All supporters of a just two-states way forward should support this:
Only right-wing Israeli and US nutters who don’t care about, or understand, Israel’s future, and political antisemities who don’t think Israel has a right to exist, could possibly oppose UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Tony Hancock dreamed of a successful film career and becoming an international star. It was not to be. One can’t help feeling that Hancock never understood or came to terms with, where his true talent lay: as the frustrated, delusional, misunderstood ‘little man,’ trapped in the down-at-heel suburban world of Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. He was the true foreunner of David Brent and/or George Costanza
But Hancock admired the suave figure of George Sanders and longed for international – and especially American – recognition. If only he’d stayed with his Railway Cuttings persona (in reality, an extension of himself) and lived another twenty or thirty years, he’d probably have achieved it.
Hancock sacked the brilliant scriptwriters who’d created his “Anthony Aloysius Hancock” character first for radio and then TV: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. It was the single biggest mistake of his entire life (and he made plenty of mistakes along the way). Galton and Simpson went on to refine and perfect the style of comedy they’d been writing for Hancock, with their tragi-comic masterpiece of a series, Steptoe and Son; meanwhile Hancock’s career went down the pan into alcoholism and despair: he eventually ended it all during a disastrous tour of Australia in 1968. “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times,” he wrote in his suicide note.
In fact, Hancock’s two feature films, The Rebel (1961) and The Punch and Judy Man (1962) were not, in my humble opinion, all that bad. The Rebel, in particular, has some excellent scenes, like these:
Note the presence of Hancock’s hero George Sanders (who, ironically, also commited suicide - though for rather different reasons).
The Rebel was, of course, scripted by Galton and Simpson.
Now a 1961 Galton and Simpson script for a Hancock film that was never made, has been unearthed from Galton’s cellar. The scriptwriter, now 81, had forgotten all about it! It seems Hancock rejected the script (for a film to be called The Day Off, about a failed romantic in an industrial town) as too parochial, and not in keeping with his international aspirations.
But journalist and comedy historian Christopher Stevens, who discovered the script while visiting Galton last year, says “It’s probably the best thing they (Galton and Simpson) ever wrote.”
Ray Galton says, “I suspect it’s too long, because everything we wrote in those days was too long. It probably needs half an hour taken out of it.”
Stevens has suggested making the film, possibly with Paul Merton or Jack Dee in the Hancock role. He has also commented on Galton and Simpson’s present-day attitude to their old employer: “They pick their words very carefully. They don’t want to impute blame to Tony because they know he was going through awful times emotionally. And they loved him.”
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David Honeyboy Edwards, the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen”
has died. On the morning Monday of August 29, 2011, about 3 am while resting
peacefully at home, Honeyboy moved on to blues heaven. He lived a long, full
life, and he felt at peace. He loved to say, “The world don’t owe me nothing.”
Just shy of his 96th birthday, Honeyboy played his last gigs at the Juke Joint
Festival and Cathead Mini-Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi April 16 and 17,
By Sacha Ismail
Socialists who, like the AWL, have backed the Libyan rebels against Muammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship should not ignore or downplay reports of atrocities by victorious rebel fighters in Tripoli and elsewhere.
Already, those on the left who are determined to prove that there is no difference between the two sides – or even that the rebels are worse than the old regime – are gleefully citing such atrocities. But that does not mean that none of the claims are true.
The fact that there have been cold-blooded reprisals against those claimed to be Qaddafi officials and fighters is tragic and alarming. Let us consider, however, a more damning issue: the treatment of sub-Saharan, black Africans in Libya by rebel forces.
Evidence is emerging that not only African mercenaries fighting for the old regime, but also many migrant workers – not only in Tripoli, but in Benghazi and elsewhere – have been arrested, beaten and in some cases killed. See, for instance, this article by Kim Sengupta in the Independent.
Many of the most sensational reports, talking about massacres and so on, appear on pro-Qaddafi websites and are not backed up by evidence. Nonetheless, we do not want to act as the mirror image of these apologists. Part of the point of this article is to condemn such atrocities and make some small contribution to stopping persecution of black people in Libya.
At the same time, we demand some consistency.
It is not the case that, pre-revolution, Libya was a racially egalitarian society with a benign, anti-racist government, in which the rebels emerged as an eruption of anti-black racism. Qaddafi’s Libya had a long history of discrimination and outrages against black African workers in particular (see, for instance, the evidence and sources in this February 2010 document submitted to the UN Human Rights Council).
In 2000, many thousands of workers from sub-Saharan Africa fled the country following murderous racist attacks sparked by a government crack down on foreign employment and by items on the (naturally, government-controlled) news services which portrayed African migrants as being involved in drug-trafficking and dealing in alcohol. At the time, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions reported: “at least 500 Nigerians have been reported killed and many more injured during those attacks. Migrants workers from Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria were the victims of attacks by young Libyans targeting black migrants… The violence spread like wildfire from the Capital to the eastern part of the country, where there have been killings, beatings and attacks on shops.” According to Human Rights Watch, the Qaddafi regime deported 140,000 migrant workers between 2003 and 2005. There are many other such facts, including numerous racist – usually anti-African – outbursts by Qaddafi and his officials.
