Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 14, 2018

Commentary on Max Ajl’s “Notes on Libya”

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 5:37 pm

A fan’s scrapbook

In a more than 6000 word article titled “Notes on Libya” in the February Viewpoint Magazine, Max Ajl makes the case for Gaddafi by drawing liberally from Horace Campbell’s 2013 “Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya” published by Monthly Review. This was the not first time he defended Gaddafi. The same year that Campbell’s book was published, Maxmilian Forte’s “Slouching Towards Sirte” came out, a book Ajl reviewed for the pro-Gaddafi MRZine. Although I have not read Campbell’s book, it seems that it was mostly about the calamity of NATO intervention rather than an encomium to the “Green Revolution”. Indeed, in 2010 Campbell wrote an article about Gaddafi being an obstacle to African unity, evidently something Ajl must have either missed reading or consciously sidestepped.

As for Forte, Ajl probably leaned more in his direction as far as evaluating Gaddafi’s Pan-African credentials:

Furthermore, Forte does a very good job of pulling together the reasons the United States never liked Qadhafi—his prickliness with respect to U.S. investment, his leadership in Africa, his support of the African National Congress, and his resolute hostility to AFRICOM and U.S. bases on African soil.

Of course, if this Cornell graduate student had taken the trouble to spend an hour or so researching Gaddafi’s attitude toward AFRICOM, he would have not written such nonsense—unless of course his only goal was writing propaganda. When General William Ward, the commander of AFRICOM, paid a visit to Libya in 2009, he saw no obstacles to cooperation between the U.S. and Libya:

[D]uring my last visit to Tripoli I had a very good meeting with the Leader. He and I were able to talk about my command; we were able to give him some thoughts on the United States Africa Command and what the command is about. And I think because of that, we gave him additional information that enabled him to have a better understanding of the command.

AFRICOM issued a press release that confirmed Ward’s impressions:

“They (AFRICOM officials) clarified everything,” Abdelgane [a Libyan air force General] said in an interview with AFN-Europe. “And they are making our mission easier … to rise up the level of understanding between the militaries … and to move for further cooperation to the benefit of both countries.”

In January 2009, Libya and the United States signed a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding, which provides the framework for a military-to-military relationship and cooperation on programs of mutual interest.

Even Wikileaks noticed the amity between the anti-imperialist leader and those who posed a mortal threat:

there was a possibility for cooperation with AFRICOM in combating terrorism in the Sahara and piracy. He said that he could deal with “the new America without reservation”, now that the United States was governed by “a new spirit of change.”

So what the heck was that “new spirit of change”? It was about the rapprochement between the Bush administration and Gaddafi that was symbolized in part by his weird obsession with Condoleeza Rice, whose photos he kept in an album that rebels found in his enclave after he was overthrown. On the occasion of her state visit to Libya, the NY Times reported:

After all, the Libyan leader had professed his “love” for the American secretary of state. “I support my darling black African woman,” Colonel Qaddafi told the network Al Jazeera last year. “I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders.”

He continued: “Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much.”

“Combatting terrorism” created the same kind of bromance—at least on a temporary basis—as there is between Trump and Putin. The LA Times reported on September 4, 2005:

As it struggles to combat Islamic terrorist networks, the Bush administration has quietly built an intelligence alliance with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi [sic, a novel spelling if there ever was one], a onetime bitter enemy the U.S. had tried for years to isolate, topple or kill.

Kadafi has helped the U.S. pursue Al Qaeda’s network in North Africa by turning radicals over to neighboring pro-Western governments. He also has provided information to the CIA on Libyan nationals with alleged ties to international terrorists.

In turn, the U.S. has handed over to Tripoli some anti-Kadafi Libyans captured in its campaign against terrorism. And Kadafi’s agents have been allowed into the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to interrogate Libyans being held there.

Now, of course, “fighting terrorism” is something near and dear to Ajl’s heart, just as it is to Max Blumenthal. Their obsession with jihadis is as extreme as Christopher Hitchens’s was in the early 2000s but legitimate in their eyes since it was Putin rather than Bush who was trying to “fight al-Qaeda”.

