Reflections on the Equality Movement’s Libya Discussion

We have an information gap regarding the beginning of the Libyan uprising. For a few days, the east of the country was destabilised. The eastern peoples and tribes believed that a new dawn had emerged and Gaddafi years were over. To many (whether the majority or not still remains unknown) this led to elation. However, this (mass) eruption was momentary, for Gaddafi’s crackdown looked to be ending all potentialities of change. Gaddafi seemed to be on course for a complete reclamation of power. The only thing standing in his way was the “International Community”. The imperial intervention is the only reason the armed conflict perpetuates. It is for this reason that the leaders of the rebels continue to reject the terms of ceasefire – for they know their only hope of power is shot from NATO planes.

The topic of discussion “Imperial Adventure or Humanitarian Intervention?” was inherently misleading, a false dichotomy and allowed the cancerous moral ambiguity to take hold of the room. Three of the panellists disagreed on the actions our government should have taken. Oliver advocated intervention, Ahmed supported it as the forces he is intimately connected with required intervention to continue to hope for change and Richard thought diplomatic routes could have been tried before intervention, which is never right.

Sukant Chandan took the position that needed to be taken; our problem is with the UK government, solely, and we must meet discuss, plan and act on how to stop their imperial aggression from the inside. As Andy Higginbottom, Ethesham Haque, myself and Fiona Edwards echoed from the floor – we must focus our attention on our governments and “get serious about British imperialism”. In case anyone missed it, the forum was the Equality Movement. A place where we collectively come to understand how we are living in the belly of imperialism and educate ourselves about our government’s machinations before we even begin to politicise about others. As this seemed to elude the majority of the room, one can only conclude that the equality movement, as it stands, is a forum for anti-imperialism at a time when the people it speaks to and with are not anti-imperialist. The moral supremacy of those who prescribe to the ideals of the West makes a straw man of the anti-imperialist position, so allow me to restate it.

Gaddafi is opposed on many levels and for many reasons. Libyan society has its own internal dynamics that only Libyans can truly know and overcome – it is not for us (i.e. those in the belly of the beast) to speak of their struggle to justify our own governments action, implicitly or explicitly. As most can see only too clearly – the pointing of the finger towards the third world is a diversion away from the brutality of our world, at this very moment in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq… Moreover and most importantly, the fingerprints of our intelligence services are all over the murder scene that is Libya. Let us unite in opposition against the perpetuators of these crimes.

While one may feel that Sukant Chandan, like Ortega, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, Mumia Abu Jamal and many others have bent the stick too far in supporting Gaddafi, their general attempt to re-humanise the de-humanised is necessary. Anti-imperialist integrity demands relentless focus on the perpetrators of the current global order and the denial of their right to decide who is and is not human. One should never make other country’s leaders accountable to our government and our constructed and decrepit ethics of “human rights”, by proxy.  Cries for “dignity”, “democracy” and “equality” sufficed to find consensus within the room on Friday. However, it was fundamentally problematic as it was predicated not on rational argument – but emotion. Areas of disagreement were contested with screams from the floor. Two of the panelists (Ahmed and then Richard) demanded that Sukant “shut up!”, while Oliver constantly harassed Lowkey to stop him from talking. With such a departure from reasoned discussion, a basic and always banal point was missed.

The CIA employs people in Langley whose sole function in life is to work out ways of maintaining power. The most obvious conclusion, therefore, is that empire’s interests were in both Gaddafi’s basket and the bitter tribes of eastern Libya. This is not to say that the governments determine the cause of history. Rather it is consistent and well known policy to build diplomatic dams to ensure that any radical sentiment can be contained with reforms that conserve the general order and/or make strategic gains. Effective strategies are contingent upon planning and a feasible transitional power structure, such conditions require years of meticulous planning and negotiations.

There is now a mountain of evidence that French, US and British intelligence services were in play from the very beginning. So, we must posit the hidden fist that precipitates the market’s hand. As I have argued elsewhere, morality is never the catalyst for military force and to even humour the possibility is to fall into the realms of ideology. Likewise, as Sukant argued from the platform, imperial intervention is not engaged upon on a whim. The decision to engage in Libya was taken by our government not on the basis of caprice, but strategy. If one refuses to accept this, then it is a legitimate question to ask “how do you consider yourself anti-imperialist?”