At the same time, the regime behaved in a racist and imperialist fashion towards geographical minorities in Libya – not just the Berbers, whose language was banned by Qaddafi, and who seem to be asserting themselves as part of the rebellion – but also black peoples in the south of Libya, such as the Toubou, who have also played a role in the uprising.
Clearly, however, the rebel camp is also diseased with racism, with narratives about marauding black mercenaries (and not, for instance, the Serbs who have also been fighting to protect Qaddafi) flaring repeatedly into actual racist atrocities. Again, we have no reason whatsoever to hide these facts, and every reason to speak out about them. The rebel leaders have condemned reprisals; if they are serious about democracy, let them show it by speaking out loud and clear against anti-black racism and persecutions.
Having said all that: the idea that, because of this, there is no difference between the totalitarian state of Qaddafi and the popular uprising against it is bizarre. It also exposes broader political inconsistency.
Take the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the overthrow of Egypt’s British-dominated monarchy in 1952. In the 1920s there were about 80,000 Jewish people in Egypt. From the late 1940s, difficulties mounted for the Egyptian Jews; under Nasser this developed into serious persecution. After the Suez crisis in 1956, there was a stepping up of repression, and 25,000 Egyptian Jews left the country. As socialist academic Joel Beinin put it: “Between 1919 and 1956, the entire Egyptian Jewish community… was transformed from a national asset into a fifth column.” After the 1967 war with Israel, almost all Egyptian Jewish men were deported or imprisoned, ending in the complete disappearance of the community. Less than a hundred remain today.
You could add that Nasser was an authoritarian dictator who systematically repressed independent Egyptian workers’ organisations! Yet it hardly follows that in 1956, when Britain, France and Israel attempted to return Egypt to the status of a semi-colony (ie an imperialist war fundamentally different from the one NATO has just waged in Libya), socialists should not have sided with Egypt.
Or let us take another example, the American revolution which overthrew British colonial rule. This is how the Argentinian Marxist Daniel Gaido describes its racial dynamics:
“The American revolution was therefore a hundred percent settlers’ affair: it was largely waged against the native inhabitants of the country. The other victims of English colonialism – the slaves kidnapped in Africa – also remained largely indifferent or hostile to the settlers’ liberation movement, which is not surprising if we remember that Thomas Jefferson owned over 175 slaves when he wrote the Declaration of Independence… during the Revolutionary War it was the British who, for purely opportunistic reasons, granted freedom to runaway slaves reaching their lines and protected the Indian tribes west of the Appalachians from the spread of white settlement – that is from genocide. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the left wing of the Revolution, accused the British king George III of having “excited domestic [i.e. slave] insurrections among us,” and of having “endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages [sic]…” The Revolution resulted in the establishment of what historians called a Herrenvolk (ruling people or race) democracy, in which immigrants from Europe were turned into “whites” and granted political rights while Indians and slaves were excluded from the category of citizens.”
In passing, it is also noteworthy that the American revolution only triumphed because of outside military intervention, by the imperialist powers of the Netherlands, Spain and France – the last two of which, of course, had their own large colonial empires in the Western hemisphere.
Both the Egyptian and American examples provide much stronger cases for not supporting the “revolutionaries” than Libya today. Yet in both cases failure to do so would have been totally disorienting.
The reality is that those using the facts of racism and atrocities by the Libyan rebels to justify their hostility to the Libyan revolution are generally not too concerned about the records of those they support. Repression and atrocities of all sorts can be justified or ignored if they fit into the “anti-imperialist” world schema. It is perfectly possible, of course, to raise issues such as racism among the Libyan rebels in good faith – as this article attempts to do. But they are being highlighted by pro-Qaddafi “anti-imperialists” primarily because of the rebels’ alliance with NATO, and in order to whitewash Qaddafi.
Working-class socialists, in contrast, should be consistent.
Stupid Wanker ‘s Expert Writer writes:
Muammar Gaddafi’s 42‑year dictatorship reached its endgame as opposition forces reached Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this week.
Fierce battles were taking place in streets across the city as Stupid Wanker went to press.
The end of Gaddafi’s regime is a cause for celebration. But the nature of the struggle in Libya is now fundamentally different from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that originally inspired it.
It became so once Western forces decided to appropriate it.
When David Cameron boasts about his pride in the role the British military have played in a revolution, it speaks volumes.
This was no longer a rebellion that would challenge Western wealth and power.
The popular revolution got to the brink of bringing Gaddafi down in February, but was pushed back by his armed forces, so they should have just accepted that they’d lost.
The sheer brutality of the repression led many Libyans to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone, which seemed like a neutral way to save lives. But they should have allowed themselves to be killed.
But the United Nations voted for full-scale military intervention. This opened the door for Western governments to re-insert themselves into the region after the loss of their dictator friends in Tunisia and Egypt.
The imperialist powers hijacked the Libyan revolt and bent it to their own interests—trade contracts and international oil deals. They feel they have earned their right to dictate terms to any new government. So Gaddafi, who was at least anti-Western, should have stayed in power.