Much of his article refers to Islamic terrorists like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) that tried to assassinate Gaddafi in 1996 and that was, in his words, “linked to Western intelligence”. Ajl wants you to believe that the MI6, which did pay $160,000 to the LIFG for a hit on Gaddafi, was in cahoots with the same outfit that would play a leading role in the 2011 uprising. However, that’s only if you don’t bother to investigate what happened down the road when jihadis became persona non grata after 9/11. In 2004 MI6 turned over an exiled LIFG leader, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, to Gaddafi’s torture dungeons. Mark Allen, the head of MI6’s counterterrorism unit, crowed, “This was the least [the UK] could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built in recent years”.

Like Stephen Gowans’s defense of the idea that socialism existed in Syria, Ajl relies on non-Marxists to lend credibility to the absurd idea of a socialist Libya albeit with a hedging strategy:

One of the leading scholars of Libya argues, “If socialism is defined as a redistribution of wealth and resources, a socialist revolution clearly occurred in Libya after 1969 and most especially in the second half of the 1970s.” Certainly such a redistribution must redistribute downwards if the word is to retain any meaning. Furthermore, we may object at limiting socialism to material distribution. Socialism can also more broadly refer to self-management, including participation in political institutions. In Libya, the character of state institutions was prohibitive of that participation – a structural defect which laid the grounds for Libya’s later deterioration.

The leading scholar referred to above is one Ronald Bruce St John, who whatever his credentials, and I am sure they are substantial, has little grasp of what a socialist revolution consists of given his assertion that “Socialism was a part of most 20th century revolutions, especially those in the Middle East”. Especially those in the Middle East? What could he possibly be speaking of? We also had African socialism, which involved “redistribution”. Under Julius Nyere, Tanzania put a ceiling on capitalist development in order to allow petty commodity production to prevail. Was that socialism? When the FLN took power in Algeria, it nationalized oil—just as Gaddafi would—and fostered worker self-management as well as “redistributing” oil wealth.

What Ajl misses is the real character of such states that can best be described as rentier in nature or what Gilbert Achcar calls patrimonial. In my review of his “The People Want” for CounterPunch, I describe a state of affairs that prevailed in nearly every state in the Middle East and North Africa:

The analysis in that chapter is at least for this reader the major theoretical contribution made by Gilbert Achcar. While Max Weber is a thinker who might be unfashionable in the academy nowadays, Achcar puts his concept of the patrimonial state to good use.  For Achcar, patrimonialism is an absolute, hereditary type of autocratic power that relies on an entourage built of “kith and kin” and which uses the state to protect its interests and those who it favors. Essentially, the term “crony capitalism” describes the power relationships that existed throughout the region despite the tendency of some rulers to cloak themselves in the rhetoric of national liberation and socialism.

For some on the left, there is a tendency to put the most positive spin on patrimonial states when they appear disposed to provide benefits of one sort or another to the population. While this is obviously not socialism, it is a petroleum-fueled welfare state that bears some resemblance to Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution—or so it would seem.

However, oil revenue can be a double-edged sword. When a state’s treasury relies on oil revenues rather than taxes, such as is the case in Kuwait where tax revenues comprised less than 1 percent of GDP, the ruling clique is not bound by obligations to a largely non-existent tax-paying population.

Oil and gas production in MENA is an industry that generates ground-rent in terms understood by Karl Marx in V. 3 of Capital. This simply means that unlike manufacturing, the means of production can largely do without labor. Wealth is being generated but not jobs. This goes a long way to explain the disproportionately large informal sector in MENA. If factory jobs are virtually non-existent, then the only recourse is to emigrate (the region is known for its massive export of labor) or becoming a street peddler. When a state that has grown indifferent to a non-taxpaying base and has nourished corruption and payoffs throughout the body politic, no wonder someone like Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit peddler, could have touched off the Arab revolts through his self-immolation after years of paying off the cops or being beaten and harassed by them.

