Avneri on Libya: the Orientalism of critics of this intervention

August 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm (africa, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East)

Libya: Don’t downplay people’s role

Those who decry NATO intervention must answer the question: Who else would have done the job?

By Uri Avneri

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


  1. Jim Denham said,

    I wonder what Avnery would have to say about this scumbag:

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/108727 ?

    And talking of the Morning Star (who frequently publish Avnery’s aticles), I wonder whether they’ll publish this one (above)?

    Or continue with ludicrous stuff like today’s laughable article, headed “Rebels refuse renewed peace offer”:

  2. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Just read this:


    ‘[A] ship carrying hundreds of prisoners, released from Libyan jails, has arrived in Benghazi from Tripoli.

    In scenes of almost delirious joy, they were greeted and hugged by wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and friends, says the BBC’s Jon Leyne who watched as the ship arrived in the rebel city.

    Some had been captured by Col Gaddafi’s forces during the last six months; others had been held for years.

    They spoke of torture, beatings and starvation rations.

    Click to play

    The BBC’s Wyre Davies says most of the fighting in Tripoli has now stopped
    Rebel leaders have spoken of their concerns for tens of thousands of others – taken prisoner in the past few months – who are still missing.

    The rebels say they fear their bodies could be unearthed in mass graves, or that the prisoners have been abandoned in secret, underground military bunkers’.

    Remember that the STWC et al were telling us that reports of atrocities by Qaddafi’s forces were all propaganda lies, and there was no way that Benghazi was threatened with a massacre last March.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    Jim, why are you so keen for the Muslim Brotherhood to take power in Syria?

  4. Jim Denham said,

    I’m just keen on democracy, Splintered: where it may lead is an important, but secondary, consideration.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      That’s very civilised of you. And I’m certain you took the same position when Hamas won a democratic election.

  5. Emma Goldman said,

    I see the AWL are now the Alliance With aL -qaeda

  6. Jim Denham said,

    “I see the AWL are now the Alliance With aL -qaeda”…

    …not one of your usual, lengthy cut-and-posts, Emma?

    And as for your suggestion that the “AWL are now the Alliance With aL -qaeda”… well, REALLY…

  7. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Isn’t it funny that all the so called ‘anti-war’ types are now bleating about the Islamist menace, and about how those horrid nasty militants are about to take over Libya? It never bothered those c***s when it came to Iraq and Afghanistan.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Splintered Sunrise: “That’s very civilised of you. And I’m certain you took the same position when Hamas won a democratic election”:

    Yes, of course: have you any reason to think otherwise, Splinters?

    P.S: a clue; recognising that people have won an election is not the same thing as liking them, or politically endorsing them. Geddit?

  9. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘And I’m certain you took the same position when Hamas won a democratic election’

    Which was back in 2006. Meaning that by any sensible definition of ‘democracy’ the people of Gaza should be getting the chance to vote on the incumbents sometime soon, eh?

  10. charliethechulo said,

    The following is *not* a piss-take, but what has appeared on the SW website; only the word “er,” is missing:

    Is Libya on the road to freedom?

    comment on article | email | print
    Share on: Delicious | Digg | reddit | Facebook | StumbleUpon

    by Judith Orr

    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 Socialist Worker 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.

    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 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.

    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”.

    Cameron is keen to spin this war as a success for “human­itarian intervention”.

    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?

    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.

    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.

    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

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