Despite all the reports of mass murder and destruction wreaked on innocent civilians in Libya by dictator Mu’ammar Gaddafi’s home-grown thugs and foreign mercenaries, one cannot but be shocked by the fact that this criminal and thief still manages to delude some people who are fooled by his cheap tricks.
When you think of clever public relations and subtle propaganda, probably the last people who would come to mind are Gaddafi and his offspring. Thus, the fact that some people continue to be deluded by him and his supporters worldwide is certainly perplexing to Libyans and other Arabs who have lived in Libya.
Those who have lived in or are familiar with Libya will know that Gaddafi and his sons have no support among Libyans. But outside Libya, the dictator is not short of supporters.
By and large, the people who sing Gaddafi’s praises fall into two categories. First, there are those who have been paid by his regime, or else are recipients of his patronage. I won’t say anything about these: they are hirelings who would sell their souls to the highest bidder.
A second category of Gaddafi praise-singers comprises people who live outside Libya and have never witnessed at first hand how he has destroyed his country and stole its national wealth, murdered and incarcerated his people and betrayed those whose causes he supposedly espouses.
The image of Gaddafi in these people’s minds is that of the progressive, anti-imperialist who supports national liberation movements and who has brought health, education and economic wellbeing to his country.
But this image is utterly devoid of substance.
To begin with, Gaddafi’s “progressive anti-imperialist” phase lasted only four years after he came to power, from 1969 to 1974. After 1974, his relationship with national liberation movements became conditional and his support contingent upon these movements doing his dirty work, such as killing liberation movement leaders who would not subordinate themselves to him or murdering Libyan opponents abroad. Consequently, most genuine liberation movements shunned him.
The important thing to remember is that at no time since 1969 did Gaddafi’s support for progressive forces ever match his rhetoric. Those who still believe in this rhetoric would do well to ask themselves what kind of a progressive leader would appoint an heir apparent, as Gaddafi has done with his son Saif al-Islam, let alone an heir apparent who is best mates with Israel’s far, far-right settler foreign minister, the fascist Avigdor Lieberman, and was (and perhaps still is) “romantically involved” with an Israeli actress, Orly Weinerman. And they should ask themselves why if Gaddafi were a progressive and anti-imperialist did he partake in George W. Bush's extraordinary rendition programme, which turned Libya into one of the USA's torture sub-contractors in Africa.
As for the country’s social and economic progress under Gaddafi’s rule, yes, Libya has made great strides socially and economically thanks to its huge oil wealth. But this is only a fraction of what it could have achieved had Gaddafi and his demented playboy sons not squandered the country’s wealth for their own benefit.
Remember, we are talking about a country with a population of 6.5 million and oil revenues of nearly 45 billion US dollars. We are also talking about a country which, despite its massive oil wealth and small population, has 30 per cent unemployment.
But what of the opposition? Are they any better? And should the outside world support them?
It is easy to forget amid the black cloud of civil war that is hovering over Libya that the current uprising began in mid-February as a series of peaceful protests by ordinary people demanding their civil and political rights. They were met with lethal violence by the regime, which used heavy weapons, helicopters as well as hired hands, and from there on the civil rights protests escalated to armed conflict, with the protestors arming themselves with weapons seized from arms dumps and secret police compounds.
The second point to remember is that this is not a war between competing tribes, as some ill-informed observers claim. Support for and opposition to the Gaddafi regime in fact crosses tribal boundaries, with the overwhelming majority of Libyans of all tribes actually against the regime, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have braved the myriad of regime thugs, goons and killers to express their support for the uprising.
Finally, does “freedom and democracy” come from shoulder-held, short-range surface-to-air missiles, light guided anti-tank missiles, jamming of Gaddafi's military communications and surgical air strikes against his command and communications centres, as I advocated in a previous post?
The answer is that, under the circumstances where the regime has not hesitated from using battlefield weapons against innocent civilians and peaceful protestors, yes, the world has an obligation to arm those who have risen up against the tyrant and who would else be sitting ducks for his goons.
As Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer,
“A defeat for freedom [in Libya] will radiate out into the rest of North Africa and the Middle East and beyond. There are a lot of rightly nervous dictators in the world at the moment: tyrants who fear copycat democratic revolutions. These dictators have a trilemma: do they reform, do they quit or do they attempt to crush their people's aspirations for freedom? If Gaddafi prevails, his fellow dictators will have a template for what they should do when faced with revolt: kill the opposition without mercy in the confidence that the preachers of democracy in the West will do nothing more than wring their pathetic hands.”