Despite the occasional report about diversification in oil-producing nations, manufacturing remains stunted. Compared to Israel that lacks any sort of mineral wealth but enjoys a robust manufacturing base, the Arab states are extremely underdeveloped. Why is there so little commitment from the elites, even on a capitalist basis, to use oil revenue to remove the distortions that plague the local economies?

If you are a Marxist, as Ajl claims to be, that’s the starting point: class relations in a given national framework. Once, your unit of analysis becomes the nation-state rather than class, it is easy to lose your way.

His article is filled with references to many reputable scholars including Raymond Hinnebusch. However, none of them are recognized Marxist scholars. If anything, there is a dearth of Marxist scholarship on Libya. A search in New Left Review, Historical Materialism and Socialist Register turns up practically nothing.

I had hopes to write a series of articles about Libya that would be similar to those I have written about Syria but demands on my time have made that very difficult. If I were to find the time, much of my output would be based on a 2015 collection titled “The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath”, edited by Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn.

It goes a long way to explaining the collapse of the Libyan revolution that is to some extent the outcome of NATO intervention, something I agree with Ajl and company on, but there’s a lot more to it. I recommend the NY Review of Books review of the book that this excerpt will help you to understand its value:

It was always unrealistic to expect Libyans to emerge overnight from four decades of whimsical dictatorship into a state of democratic institutions. Western powers provided the military support to oust the colonel, but myopically not the civilian support to put a workable administration in his place. When civilians tried to erect a modern state themselves, warlords from the different parts of Libya easily bypassed the elections that had been held and seized power in the name of whatever cause they hoped might attract support. Some militia leaders justify their recourse to arms as a battle against jihadi Islamists or the remnants of the Qaddafi regime. Others claim to defend whatever tribal, religious, or ethnic group might win them local constituencies. They have tried to revive traditional myths in order to cultivate fresh loyalties. In the process a once relatively homogeneous society has splintered into multiple bickering armed groups.

The irrepressible rise of Libya’s many contending forces is one of the enigmas of the 2011 revolution. When Libyans first revolted, they counted among their blessings that they had few of the cleavages of sect and ethnicity that divided other Arab states. Through intermarriage, relocation for work, and Qaddafi’s deliberate jumbling of ethnic groups, many Libyans had multiple associations spanning the country’s vast terrain.

Yet The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath, a compilation edited by Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn, British analysts of Libya, is a timely acknowledgment that Libya’s chemistry is older than the laboratory Qaddafi fashioned. The book traces not only the colonel’s demise, as many others have done, but the appearance of a lesser-known new cast. Written almost entirely by foreign experts, some of whom know the different factions intimately, it is the most detailed account I have read of the old forces shaping new Libya. Chapter by chapter, it analyzes each of the “sub-national identities” jostling for influence, and the communal narratives their representatives use to promote their claims. They include Libya’s Islamists, the merchants of Misrata, the Arab Bedouin tribes concentrated in the Green Mountains of the east, the indigenous Imazighen (i.e., Berbers) in the west, and the two ethnic groups of Libya’s slice of the Sahara—the Tuareg and Tubu.

Libya in its current shape is a recent, fragile construct, originating in Italy’s invasion of 1911, exactly a century before the Arab Spring. It has been fracturing and reuniting ever since. Unable to overcome the Arab Bedouin tribes in the east, Italy’s first wave of colonizers sanctioned the creation of an autonomous Emirate of Cyrenaica. In 1929 Benito Mussolini tried again, and succeeded by imprisoning tens of thousands of Bedouins in concentration camps, where half of them died. After World War II, the British backed the revival of the Cyrenaican emirate replete with a king, Idris I. But the discovery of oil, whose fields and pipelines straddled boundaries, drew Libya’s disparate provinces into ever closer union. In 1951, Cyrenaica established a federation with the Fezzan region in the south, hitherto under French hegemony, and Tripolitania in the northwest, also under the British. King Idris added a green and a red band below and above his black flag with a white crescent. And in 1963, under King Idris, Libya abolished the federation and declared itself a single unified state.

