[Statement issued by New Socialist Initiative - Delhi University Chapter]
A pack of scoundrels, brandishing latest weapons have attacked Libya. Ever since the popular uprising against Gaddafi took a turn towards civil war, and Gadaffi’s army gained the upper hand, the gang of Presidents and Prime Ministers of Western countries was getting its arsenal ready against the North African country. Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council provided the fig leaf they were waiting for, and now, like a pack of hungry wolves on scent of an easy prey they have gone berserk. They care little about pusillanimous complaints of an Arab League, the organization of Arab dictators which gifted them the fig leaf, or African Unity.
While Western leaders attacking Libya are claiming it to be for the sake of spreading democracy and human rights in the Arab world, their domestic record speaks volumes about the moral content of their politics. The minnow of the pack, but most jumpy Silvio Berlusconi of Italy is mired in bunga-bunga sex scandal and corruption scams at home. He is desperately trying to relive the infamy of Mussolini’s imperial adventures in Africa. Recent opinion polls in France have pushed Nicolas Sarkozy to the third spot among candidates likely to stand for the post of the President next year. Five years ago he had won elections by successfully poaching on the far right, proto-Fascist constituency of the National Front. He had also successfully played the charade of projecting a happy family life by going on a holiday with his estranged wife just before elections, to woo conservative Catholic voters. Just after elections, he divorced and married a much younger Italian super model. His ministers are mired in corruption scandals. It is only the prestige attached to the President of the Republic that is shielding him. A recent demonstration of over two hundred thousand in London called David Cameroon ‘butcher of Britain’ for dismantling whatever little welfare is left in British capitalism. He became Prime Minister because the alternative in Gordon Brown was too disgusting to British voters. His junior Nick Clegg of the Liberal Party won seats by promising, among other things, not to raise university tuition fees. Few months later he broke that promise by supporting Conservative welfare cuts. Barrack Obama started by giving a sensible speech in Cairo to the Muslims of the world. But his behaviour on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and now, Libya, is ample proof of the stranglehold of imperial arrogance on the US foreign policy, and of what pliable material he is made of.
Can these gentlemen of questionable morality at home, so soon become saviours of Libyans under attack by Gaddaffi? For the sake of Libyans, one surely hopes so. However, if their heart bleeds so much for suffering Arabs, could they please also use their good offices, not to speak of their weapons, to extract a modicum of decent life for Palestinians under attack by Israel? Well, while Gaddaffi was lording over Libyans for decades, all of these gentlemen, only till few months ago, were his happy pals; helping him loot his country’s oil wealth, giving his son questionable academic degrees, and were his loyal guests. Now they have trained their guns on him not because they care for ordinary Libyans, but because a military assault is their best chance to rein in the popular Arab Spring against dictators. Gaddaffi’s butchery gave them the golden opportunity to bring themselves back into the equation after the indigenously evolving Arab uprising was making them irrelevant in the region. It is well known how scared Israel was when millions of Egyptians were demonstrating in Tehreer Square against Hosni Mubarak, the old loyal friend of West in the region. The aim of Western aggression in Libya is not Gadaffi; calculating schemers that they are, they are more than willing to prolong the conflict, and they will torpedo any effort towards a political resolution initiated by the AU. The larger politics of attacks on Libya is completely missed if looked from the restrictive frame of West in support of Libyans versus Gaddaffi. He is a spent force. Once Libyans rebelled and his army split, it would have been as such impossible for him to rule the old way. The politics of this attack also goes beyond the oil wealth of Libya. It is a battle to control the terms on which the transition to Arab democracy is to be fought. If the material and political support to rebels in Libya was the only motive, then it would have been best served by routing through transition regimes in Eqypt and Tunisia, two countries that border Libya. It would have also strengthened the hands of democrats in these countries. That this choice was not made, says a lot about reasons behind Western aggression against Libya.