However, opposition forces currently united against the regime may well fragment over the extent of the West’s role in rebuilding Libya.
Nato has conducted more than 8,500 bombing raids since 19 March. Special forces worked on the ground, and drones have bombed and collected intelligence from the skies.
Finding money for war on Libya has never been a problem—despite the Tories’ “austerity drive”. British jobs and services for British workers, we say!
Cameron is keen to spin this war as a success for “humanitarian intervention”. It isn’t; because we say it isn’t. We don’t care what the people of Libya think.
But the West’s motives were never humanitarian. If our rulers really care about democracy and freedom, why do they not back opposition movements in Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia? We would, obviously, support such interventions, otherwise that particular part of our argument would make no sense.
The answer is that the dictators there are friendly to the West. Western leaders have never had any qualms about working with dictators—just as they had no trouble working with Gaddafi until after the Libyan revolt began.
They may have derided him as a “mad dog” in the past, but this didn’t stop Tony Blair embracing him in 2004 and again in 2007.
Whoever takes the place of the hated Gaddafi, one thing looks certain—the West will ensure it is a regime it can do business with. So the rebellion has been a waste of time.
The fall of the Libyan regime might help our rulers regain a foothold in the region and may make them more confident to intervene elsewhere. So it would have been better if the rebels had lost.
But the fall of Gaddafi carries contradictions for them. The sight of yet another brutal dictator brought down after decades of rule may embolden those fighting back elsewhere—especially against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
And if the spirit of revolt that has spread across the region is invigorated, the same leaders who today cheer the end of Gaddafi may again find their interests threatened by a movement that has anti-imperialism at its core: so we’re not sure what we’re saying at all; in fact, we just spout bollocks and hope our readers are too stupid to notice
We’ve been getting away with it for forty years!
A pygmy (in terms of intellect) takes on a (relative) giant: Richard “Gaddafi is Stronger Than Ever” Seymour has drawn our attention to this piece by the Marxist scholar and USFI supporter Gilbert Achcar; Seymour has written a typically verbose and pretentious attempt at an answer to Achcar, but it only goes to show that Seymour’s out of his depth here, as well as lacking basic socialist instincts.
Popular Rebellion & Imperialist Designs (questions and answers)
Gilbert Achcar is a Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is the author of a number of books on global politics, imperialism and the Middle East, most recently The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. He spoke to Tom Mills about the rebellion in Libya and the motives behind NATO’s intervention.
At the onset of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya, the main justification for it was that Gaddafi’s forces would massacre the resistance and civilians living in the places taken by the resistance, especially Benghazi. What has been learned since then about how likely such a scenario was?
In situations of urgency, there is no better judge than the people directly concerned, and there was unanimity on that score. Did you ever hear of any significant group in Benghazi opposed to the request of a No-Fly zone made to the UN and advocating another way to prevent Gaddafi’s troops from taking the city? We all saw the immense popular relief that was expressed in the massive outburst of joy in Benghazi when the UN resolution was passed. Journalists and reporters covering the events on the ground agreed likewise on the fact that Gaddafi’s forces would have had no difficulty seizing the city. The remnants of the tanks and vehicles that were concentrated on Benghazi’s outskirts and were destroyed by the French air force are still there for everyone to see, I have been told. On top of that, we have seen how long Gaddafi’s well-armed, well-trained and well-paid forces were able to carry on offensive after offensive, despite several months of NATO strikes, and how difficult and costly in human lives it has been for the rebellion, first to secure Misrata, which is much smaller than Benghazi, and then to break the deadlock on the Western front before finally entering Tripoli. Anyone who from far away disputes the fact that Benghazi would have been crushed is just lacking decency in my view. Telling a besieged people from the safety of a Western city that they are cowards – because that’s what disputing their claim that they were facing a massacre amounts to – is just indecent.
That’s about the balance of forces. What about the likelihood that if Benghazi had fallen there would have been a massacre? Isn’t that still a matter of speculation?
No, not at all. Let me first remind you that the repression that Gaddafi unleashed in February, from the very beginning of the Libyan uprising, was much greater than anything else we have seen since then. Take even the case of Syria: today, several months after the protest movement started in March, it is estimated that the number of people killed in Syria has reached 2,200. The range of estimates of the number of people who were killed in Libya in the first month alone, before the Western intervention, starts at more than that figure and reaches 10,000. The use by Gaddafi of all sorts of weapons, including his air force, was much more extensive and intensive than anything we have seen until now in other Arab countries.
Furthermore, Gaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam, did not hide their intentions in the least. They said from the start that they were going to be merciless and that they will crush the rebellion like rats and cockroaches and other nice ways of describing masses of protesters from among their own people. We know what kind of regimes have used such terms about their enemies in the 20th century, and what mass slaughters and genocides they committed. In mid-March, there had already been massive killings in several Libyan cities. Given that Benghazi had been the heart of the rebellion from the start and became a liberated city, there is hardly any doubt that had Gaddafi forces been able to seize the city a huge massacre would have ensued.