For forty-two years, Qaddafi, who called himself Il Duce with overtones of Mussolini, suppressed these separate identities. But once he had fallen, vulnerable Libyans floundering for some means of protection turned to their closest kin. In Tripoli each district of the city assembled its armed wing. Islamists organized anti-vice squads, and the Imazighen established “rapid deployment forces” to support neighborhoods with high concentrations of Berbers. Libya’s new power brokers revived and inflamed ancient grievances to consolidate their hold.

May 27, 2018

Why Gaddafi contributed 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:30 pm

Nicolas Sarkozy and Moammar Gaddafi

For supporters of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, the news that he had made illegal donations to Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 elections to the tune of fifty million euros has yet to lead any to examine how Africa’s leading anti-imperialist figure could have partnered with a man who was commonly regarded as stealing Marine Le Pen’s thunder by running a campaign filled with racist and xenophobic themes. He told prospective voters in 2007 that “We have too many foreigners on our territory” and that “[new arrivals] are not welcome if they’re only coming to receive welfare benefits”.

Surely Gaddafi was aware that when Sarkozy was the Minister of the Interior he visited Benin in 2006, where students protested him as a racist. But Gaddafi didn’t particularly care what radical African students thought. He was far more interested in connecting with a powerful French politician who was seen as a friend of Washington and Tel Aviv during a 4-day trip to the USA in September, 2006. Sarkozy met with President Bush, and Senators McCain and Obama. Also meeting with members of the Israel lobby, he denounced Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization. Sizing him up correctly, the Times wrote: “Mr. Sarkozy is calculating that his courtship of America, and his affinity with some policies of the United States, may win him votes on the French right.” Wasn’t Gaddafi reading the NY Times? Probably not but maybe some of his anti-imperialist cohorts could have tugged his lapels.

In a speech following his nomination in November, 2007, he continued with his nationalist rhetoric. As the Times put it, “He evoked the classic images of French history, including the Crusades, the Enlightenment, the cathedrals and Joan of Arc, but said little that would appeal to France’s millions of Muslims.” In a dig obviously targeting Muslims, he said that it was unacceptable to “want to live in France without respecting and loving France” and learning the French language. One of his main campaign issues was the need to tighten immigration laws. He bragged that when he was Minister of the Interior,  tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were expelled. He also reminded voters of his 2005 pledge to rid France’s ethnic Arab and Muslim suburbs of “scum” after the banlieues erupted.

In other words, he was France’s Donald Trump.

On March 28, 2018 an article appeared in the ardently pro-Gaddafi Black Agenda Report titled “Another Reason Why Imperialism Wanted Libya Overthrown”. It was an attempt by Abayomi Azikiwe, a Workers World member in Detroit, to make sense of the revelations about Gaddafi’s campaign contributions. Only a year earlier, another Black Agenda Report article had Sarkozy pegged in an article about the French elections that Macron would win:

Even though Sarkozy belongs to the so-called establishment right, his thinking on Africa (see, for instance, his infamous Dakar, Sénégal, address at the Cheikh Anta Diop University, 2007) is more gratuitously racist and dehumanizing than anything Le Pen or, indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, founder of front national, both members of the “non-establishment right”, have said or written on this very subject.

Yes, that 2007 speech was a humdinger:

The coloniser came, he took, he helped himself, he exploited. He pillaged resources and wealth that did not belong to him. He stripped the colonised of his personality, of his liberty, of his land, of the fruit of his labour.

The coloniser took, but I want to say with respect, that he also gave. He built bridges, roads, hospitals, dispensaries and schools. He turned virgin soil fertile. He gave of his effort, his work, his know-how. I want to say it here, not all the colonialists were thieves or exploiters.

Ah, the white man’s burden.

