Torture in Libya

It is a shame that Libya’s new rulers have failed so miserably to distinguish themselves from their predecessor.

The UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has raised concerns about Libya’s armed brigades and the treatment of more than 8,500 detainees, majority of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa.

Addressing the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya, Pillay warned that, “lack of oversight by the central authorities creates an environment conducive to torture and ill treatment.” She urged the Libyan ministry of justice and the prosecutor’s office to take over the detention centres.

Benghazi: The Uprising

Some very silly ‘information sheets’ have been doing the rounds on Facebook  and elsewhere. They purport to show how wonderful Libya was under dictatorship, how generous Qaddafi was in building a limited welfare state. The people who produce such propaganda are infantile leftists (that wonderfully apt phrase was first used by Lenin) – that’s why they don’t produce similar propaganda on behalf of the royal dictators in the Gulf, although the Gulf dictatorships have also built welfare states, much better ones, in fact, than Qaddafi’s. Libya is a vast lake of high quality oil. Libyans should be as rich as Emiratis or Kuwaitis. The reality is that much of Libya is poor, and that if a Libyan needed a major operation he had to travel to Tunisia, a much poorer country. And the oil wealth is a gift of God or nature, not of Qaddafi. The only thing Qaddafi gifted to the Libyan people was death.

It’s wise to be suspicious of Britain, France and Qatar and to resist the ‘humanitarian intervention’ propaganda. Every state acts according to perceived interests, not according to moral principles. But there’s nothing wise or intelligent in opposing a revolution and insulting a revolutionary people because they choose to accept help from outside rather than die. The more repulsive armchair revolutionaries (almost all of them Western) are calling the heroic Libyan people ‘quislings’ and ‘traitors’ and imagining an alternative reality in which the revolution was begun by Western agents provocateurs. The film below is a timely reminder of how the revolution started in Benghazi – with the blood of martyrs. (I wish the Iran regime-controlled Press TV was also capable of broadcasting sensible documentaries on Syria).

Blind Orthodoxies

It’s always dangerous to declare generalised love for a movement or school of thought – including Sufism, because Sufism can be subdivided into spirit and tradition, into various orders and popular customs, into the sober and the drunk, the vocal and the silent, the revolutionary and the tame. Still, I’ll say I love it for its symbolic, illogical, individualist challenge to literalism and the obsession with rules, and because it smiles, and for its openness and tolerance, and its music and poetry; because, as Adonis says: “Sufism has laid the foundations for a form of writing that is based upon subjective experience in a culture that is generally based on established religious knowledge.”

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The Coming Conflict

Soumaya Ghannoushi in the Guardian on the emerging conflict between the NATO-backed TNC, which mainly consists of old regime people, and more grassroots revolutionary forces.

After six months of defiant resistance, fiery speeches, chilling threats and blood-curdling brutality, Gaddafi has finally fallen on his sword. His collapse, however, is far from the end of the story. Instead, it heralds the start of a more complicated chapter in his country’s history. As tanks surround Gaddafi’s last outposts in Sirte, the cold war over the country’s future gathers pace. The common enemy has been forced out of the scene, and now the vast differences between those he had brought together return to occupy the centre stage.

The vacuum created by Gaddafi’s departure is now filled by two polarised camps. The first is the National Transitional Council (NTC), made up largely of ex-ministers and prominent senior Gaddafi officials who jumped from his ship as it began to sink. These enjoy the support of Nato and derive their current power and influence from the backing of western capitals. The second is composed of political and military local leaders who have played a decisive role in the liberation of the various Libyan cities from the Gaddafi brigades.

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Libyans: Passive Tools?

Reuters

Somebody said to me recently, “The Libyans will soon be doing business with Israel, whether they like it or not.” Here we go again: the assumption that the Libyans have no agency of their own, even after they’ve so dramatically taken the initiative to change the course of their own history. Yes, Libyans took help from NATO, Qatar, and the UAE when they found themselves with no other option. This doesn’t mean they are fated to be slaves of the West. Even Iraq doesn’t do business with Israel, and Iraq has suffered a full-scale US occupation.

Such easy assumptions about the Libyan people arise from racism, usually of the unconscious, ‘well-meaning’ variety. This racism consists, first, of indifference to the people’s plight under Qaddafi, or outright denial of their plight. The rose-tinted view of life under the dictator is reminiscent of the Zionists who assure us that Gaza has swimming pools and shopping malls and that Palestinian Israelis live better than any other Arabs. The rush to highlight the crimes of the revolutionaries (sometimes relying on Qaddafi regime propaganda) is accompanied by silence over the far greater crimes of the quasi-fascist tyranny.

Libyans (and, to a degree, Syrians) are seen as passive tools in the hands of the devilishly clever White man, as childlike people who don’t know their own best interests, as people best advised to shut up and enjoy being tortured for the sake of the greater ‘anti-imperialist’ good. The right of the Libyans to life and freedom, and to make their own decisions, becomes less important than the right of certain people to feel self-righteous.

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Qaddafi’s Racism

It really is very amusing to hear faux-leftists pontificate on how Qaddafi and his multi-millionaire playboy sons ran a socialist, anti-imperialist state even as they tortured rendered suspects for America. It’s even more of a scream to hear them describe the dictator as an anti-racist.

The Daily Kos has a good piece examining Qaddafi’s racism. It describes his mischief-making in Africa, where he funded a variety of tyrants, separatists and terrorist militias, quotes from his embarrassing Green Book – demonstrating his view of Africans as lazy, promiscuous and undeveloped – and reminds us of his deals with Berlusconi, whereby Italy would invest In Libyan projects in return for Qaddafi’s control of ‘black migration.’ This last horror was something that preoccupied Qaddafi, as the following quote shows:

Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come … We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans… We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.

Text in full after the break.

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Victory in Tripoli

After six months of struggle, the Libyan revolution has arrived (again) in Tripoli. There may still be a trick or two up the megalomaniac’s sleeve, but the news coming in at the moment suggests a precipitous collapse. Saif-ul-Islam al-Qaddafi has been arrested. The tyrant’s daughter Aisha’s house is under the revolutionaries’ control, as is the military base of the formerly feared Khamis Brigade. The brigade in charge of protecting Qaddafi himself has surrendered. (The foreign supporters of Qaddafi and his supposedly ‘loyal’ subjects must be feeling rather silly now). Inhabitants of Tripoli’s neighbourhoods are pouring into their streets to greet the revolutionary forces.

Much of the credit for this victory must go to the revolutionaries of Misrata and the Jebel Nafusa. While the Transitional Council in Benghazi was busy fighting itself, the people of Misrata fought their way out of Qaddafi’s siege and then liberated Zlitan. The fighters of the Jebel Nafusa broke the siege around their mountains and then liberated Zawiya – which has suffered so much – and moved towards the capital. Last night revolutionaries in Tripoli, who have been launching small-scale operations nightly for months, rose in Fashloom, Souq al-Juma’a and other areas. Today they were met by their comrades arriving from the west and east.

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To The Point on Syria, Libya, NATO

I was interviewed on KCRW’s To the Point. The programme focuses on Syria, Libya and foreign intervention. I was in august company – Anthony Shadid, New York Times correspondent and author of the wonderfully-written book on Iraq, Night Draws Near; as well as Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy magazine.

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