I always give the example of the Syrian regime because it shares some features with the one in Libya, even though it is to some degree less bloody and murderous. In 1982 when Hafez al-Assad crushed the city of Hama, which was a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood in rebellion against him, the estimates of the number of people killed ranged from 10,000 to 40,000, with the most commonly quoted figure being 25,000 – this in a city which in 1982 had only one third of the population of Benghazi today. So we know what we are dealing with here and we can take other examples from history. When Adolphe Thiers’s forces took back Paris at the time of the Commune in 1871, with much less lethal weaponry they killed and executed 25,000 persons. This is the kind of massacre that Benghazi was facing, and that is why I said under such circumstances – when the city’s population and the rebellion requested, even implored the UN to provide them with air cover, and in the absence of any alternative – that it was neither acceptable nor decent from the comfort of London or New York to say, ‘No to the no-fly zone’. Those on the left who did so were in my view reacting out of knee-jerk anti-imperialism, showing little care for the people concerned on the ground. That’s not my understanding of what it means to be on the left.
That said, I never held that we on the left, me included, had to support NATO’s intervention in Libya, or even support the UN resolution. I criticised that resolution, and denounced from day one the intervention’s real motive and the fact that it smacks of oil. But I said at the same time that we couldn’t oppose it from the start because of the reasons I’ve just explained. Once the danger threatening Benghazi was over – and that was a matter of a few days, one week or ten days, by which time Gaddafi’s air force was crushed beyond repair – it became possible and even necessary to oppose the continuation of the bombing, which was clearly going beyond its initial and official mission of protection. Here again, in line with my conception of what the left is – not primarily anti-imperialism of the knee-jerk kind, but being most of all concerned with people’s liberation from oppression – I called for the left to campaign against the continuation of the bombing, provided that it campaigns at the same time for the delivery of weapons to the rebels. The rebels themselves requested arms very early on, and kept on requesting and increasingly so over the weeks and months.
I remained consistent in my position, which was that we should not campaign against the intervention as long as there really was a need to prevent a massacre, but we must monitor the situation closely nonetheless, and denounce anything that goes beyond that initial purpose. I said that from day one in my first interview published on ZNet on 19 March, the one which provoked a deluge of discussion. And indeed, once that initial purpose was fulfilled, I advocated a campaign on two inseparable demands: ‘Stop the bombing! Deliver arms to the insurgents!’
So moving on to NATO itself, given its humanitarian justification for the mission, it is important to know what the humanitarian impacts of NATO’s actions have been. How much is known about the deaths, civilian and otherwise, caused by NATO, as well as other impacts NATO has had on the well-being of Libyans?
The humanitarian pretext is, of course, purely hypocritical. No one should believe for one second that NATO is motivated by humanitarian feelings. We’ve heard the humanitarian discourse so many times over the last two decades and we know exactly what it is about. Whether in Iraq or Kosovo or even Afghanistan, it has been repeatedly used as a pretext and it is completely worn out. I said from the very start that the Western powers’ intervention smacks of oil.
There was an indirect humanitarian concern however, as I tried to explain, in that had the massacre taken place Western governments would have been obliged to do what they are doing now for Syria. If you are following the news, they have now decided to enforce oil sanctions against Syria. Had a massacre occurred in Benghazi they would have had to do the same, all the more that the scale of the massacre would have been much larger than what has occurred so far in Syria. This would have meant imposing an oil embargo on Libya, a measure which under the conditions of the oil market and the world economy would have been harmful for them. So instead of having to react after a massacre and to bear the blame for having let it happen, they preferred to intervene. That decision was therefore closely related to the fact that Libya is a major oil-producing country and that embargoing it would have a real implication on the world economy (unlike in the case of Syria).
Now even though they didn’t go there out of humanitarian feelings, since they invoked this humanitarian pretension they had to take care – as much as they could, striking from thousands of feet – to minimise casualties. In the post-Vietnam wars, since Iraq 1991, we have seen that they have been trying to minimise civilian casualties using their new technologies. This is not because imperialists have suddenly turned into humanitarians but because they know that Western populations do have humanitarian feelings and cannot morally accept seeing their governments killing civilians on a massive scale. That was a key motivation for the huge anti-war movement at the time of Vietnam. So they assimilated the lessons of the Vietnam War. Anyone familiar with the evolution of Western military doctrines knows that. So, to be sure, they tried to minimise civilian casualties in Libya. The number of air sorties, and even more so the number of air strikes, has been anyhow of a lower intensity compared to the air campaigns in the Iraq, Afghanistan or Kosovo wars. They even tried harder than average to minimise civilian casualties because they were running this campaign under UN cover and purportedly for the protection of civilians. This is why the number of civilian casualties resulting from NATO’s operation, through what the military cynically call ‘collateral damage’, has been kept relatively low.