This fucking Sarkozy had the nerve to make this speech in Senegal, a country that was colonized by France in 1659 and that was drained of its wealth for the better part of 300 years and for what? That France could build a railroad to transport the plantation crops to a ship that would carry them back to France?

None of this mattered to Gaddafi. His sole interest in seeing Sarkozy elected was to get his hands on weapons, planes and other manufactured goods that were being blockaded. This included 21 Airbus planes and a memorandum of co-operation that Libya would negotiate exclusively with France for all future military purchases.

In fact, despite his reputation as being the fearless anti-imperialist, there is every indication that Gaddafi was considered someone you could do business with:

NY Times, November 21, 2008
The Libyan-American Thaw Gathers Pace
By Graham Bowley

Relations are improving between the United States and Libya.

President Bush telephoned the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, on Monday, after Libya had paid about $1.5 billion to the State Department to clear up terrorism-related claims from bombings and hijackings during the 1980s.

And Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice this week met with Colonel Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, who was also in New York for private meetings.

Ms. Rice visited Colonel Qaddafi in Libya in September, the first time in more than half a century that a sitting American secretary of state had gone to Libya. It was a visit that marked, from the American perspective, the rehabilitation of a man whom Ronald Reagan once famously called the “mad dog of the Middle East.”

But it doesn’t end there. Late Thursday, the Senate confirmed a new United States Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, who will be the first American ambassador to the country in 36 years, according to The Associated Press.

The nomination of Ambassador Cretz had been held up over questions about the compensation payment, but those questions were answered when Libya paid the money, which will be divided up among hundreds of victims of Libya’s actions. Libya has also renounced its stockpiles of chemical weapons and its secret nuclear weapons program.

“We’re very pleased,” Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, told The Associated Press on Friday, referring to the confirmation of the new ambassador. “We’re anxious to get him out there.”

As one of The New York Times’s Moscow correspondents, Andrew Kramer, reported, Colonel Qaddafi’s visits were seen as a sign that despite the conciliatory steps he has taken toward Washington, the onetime pariah was still maneuvering to pit Russia and the United States against one another in offering commercial and political favors.

After he courted the Kremlin, it remains to be seen what form his diplomacy will take if or when he turns up in Turtle Bay. But Colonel Qaddafi is not known for underplaying his advances: After all, the Libyan leader once professed his “love” for Ms. Rice, whom he called “my darling black African woman.’’

Speaking to the network Al Jazeera last year, he continued: “Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza — I love her very much.’’

As the article should make clear, Gaddafi was not forced to do business with a scumbag racist like Sarkozy. He could have bought planes and weapons from Russia if his overarching purpose was to advance the interests of the anti-imperialist bloc.

Returning to the Black Agenda Article by the Workers World member, he only offers up the boilerplate analysis of such groups: “This crisis extends beyond the legal issues facing Sarkozy. Moreover, it is a problem of modern-day imperialism which is seeking new avenues of conquest for purposes of exploitation and profit-making.” Yes, we understand that but where’s the explanation of why Gaddafi helped to get France’s Donald Trump elected?

This has been a problem with the Gaddafist left from the beginning. It has failed to see that he was a typical North African strong man, having the same narrow class interests as every other dictator in the region, including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. People like Abayomi Azikiwe are not very deep thinkers. They see the world as divided between the Evil West and the Good East and South. It is devoid of contradictions. My suggestions to such simple-minded people is stop calling themselves Marxists unless they are able to understand that the class struggle is primary, not geopolitical rivalries. Anybody who took the trouble to look closely at Libya and Syria prior to 2011 would have seen that these were not the countries they fantasized about. The epoch of the Tricontinental and Baathist radicalism was long gone. I invite you to read a New Yorker article on Libya published in 2006. It would make it crystal-clear how Sarkozy and the Libyan bourgeoisie saw things eye to eye that year. No wonder Gaddafi paid him off:

[Prime Minister Ghanem] Dr. Shukri, as he is called by those close to him and by those who pretend to be close to him–he has a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School, at Tufts–has a certain portly grandeur. With a neat mustache and a well-tailored suit, he exuded an effortless cosmopolitanism that seemed more conducive to facilitating Libya’s reentry into the world than to winning over the hard-line elements at home. When I arrived, he was sitting on a gilded sofa in a room furnished with Arabic reimaginings of Louis XVI furniture, before many trays of pastries and glasses of the inevitable mint tea. In the Libyan empire of obliquity, his clarity was refreshing, and his teasing irony seemed to acknowledge the absurdity of Libyan doubletalk.