If one holds that our government invaded the sovereign territory of Libya on the basis of unverified and unsubstantiated claims of “massacres” to prevent a “greater massacre”, then one accepts that our government is at war for reasons that include morality, compassion and a form of internationalism. Advocates of such a position, are, as far as I am concerned, are liberal.  The fundamental lesson of Iraq has not be learnt – don’t believe the words of leaders and embedded correspondents.

Holding such a position does not entail that the Libyan people are represented by those who seek to negotiate terms with imperialism. Never did Sukant or anyone undermine the legitimate grievances of the Libyan people, who are not all “contras”. The masses should not be forgotten, neglected or spoke past. The reason the anti-imperialist position is taken is not tokenist, foolish support for old leadership, it is because we must understand the liberation of the world’s people requires a true break with 500 years of imperial rule from the North European peoples and their settler colonies. We must also pay homage where it is due, for all Gaddafi’s faults (and, yes, there are many) he did fund, support and facilitate anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. The Libyan crowd who attended the meeting and heckled Sukant non-stop exposed that they’ve little care for what Gaddafi does internationally, as they have such grievances with him domestically. Such a position is understandable, for a Libyan. Not supposed Internationalists.

The Libyan people stand in an intolerable situation. Once again, collective punishment is being administered by the forces of empire against the mass population for the power of their leadership. As I write this, the people are being bombed with depleted uranium infused rockets by a conglomerate of Western governments and their neo-colonial client states. Libya has tribal conflict grounds enough for civil war – and it is a battle of structural elites one ruled by a variable who the West hate (especially the tories), the others trusted figures who know how to do business. In between all of this are the Libyan masses – who lack proper representation and are stranded between a rock and a hard place.

The rebel’s leadership are strongly neo-liberal and represent sections of Libyan society, bitter at Gaddafi’s stifling of their interests, economic and otherwise. The “Interim Government” has been recognised by the French, Qatari, Italian and Portugese government and have begun a process of privatising the nationalised Central Bank and Oil industries. Just like in Iraq, the destabilisation of the regime is followed by the seizing of the countries assets through a scheme of privitisation. The language is more complex, the procedure more beauracratic, but the will remains colonial, and the architects remain Western.

There was nothing new in the build up to this war – anyone who is a serious about anti-imperialism did not fall into the trap of moral ambiguity. There is not a case of Western interventionism that was engaged in for compassionate reasons. The state cannot operate on such a level, to humour it is deeply naive. Seymour himself recognises this, as he sees the state as a structure composed of the interests of capital – neocons just call it realism. We call it empire and empire works to further its interests continuously.

However, empire’s time is coming to an end; it is freefalling and will have hit the ground before the end of our lifetimes. While hurtling towards the ground, austerity budget in hand, it is prone to lash out and attempt to reclaim its losses. We must not take our eyes off it and make sure the beast dies its long overdue death. The Libyan intervention is the containment of the Arab Spring, an attempt from empire to stifle third world momentum.  It is an ill conceived plan to make strategic gains. It could be a disaster, let us hope it is and that the Libyan people unite to slice the fingers off the imperial forces. Though, one at the moment must admit, the West may have a dream come true if the world remains enchanted. As Gideon Rachman articulated in the Financial Times other day:

“policymakers in Washington…have a dream. In this, the governments of Syria and Iran are toppled and replaced by much more moderate regimes. The Israelis, reassured by the disappearance of their biggest foes, agree to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Egypt stabilises and becomes a prosperous democracy. Colonel Gaddafi is defeated and the grateful Libyans hail the west as heroes. A new and legitimate Yemeni government takes up the fight against al-Qaeda. The Saudi government embraces reforms that defuse its internal crisis, and keep the oil flowing.”

The invasion was got through on the basis of an information gap, filled by international media and a diasporic Libyan community. Diplomacy was not extended, just arms. Now the imperial airforce controls the skies of another Arab country, bombs its people at will and our radicals want to perpetuate the moral ambiguity that this thrived upon. It is just like Iraq in this respect. Think about the amount of people queueing up to assassinate Saddam, both literally and metaphorically. When the time came to invade, there were thousands of Iraqis ready to sing to the tune of empire to kill their foe. With Libya it is no different. With the destruction of Iraq witnessed by all, one would think the world would have learnt a lesson, especially the world’s self-professed radicals. Instead, they deliver talks substantiated with moral ambiguity. As far as I am concerned, it is not possible at this moment in history to be neutral between forces – it is clear what the terms of this conflict now are and those who take the side of the rebellion, side with the imperialists. This goes some way to explaining why Richard Seymour has “far more in common” with a neo-conservative follower of Irving Kristol than a third-worldist.

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