One must compare the civilian casualties that resulted from NATO strikes with the potential civilian casualties that they prevented through limiting the firepower of Gaddafi’s forces towards rebel-held populated areas. There is no question in my mind that, even after all these months of NATO bombing, civilian casualties resulting from it remain much less than what they would have been had Benghazi been occupied by Gaddafi’s troops and the insurrection subdued in the whole country. That said, the fact that NATO decided to continue its bombing over a long period, the fact that they tried to hijack the Libyan insurrection and control it by controlling the pace of events while refusing to give the Libyans the means to counter effectively by themselves Gaddafi’s forces’ superior firepower, the fact that NATO imposed itself as a full participant in the war since its initial phase, all this of course increased the number of civilians killed by NATO bombing. Now if the number of civilians killed by NATO were the only consideration for opposing its continued intervention, anyone could tell me since I am advocating the delivery of weapons to the insurgents as an alternative, that had the civil war carried on longer and with heavier weapons in the insurgents’ hands, it might have led to more civilians killed. That’s quite possible indeed, but the issue here is clearly a matter of speculation, not certainty. What is most important is to be aware of NATO’s designs to impose its will on the Libyan people through its intervention, and to uphold the people’s right to self-determination. It is the Libyans themselves who have consistently and insistently requested weapons from the beginning in order to fight their own war.
You suggested that the original motive was essentially to keep the flow of oil maintained. But then, once the operation was underway, what is now the goal of NATO’s operation and how much influence are France, Britain and the US likely to have now on the future shape of Libya?
I didn’t say that it was to keep the flow of oil. I raised that issue only in the negative form. They wanted to avoid being confronted with the obligation to impose oil sanctions on Libya like those they have now placed on Syria. Otherwise, of course, had they let Gaddafi carry out the massacre, he would have been happy to keep selling them oil. He concluded oil deals with all Western countries, Italy especially, but also Germany, Britain, Spain, etc. So we are not dealing with a situation where the regime is anti-Western. Western sanctions against Gaddafi were lifted in 2004, after he gave George Bush and Tony Blair the gift of proclaiming that he was so impressed by them that he decided to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. They were very happy with that because they thought it gave some credence to the WMD pretext of their invasion of Iraq at a time when they were clearly failing to produce any evidence of WMD there. Gaddafi has been visited in his tent since then by most Western leaders, as well as by hawks and neocons like Richard Perle, Bernard Lewis, Francis Fukuyama, Third-Way theorist Anthony Giddens, etc. They all paid him a visit and have been generously rewarded for that. So there was definitely no Western impulse for regime change in Libya in the years before 2011.
When the Arab uprising started, and after the successes of the masses in Tunisia and Egypt in toppling their pro-Western dictators, Western powers felt obliged to pretend that they stood on the side of the mass movement for democracy. At the beginning of the protests in Tunisia, the French government supported Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a fact that turned into a big embarrassment in domestic politics. Nicolas Sarkozy needed to distance himself from this shameful attitude. He thus tried to outbid everyone in support for the Libyan revolution and it was all the more easy for him because France was not among the countries that maintained privileged ties with Gaddafi’s Libya. Washington remained circumspect when the ‘Arab Spring’ started, and then felt it needed to come out in support of democracy. It did so in Egypt even though the dictator there was one of Washington’s closest allies. Gaddafi was certainly not dearer to Washington and London and Western leaders in general, with the exception of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, than Mubarak was. So when Gaddafi went into his frenzy of repression and killing of those whom he called rats and insects, Western leaders could not turn a blind eye to that, especially given that they faced direct calls for help and intervention from the people in Benghazi who also confronted the Arab regimes with the same demands, leading the Arab League to call for the no-fly zone before the UN resolution.
A situation built up in which it became compelling for Western powers to intervene for all the reasons I have described, oil being of course central to them. Now once they started their intervention and Gaddafi proved more stubborn and his regime more resilient than expected, they needed to carry on their bombing until the regime fell or bowed. Otherwise they would lose face; lose their ‘credibility’ as they like to say. Their single concern then became how to steer the war in a way that would lead to the best-case scenario in their mind. What is this best-case scenario? Given Gaddafi’s stubbornness, they needed him to clear the scene. But above all they want a stable government in Libya, able to continue doing business as usual with Western companies and governments. And that is why NATO’s main concern has been to make sure that what they call the ‘Iraq example’ is not repeated. They refer to what is considered in Western capitals as the fatal mistake of dismantling the Baathist state that the Bush administration made when it invaded Iraq. All the Baathist state’s key structures, including the army, the repressive apparatus, the ruling party – all of that was disbanded. As the occupation of Iraq turned into a disaster for the US and the UK, they drew the conclusion that what they needed to do in Libya is to secure a transition which would keep the bulk of the regime’s institutions in place.
That’s essentially why they have been waging this campaign of relatively low intensity, while refusing to deliver weapons to the insurgents and conducting intensive negotiations with the Gaddafi regime. News of direct and indirect negotiations between Western governments and members of Gaddafi’s entourage, like his son Saif al-Islam, has leaked repeatedly to the world press. They wanted to get a deal with the regime’s men and then exert pressure on the rebellion to accept it. Contacts took place also between the Transitional National Council and the Gaddafi regime under NATO pressure, but all these negotiations led nowhere. The main stumbling block was Gaddafi himself. There was no way the rebellion could accept him to remain nominally and officially the head of the Libyan state and he refused to step down from power. Nevertheless, NATO kept its combination of bombing and negotiations, hoping that once there was a reversal in the military situation Gaddafi’s entourage would see that things are getting dangerous for them and would push Gaddafi aside and cut a deal with NATO, which would then impose it on the rebellion.