I mentioned that many of his colleagues saw no need to hasten the pace of reform. This was clearly not his view. “Sometimes you have to be hard on those you love,” he said. “You wake your sleeping child so that he can get to school. Being a little harsh, not seeking too much popularity, is a better way.” He spoke of the need for pro-business measures that would reduce bureaucratic impediments and rampant corruption. “The corruption is tied to shortages, inefficiency, and unemployment,” the Prime Minister said. “Cutting red tape–there is resistance to it. There is some resistance in good faith and some in bad faith.”

Nor was he inclined to defer to the regime’s egalitarian rhetoric. “Those who can excel should get more–having a few rich people can build a whole country,” he said. Qaddafi’s “Green Book” decreed that people should be “partners, not wage workers,” but it is not easy to make everyone a partner, the Prime Minister observed. “People don’t want to find jobs. They want the government to find them jobs. It’s not viable.”

November 30, 2017

Gaddafi debunked

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:41 pm

Below, Nizar Mhani (Niz Ben-Essa) of the Free Generation Movement responds to common misconceptions relating to the Gaddafi regime …

There are no electricity bills in Libya; electricity is free for all its citizens.
Categorically untrue. Despite poor electricity infrastructure and poor coverage of electricity lines, even in the Capital, Libyan homeowners pay monthly/quarterly (area dependent) electricity bills based on meter readings. Electricity is cut off in instances of unpaid bills. Reconnection upon payment is not instant. The electric infrastructure is weak and some areas of Libya do not have electricity available at all.

There is no interest on loans, banks in Libya are state-owned and loans given to all its citizens at 0% interest by law.
Categorically untrue. Banks all over Libya have been giving out loans for years and years. There is a percentage rate charge on all loans, which is comparable to an interest rate, but in the spirit of ‘islamic ethics’ it is not called interest, it is called an ‘Administrative Expense’ – Masareef Edareeya.

A House is considered a human right in Libya
Gaddafi vowed that his parents would not get a house until everyone in Libya had a home. Gaddafi¹s father has died while he, his wife and his mother are still living in a tent.

Gaddafi abused this human right as much as he did other basic rights. It is well known in Libya that political opponents and successful businessmen/women had their homes confiscated and handed over to regime members, usually rewards for Free Officers – Dubat A7rar. Many farms and homes and businesses were confiscated during three infamous phases of Libya’s dictatorial history:

  • 1969 – The dreaded Green Revolution. Free Officers were rewarded land, homes, and farms that sometimes belonged to other people and the original owners were not compensated or asked if this was ok.
  • Late 70’s – The introduction of the law Albayt le Sakinehee – The Home Belongs to its Dwellers. As this law was passed overnight, thousands of homeowners instantly lost their homes, as tenants (those renting the homes) claimed ownership on account of being the ‘dwellers’. The law applied to homes, farms, shops, etc.
  • 90’s – The introduction of Purification Committees (Lejnat al Tatheer). This committee ran by the widely know slogan, ‘Min ayna laka hada?’ – “From where did you obtain this?”, a form of ultra-socialism where people’s possessions, including homes and businesses, were confiscated if seen to be ‘surplus to requirement’ or contributing to a ‘monopoly’.

Regarding Gaddafi’s ‘vow’: While Gaddafi waited for ‘everyone in Libya’ to be housed, he himself lived in a sprawling 6km square compound in the centre of the capital which was home to state of the art security and an underground network of rooms and ultramodern bunkers. He also had a vast and well-known farm on Airport Road in Tripoli. This, just in the capital.

