thing wanted is a situation where the West has to subordinate itself to a process being run by other people, making their own history — essentially a role that demands humility.
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Yet, on the other hand, there may be some on the left, who think that opposition to imperial invasions means a similar ban on any sort of international military action on behalf of a revolution under way.
That is to make the same mistake as the right, imagining that every form of international military action is the same. They are identical only on the surface; their characters are utterly opposed.
Of course, the mere fact of a Libyan revolution under way doesn’t mean that anyone necessarily should take military action immediately, nor who that should be. It was typical that one of the few people willing to talk about this — former Communist apparatchik-turned-cruise-missile-liberal David Aaronovitch — should characterise any possible action as “intervention”, the idea again that the West should become the manner by which things happen.
There is neither need nor justice for a full-scale intervention, since significant parts of the army have defected with equipment, regional committees have formed, and there is diplomatic representation available. Clearly what is most needed is the imposition of a no-fly zone. Much of the subsequent discussion appears to be getting hung up on who enforces that, should it prove necessary — which it well may do in a day or so.
But this has always been the stumbling point on which military support falters, the attempt to gain the illusion of popular consent, via the EU or the UN. But UN support didn’t make the Iraq invasion legitimate, and military support by less than an international group in the Libyan situation wouldn’t be illegitimate. It would be quite possible for a single power such as Spain to enforce such should others fail to.
The Libyan revolution has proved to be the final death of the bizarre era of Western narcissism and projection of power. The bluff has been called — the “West is the best” gang won’t do anything unless it renders other people as bit players. But that collapse is not the most important thing now.
The important thing is to live up to the value of human liberation, and stand with and for people who have taken on the utmost burden of sacrifice. If we don’t, God damn us.