The idea for NATO was basically to sponsor a deal between the leading groups in the Gaddafi regime and the rebellion with NATO acting as the umpire, the arbiter of the situation. London played a key role in designing such a blueprint. A Financial Times editorial was saying only a few days before the liberation of Tripoli that the rebels should not launch an assault on the city. The pretext given was that if they did there would be a bloodbath and thus it would be preferable that they only exert pressure on the regime in order to remove Gaddafi. The Economist had earlier said the same. These are the key mouthpieces of the British ruling class.
That’s what NATO was contemplating. At the moment, however, it looks like this scenario is doomed because of the unexpected sudden collapse of the structures of the regime in Tripoli. It looks like it was only wishful thinking for NATO to believe that they could keep the basic repressive structures of a regime which has been shaped over decades as the private business and private militia of the ruling family. It can’t work that way in a situation where the people are being armed, with a majority of the armed rebels being civilians turned fighters for the occasion. This is a real popular revolution, a real popular rebellion. A lot of the rebels would hardly accept the continuation of the structures of Gaddafi’s regime.
Some people have suggested that the rebels themselves have been usurped by NATO but what you are saying is that the real plan was to keep the regime and use the rebellion to pressure Gaddafi to go. So are you saying that NATO failed in that respect and how do the rebels fit into this picture? It has been pointed out that there are former members of the regime leading the rebellion.
Of course there are former members of the regime among the people who are leading the rebellion. After forty years of a totalitarian regime, what do you expect? Are you surprised that there are people who held positions within the state, within the regime, who had little other choices to make their living in a country where the state is omnipresent, but who resent the dictatorship and the madness of the dictator? We know from interviews with people who have been close collaborators of Gaddafi that many were appalled by his farcical behaviour. Anyone with a minimum of intelligence would resent this guy. That is why, except for unconditional admirers of the leader and people who are benefiting from his largesse, so many individuals switched from regime ranks to opposition ranks as soon as the movement began.
If this were any reason to hold a negative attitude towards the Libyan insurrection, then what can one say about Egypt? There the army was seen as supportive of the protests in the sense that it refused to repress them and finally parted ways with Mubarak. What do you have now in Egypt? It is essentially the continuation of the same regime. This doesn’t mean though that what happened in Egypt was not important. It was a very important upheaval, but the revolutionary process is still ongoing and political struggles are raging. Likewise in Libya the downfall of Gaddafi won’t be the end of the story. The fight will continue – hopefully political rather than military. One of the main issues at stake will of course be the nature of the new state and the degree to which there should be a radical break with the previous institutions.
The Transitional National Council circles include a few champions of neoliberal reforms – more in the executive committee, i.e. the cabinet, than in the TNC itself. Among those who came back from exile, there is Khalifa Haftar, a CIA asset. Such people are there. But as far as we know, they carry little weight in the rebellion and are actually resented and ostracised by a lot of the rebels. When the TNC makes big proclamations of gratitude towards NATO, we know from many reports that among the rebels there is no real gratitude towards it, there is rather a sense of frustration over the way in which NATO has dealt with the situation.
Many Libyans believe that in some way they hired NATO’s services like Gaddafi hired mercenaries. They called for help and got it from the Western powers that are looking forward to being remunerated for that, and they assure them that they will get rewarded. They will tell you, ‘We will carry on making deals with them as Gaddafi’s regime was doing anyway.’ Believing this is an illusion of course. But the belief that NATO can control the situation from afar and without boots on the ground is also an illusion. Many people in NATO circles are aware of that and have therefore designed plans for sending troops on the ground.
For a number of reasons, political, financial and military, though, it would be very difficult for NATO to send Western troops. The main reason is that the rebels don’t want foreign troops on Libyan soil and this has been their position from day one when they requested help. They said, ‘We want a no-fly zone, but we don’t want troops on the ground.’ The point is that, without such troops, NATO will find itself with little leverage once Gaddafi is out of the picture. This is because the leverage they have today is mostly due to their calculated indispensability to the rebellion in the war against Gaddafi’s forces. But once this stage is over that leverage will shrink, and that is why they are designing scenarios for a ground intervention under a UN cover of forces from some Arab and maybe some African states, closely linked to Western powers, plus Turkey, a NATO member. Turkey is today very much at the forefront of NATO’s Libyan operation and it is looking forward to playing a major role in the country and obtaining important economic benefits.
Now even if we suppose that the TNC would accept such a scenario of foreign troops deployments (a hypothesis that is highly unlikely at the present stage, short of a chaotic deterioration of conditions in their country), they would have a hard time selling it to the rebellion, to the masses of people who fought for freedom and self-determination. In the Libyan situation there is a wide gap between NATO’s blueprint and what we will see on the ground. It won’t be the first time that we have seen such a discrepancy between imperialist designs and the reality. Think of Afghanistan, think of Iraq. It will be the case in Libya as well; all the more so in the absence of Western troops on the ground and in the presence of a genuine popular uprising.