All newlyweds in Libya receive $60,000 Dinar (US$ 50,000 ) by the government to buy their first apartment so to help start up the family.
This is a well-known rumour and a common joke in Libya. Whilst it may have been passed as official legislation, I know of not a single family who has been given this grant. The backbreaking bureaucracy associated with such grants and loans make them more or less impossible to obtain.

Education and medical treatments are free in Libya. Before Gaddafi only 25% of Libyans are literate. Today the figure is 83%.
Education and Health Care – Free does not mean adequate. It is well known that Libya’s standard of health care is nothing short of appalling. It is widely known that the majority of Libyans seeking medical care leave for neighbouring countries for treatment. Our Education system is no better. It is outdated, teachers are underpaid and under-trained and libraries are largely non-existent. The syllabus was constantly being revised and reviewed under direct instruction from the former regime e.g. banning English, changing Quranic verses, etc.

It is commonly said that Libyans would be happy to forfeit their ‘free healthcare’ and pay for a National Health Service if it was up to the required standard.

Should Libyans want to take up farming career, they would receive farming land, a farming house, equipment, seeds and Livestock to kick-start their farms all for free.
This has never happened, in addition to this many farms and homes have been confiscated by the government to build civil roads,

The Great Man-Made River and civil roads.
The owners of the land were only compensated if there was a covered structure on the land as the Gaddafi regime legally owned any land and the people were only allowed to build on it. When there was compensation offered it was nowhere near the actual value of the property and many waited years to receive anything if at all. This system was also rife with corruption many residents told they had to pay a bribe to receive what little they were given.

If Libyans cannot find the education or medical facilities they need in Libya, the government funds them to go abroad for it not only free but they get $2,300/month accommodation and car allowance.
Categorically untrue. If this was the case, the former regime would have been in receipt of 6 million application forms – one for every man, woman, and child who ‘cannot find education or medical facilities they need’. This grant does not exist for the mainstream public. There is anecdotal evidence of some medical grants being given but again, the system was corrupt and opaque.

October 11, 2016

The Battle of Misrata

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:32 pm

(from “History’s Warriors”, an article about the Misrata militia written by Brian McQuinn for “The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath“.)

Yet it was dump trucks filled with sand that would turn the tide of the battle. While accounts differ as to which individual or group first conceived the innovation, the results were definitive. By the middle of April, Tripoli Street was impassable, blocked by huge dump trucks (parked by drivers who were often shot in the process), effectively cutting government supplies to the city centre. The weight and height of the vehicles prevented tanks from running over or pushing them aside. Additionally, the truck’s load of sand absorbed tank rounds, making them almost indestructible. A deadly cat-and-mouse game unfolded over the next weeks as Qadhafi’s forces brought armoured bulldozers to remove the vehicles, only to see them destroyed, blocking their sup-ply route even further. By the end of April, Tripoli Street was a grave-yard of vehicles. Starved of ammunition, food and reinforcements, the towering buildings occupied by Qadhafi’s forces became prisons. Over the next two weeks, Misratan forces slowly encircled the Insurance Building, using the mosques’ speakers to play Allahu Akbar (`Allah is great’, `God is great’ or ‘God is the greatest’)” continuously, boosting Misratan fighters’ morale and preventing government soldiers from sleeping. At night, cats and dogs were outfitted with flashlights and released onto the streets surrounding the Insurance Building to draw sniper fire. This tactic wasted snipers’ ammunition and revealed their position for counterattacks. Eventually, the futility of wasting further ammunition on a position so well fortified was recognised. The military committee demolished the first floor stairs of the building and directed battalion leaders to pull back, leaving the remaining government soldiers stranded. The remaining soldiers were given the chance to surrender, those who refused were left to starve. Misratan fighters continued to make advances along Tripoli Street throughout April and early May. Sand-filled dump trucks, and later, when these became scarce, ISO shipping containers, were deployed throughout the city, parsing Misrata into discreet neighbourhood zones. This, combined with the Tripoli Street blockade, starved Qadhafi’s forces of supplies, dislodging them from the city centre.