Attack on Libya reiterates an important old lesson. Relations among countries of the world are pure power play, in which strong try to get better of the weak by hook or crook. Imperialism of the Western countries is the dominant reality of present international relations. These countries enjoy military and economic superiority. Globalisation of world economy and cultures have aligned political, economic and ideological orientation of almost all the ruling elites of the rest of the world with the current structure of Western domination. Defeat of twentieth century socialism has not only weakened anti-capital struggles, but also disoriented efforts to find alternatives to the liberal model of governance perfected in Western countries. Western imperialism is prepared to use all means possible to maintain its political and economic domination. Use of weapons to kill and destroy is there for all to see. More insidious are selective media reporting, and academic subterfuges. Like all systems of domination, Western imperialism also tries to project a moral and legitimate dimension. Hence, its leaders, media, entertainment industry and academia try to give a moral spin to its adventures by invoking notions like ‘international community’, ‘humanitarian aid and intervention’, ‘international law’ etc. In reality, Western imperialism, or for that matter the behaviour of regional hegemons like India, China or Russia, is pure thuggery and deserves no moral allowance. Institutions like the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and Tribunals, Nobel Peace prizes and the horde of Western non-governmental agencies are institutions of imperial hegemony. Israel has been violating all UN resolutions on Palestine for decades. Yet the UN has failed to protect the life of a single Palestinian. International Criminal Tribunals can try a Milosevic, but war criminals like George Bush and Tony Blair are not touched. To expect the Western intervention to bring democracy, or save civilians in third world, as Arab League leaders say they thought when they requested UN for a no-fly zone over Libya, is pure foolishness. Tigers do not change their stripes overnight and need to be confronted as such.
The second lesson of attack on Libya has a more immediate significance for Arab politics. The mass upsurge in Arab countries from Algeria in the West to Baharin in the East, have brought the question of democracy to center stage. But, towards what kind of democracy will Arabs societies evolve? In a recent interview, the well respected American economist Joseph Stiglitz called American democracy the best money can buy. The way all liberal democracies of the West, from the US to Greece, have handled the recent economic crisis provides ample support to Stiglitz’s claim. When finance capital was in doldrums, governments in all these countries gave billions of dollars to banks and other financial institutions to prevent further collapse. Once finance capital is back in health, and has begun demanding its pound of flesh from national economies, these governments are eagerly forcing austerity on their citizens, even though unemployment is high, wages low, and poverty is on the rise. Rather than providing a platform to citizens to form a government which best serves their interests, liberal governance is over determined by the dominant economic and social structures of the society; so that by and by interests of these structures are served first. Another worrying aspect of liberal democracy is the popular consent it is able to generate against ‘outsiders’. Rather than deepening the political wisdom of citizens by helping them broaden their sphere of concern, liberal democracy in the West, certainly in its current phase, sits comfortably, in fact supports, demonisation of others. Hence, leaders like Goerge Bush and Tony Blair are re-elected despite being responsible for death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. Already there are reports that Sarkozy’s adventure in Libya has widespread support among French, most revealingly even among sections of the Left, who were demonstrating against his economic policies just months ago. After Arab people have challenged their dictators and Kings, they also need to think about what kind of democracy they should build. The one that first serves the rich and the powerful, thrives on xenophobia and hatred against immigrants and citizens of other countries. Or, a democracy which, besides giving citizens choice to elect their rulers, also broadens their political vision and develops an expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship.
In near future Western imperialism will be proclaiming itself champion of democracy by jumping on the carcass of another Third World dictator. Rest of the world has seen Iraq and Afghanistan to be not fooled by such celebrations. However, there is another danger that mass politics in Arab countries has to guard itself from. As Americans, French and British bomb Libya, it is not inconceivable that an impotent blind rage overtakes democratic aspirations of Arab people. That will be most unfortunate because terrorist organizations like the Al Qaeda prosper precisely in moods like that. Western imperialism knows well to profit from terrorism; already American forces are active in a number of Arab countries on the pretext of fighting terrorism. An autonomous popular upsurge is what worries imperialism most. That is what will liberate Arabs from tyrants. Western imperialism has played its hand to station itself as the third force in the battle for Arab democracy. What card will the Arab masses play? That remains to be seen.