Libya: Don’t downplay people’s role
Those who decry NATO intervention must answer the question: Who else would have done the job?
Though The Bible tells us “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth” (Proverbs 24:17), I could not help myself. I was happy. Muammar Qaddafi was the enemy of every decent person in the world. He was one of the worst tyrants in recent memory.
This fact was hidden behind a façade of clownishness. But basically he was a ruthless dictator, surrounded by corrupt relatives and cronies, squandering the great wealth of Libya.
This was obvious to anyone who wanted to see. Unfortunately, there were quite a few who chose to close their eyes.
When I expressed my support for the international intervention, I was expecting to be attacked by some well-meaning people. I was not disappointed. I have been through this before. When NATO started to bomb Serbian territory in order to put an end to Slobodan Milosevic’s crimes in Kosovo, many of my political friends turned against me.
Didn’t I realize that it was all an imperialist plot?
This was said when the evidence of the gruesome mass-murder in Bosnia was there for everyone to see. But their hatred of the US and of NATO was so strong, so fervent, that anyone attacked by them must surely be a benefactor of humanity, and all accusations against them pure fabrications. The same happened with Pol Pot.
Now it has happened again. I was bombarded with messages from well-meaning people who lauded Qaddafi for all his good deeds.
While the rebels were already fighting their way into his huge personal compound, the socialist leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was praising him as a true model of upright humanity, a man who dared to stand up to the American aggressors.
Well, sorry, count me out. I have this irrational abhorrence of bloody dictators, of genocidal mass-murderers, of leaders who wage war on their own people. And at my advanced age, it is difficult for me to change. I am ready to support even the devil, if that is necessary to put an end to this kind of atrocities. I won’t even ask about his precise motives. Whatever one may think about the US and/or NATO — if they disarm a Milosevic or a Qaddafi, they have my blessing.
How large a role did NATO play in the defeat of the Libyan dictator? The rebels would not have reached Tripoli, and certainly not by now, if they had not enjoyed NATO’s sustained air support. Libya is one big desert. The offensive had to rely on one long road. Without mastery of the skies, the rebels would have been massacred. Anyone who was alive during World War II and followed the campaigns of Rommel and Montgomery knows this.
I assume that the rebels also received arms and advice to facilitate their advance.
But I object to the patronizing assertion that it was all a NATO victory. It is the old colonialist attitude in a new guise. Of course, these poor, primitive Arabs could not do anything without the White Man shouldering his burden and rushing to the rescue.
But wars are not won by weapons, they are won by people. Even with all the help they got, the Libyan rebels, disorganized and poorly armed as they were, have won a remarkable victory. This would not have happened without real revolutionary fervor, without bravery and determination. It is a Libyan victory, not a British or a French one.
This has been underplayed by the international media. Journalists did not acquit themselves with glory. On TV they looked ridiculous with their conspicuous helmets when they were surrounded by bareheaded fighters.
What came over was endless jubilations over victories that had seemingly fallen from heaven. But these were feats achieved by people — yes, by Arab people. This is especially galling to our Israeli “military correspondents” and “Arab affairs experts”. Used to despising or hating “the Arabs”, they are ascribing the victory to NATO. It seems that the people of Libya played a minor role, if any.
Now they blabber endlessly about the “tribes”, which will make democracy and orderly governance in Libya impossible. Libya is not really a country, it was never a unified state before becoming an Italian colony, there is no such thing as a Libyan people. (Remember the French saying this about Algeria, and Golda Meir about Palestine?)
Well, for a people that does not exist, the Libyans fought very well. And as for the “tribes” — why do tribes exist only in Africa and Asia, never among Europeans? Why not a Welsh tribe or a Bavarian tribe?
The “tribes” of Libya would be called in Europe “ethnic groups” and in Israel “communities”. The term “tribe” has a patronizing connotation. Let’s drop it.
All those who decry NATO’s intervention must answer a simple question: Who else would have done the job?
21st century humanity cannot tolerate acts of genocide and mass-murder, wherever they occur. It cannot look on while dictators butcher their own peoples. The doctrine of “noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign states” belongs to the past. We Jews, who have accused mankind of standing idly by while millions of Jews, including German citizens, were exterminated by the legitimate German government, certainly owe the world an answer.
I have mentioned in the past that I advocate some form of effective world governance and expect it to be in place by the end of this century. This would include a democratically elected world executive that would have military forces at its disposal and that could intervene, if a world parliament so decides.
For this to happen, the United Nations must be revamped entirely. The veto power must be abolished. It is intolerable that the US can veto the acceptance of Palestine as a member state, or that Russia and China can veto intervention in Syria.
