Thursday, September 13, 2012

Libya on Edge

Eighteen months ago the citizens of Benghazi were 24 hours away from mass slaughter. Libyan rebels had failed to make a breakthrough in their war against Col Gadaffi's forces who had managed to repel every major assault. Three months on from the beginning of the unrest Gadaffi's troops had surrounded the Eastern city of Benghazi, ready to dish out mass bloody revenge against the birthplace of the revolution. At that moment President Obama decided to intervene. A no fly zone was initiated on March 24 and from that point on the rebels had air cover. By October, Tripoli was in rebel hands and Col Gadaffi was dead. Yesterday, Islamic militants stormed the American consulate in Benghazi killing four Americans including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The above picture of Ambassador Steven's body has caused controversy. Some media outlets have described it as the ambassadors body being dragged through the streets by the crowd. Others claimed it was locals carrying him to the hospital. I don't know which is true.

It is not surprising that America will take this personally. After intervening to save Benghazi they have been rewarded with such a savage attack. The question here is who is responsible. We have all known that there was a jihadi element to the Libyan revolution and that this faction have been trying to exercise greater control in Libya since the fall of Gadaffi. There is a very good chance that this attack was directly organised by them. The other possibility is that it was a spontaneous mob that snowballed into a deadly attack. Either way, the issue of the youtube video is deceptive. Any idiot can make a youtube video or burn a Koran. If it is always understandable that such incidents can set Muslims off rioting (as many commentators imply) then we much accept that violent and deadly riots are normal and acceptable because similar anti Islamic displays will happen again and again in the internet era. Frankly, Muslims must learn to live with these type of provocations. It is time the narrative is changed from "it is wrong to insult Islam" to "it is wrong to burn down buildings and kill people in response".

I sincerely hope this incident does not convince the US to withdraw diplomatically and politically from Libya. I know many right wingers are highly sceptical of the unrest in the Middle East and dislike the phrase "Arab Spring" which evokes images of the noble uprisings in central and Eastern Europe. Personally at no stage did I expect Libya to become a western style democracy. But at least it is not being run by a mad man. And it may have a decent shot at becoming a quasi democracy, one with a parliamentary democracy that accommodates for Islamic laws and customs. And let us not forget that the moderate party in Libya did win a comfortable majority in elections last July. The Libyan people deserve a chance at democracy. This incident should not deny them that. In this moving video below Christopher Stevens himself alluded to the fact that Americas road to democracy was not an easy one.

Lets hope that the sentiment expressed in these picture below is the one that dominates the Libyan street over the next number of days.

Libyans expressing their regret at the death of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens.


GW said...

I posted on this issue the other day. I think Libya's interim government is reacting appropriately, there have been some high profile pro-America rallies, and a great deal of the fault for this horrendous act lies on a diplomatic mission in an area of high jihadist concentration that was grossly lacking in security. Why the U.S. did not have adequate U.S. security - on 9-11 no less - is inexplicable and unforgivable.

Coming out of the U.S. congress there are loud calls for punishing Egypt, where the host country did not do their job. But there are also calls, particularly from Rep. Pete King, who is highly influential on national security, to give Libya a pass. I concur on both points.

GW said...

Just to add, what is happening in Egypt seems to be taken right out of Ayatollah Khomeini's playback. Right now, Egypt is drafting a constitution, and a hefty segment want to give the clerics the final say on all laws. There is some pushback, as there was in 1979 in Iran. That was when Khomeini manufactured religious incidents with the U.S., followed not long after by the storming of the embassy. Egypt is well on its way to an Iranian style democracy, one man, one vote, one time.

Ted Leddy said...


It is becoming clearer that in Libya the American consulate was targeted by terrorists in an organised attack. This absolves the Libyan government of responsability because every nation has trouble preventing terrorism and there is little to suggest there was any collusion on their part. The situation in Egypt was entirely different. It wouldn't have happened had the Egyptian authorities done their job, which they deliberately didn't.