Certainly, great powers like the US and China should have a louder voice than, say, Luxemburg and the Fiji Islands, but a two thirds majority in the General Assembly should have the power to override Washington, Moscow or Beijing. That may be the music of the future, or, some may say, a pipe dream. As for now, we live in a very imperfect world and must make do with the instruments we have. NATO, alas, is one of them. The European Union is another, though in this case poor, eternally conscience-stricken Germany, has paralyzed it. If Russia or China were to join, that would be fine.
This is not some remote problem. Qaddafi is finished, but Bashar Assad is not. He is butchering his people even while you read this, and the world is looking on helplessly.
Any volunteers for intervention?
H/t: Juan Cole
Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles was in no doubt when the news came through on 25 August:
“I’m writing to you to share some great news. This afternoon the Metropolitan Police requested a ban on the Englsh Defence League march in Towert Hamlets (on 3 September) because of fears that this would whip up tensions in the area and ignite trouble. It seems almost certain that the Home Secretary will agree to the ban.
“This should be welcomed. Whilst the EDL might still decide to hold a static protest they will not now be able to march through residential areas and, most importanatly, march past the East London mosque. A static protest will be far easier to police and it will probably discourage a lot of EDL supporters from travelling.
“This is a victory for common sense. The EDL wanted to use the march to cause trouble and they probably would have been successful. They have now been foiled…”
Read the rest here.
My reaction, at first blush, was to rejoice along with Nick Lowles. The EDL are a bunch of nasty, racist, far-right hooligans whose sole raison d’être is to intimidate ethic minorities (especially Asian Muslims), and generally spread hatred, fear and division. Surely a ban has got to be good news for ethnic minorities and for all the progressive forces (including the South East Regional TUC, Unite, the NUT and various councillors and community groups ) who’ve been calling for it?
But veteran SWP’er Pete Gillard on the United Left discussion list, raised some problems:
“The ban is on all demonstrations (other than funerals and traditional marches) across 5 London boroughs for a month.
“I’m not sure what sort of victory that is. So if the Royal London Hospital announces more cuts next week, health workers won’t be able to demonstrate until October.
“The police are not using their selective powers under the (Public Order) Act to ban specific sorts of demonstrations. Their request for the Home Secretary to ban all marches is an attack on our right to organise.
“Just Imagine if the EDL announce that they plan to march in Manchester a weerk before the TUC demo at the Tory Party Conference. Would we be happy if our demo was banned at the same time as that of the EDL?
“The nature of the banning shows just how dangerous it is to ask a Tory Home Secretary to ban marches under a Tory law.
“The Labour opposition at the time put down an amendment at the second reading of the Bill: ‘This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, at a time when serious crime has increased by 40 per cent under this Government and the crime clear-up rate has markedly declined, contains no proposals which are likely to be effective in preventing disorder, while diverting scare police resources from fighting crime and at the same time seriously undermining traditional civil liberties.’
“I agree that the use of the Act in this way does seriously undermine civil liberties.”
The AWL’s Elaine Jones, also on the United Left discussion list, put it more bluntly:
“Banning the EDL march will do no good.
“The most recent example is the banning of a planned EDL march through Telford on 13 August. The Home Secretary, Teresa May, banned the march but the EDL staged a static protest in its place. The ‘ban’ did not stop the EDL from congregating, nor did it stop confrontations between the racists and their opponents. Several arrests were made.
“When the EDL was banned from marching in Bradford, their members were bussed into town and forces into a fenced-off car park. These tactics did nothing to stop ‘disorder’.’ Not only did members of the EDL throw rocks, stones and gas cannisters out of their ‘pen’, but a number of them broke out of the enclosure. This advance was only stopped by the quick responses of the local community and anti-racists, who used physical force to repel them.
“The Wellington area of Telford and the city of Bradford are very different places to inner city Tower Hamlets. Wellington and Bradford can be ‘policed’ to such an extent that the risk of violence is diminished. This is not so in large, inner city areas.
“One last example: the EDL were permitted a static demonstration in the centre of Manchester in October 2009. What happened? The police erected a steel fence around part of Piccadilly Gardens in the centre of the city. However, rather than being ‘bussed in’ to the protest site, members of the EDL marched from various parts of the city centre (from their assembly points in local pubs). The EDL marched regardless.
“Asking the state to ban the EDL from marching does nothing to prevent disorder and the risk of racist violence. In inner-city areas a ban is particularly ineffective. If the EDL wants to march through Tower Hamlets, the police will not stop them. In fact, there is a risk of more than one march to the ‘static protest’ point.
“We should be opposed to the granting of any powers to the state to regulate, infringe upon or prevent political activity – they will use any powers at their disposal against our organisations. this is particularly important to say at the moment when the overriding ‘popular’ dynamic in the aftermath of the riots flows in favour of ‘law and order.’ There is already mass popular sentiment in favour of policing powers and granting new powers to deal with ‘trouble makers.’
“Against the calls to ban the EDL march, the growing ‘law and order’ tendency and the untrustworthy powers of the state we should organise for working class self-defence and mobilise the trade union movement against the far right.”
Leaving aside the pro-Gadaffi nutters of the WRP, this must be the worst article so far published on Libya:
H/t: Stan C