October 5, 2016

Getting Gaddafi wrong

Filed under: journalism,Libya — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

Chris Welzenbach

In today’s CounterPunch, there’s the typical fulsome encomium to Gaddafi written by one Chris Welzenbach that you used to see all the time in 2011. The author has been involved in the Chicago theater scene for many years. Maybe his work with actors had the unintended result of yielding an article about Libya that is mostly fictional, including this:

Prior to Gaffafi’s [sic] murder, Libya was a stable country if not a traditional nation-state. According to a report titled “Gaddafi’s Libya Was Africa’s Most Prosperous Democracy” by Garikai Chengu that appeared in the January 12, 2013 edition of Countercurrents.org, “. . .

One of the most troublesome legacies of the “anti-imperialist” worship of Gaddafi and Assad is its utter disregard for scholarly standards. I am not talking about getting articles published in a peer-reviewed journals but simply doing the due-diligence to make sure that a citation is based on scrupulous fact-checking.

In the quote above, the author cites a Countercurrents article that in trying to prove that Libya was a “democracy” includes what looks like an impressive finding from the NY Times:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. Even the New York Times, which was always highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.” The purpose of these committee meetings was to build a broad based national consensus.

Wow! This sounds like Gaddafi was the head of a country that was another Rojava (leaving aside the question of whether the anarchist claims were somewhat overblown).

But if you track down the NY Times article, as the author Chris Welzenbach should have done instead of simply accepting the Countercurrents article at face value, it states:

In Libya, the theory goes, everyone is involved in every decision. People meet in committees and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”
Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

“We don’t need money,” said Nadia Ali, 35, at one of the forums in Tripoli. “We need roads, we need health care, we need education, we need an economy.”

Maybe I am just a stick in the mud but when you cite an article that includes a dishonest citation, maybe you should stop pretending to be an investigative journalist or even a radical. The author should stick to staging Tennessee Williams and leave the political economy to experts.

October 22, 2015

Gaddafi and the jihadis

Filed under: Jihadists,Libya — louisproyect @ 2:03 pm

But the bloody joke is on all of us; Gaddafi knew what he was talking about; right from the get-go, he accused the so-called Libyan rebels of being influenced by Al-Qaeda ideology and Ben Laden’s school of thought; no one had taken his word for it of course, not even a little bit. I mean why should we have? After all, wasn’t he a vile, sex-centric dictator hell-bent on massacring half of the Libyan population while subjecting the other half to manic raping sprees with the aid of his trusted army of Viagra-gobbling, sub-Saharan mercenaries? At least that’s what we got from the visual cancer that is Al Jazeera channel and its even more acrid Saudi counterpart Al-Arabiya in their heavily skewed coverage of NATO’s vicious conquest of Libya. Plus Gaddafi did dress funny; why would anyone trust a haggard, weird-looking despot dressed in colorful rags when you have well-groomed Zionists like Bernard Henry Levy, John McCain and Hillary Clinton at your side, smiling and flashing the victory sign in group photo-ops, right?

Ahmad Barqawi, The Future Gaddafi Foresaw: Libya, ISIS and the Unaffordable Luxury of Hindsight

 

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October 21, 2015

Random notes on “anti-imperialism”

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Garikai Chengu: Goldman-Sachs alumnus and gold mine-owning anti-imperialist

Let’s start with Garikai Chengu’s article that appeared on CounterPunch yesterday, which is a defense of a seemingly indefensible proposition, namely that Gaddafi’s Libya was the most democratic country in Africa. Chengu, a Zimbabwean, has a most interesting profile for an “anti-imperialist”. On his blog he describes himself as a researcher on Africa for Columbia University and Harvard and hopes to utilize “his intellectual and financial capacity” to develop Zimbabwe. One must assume that on the financial plane he will be benefiting from this background: “He has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of Chengu Gold Mining Pvt. Ltd. one of Zimbabwe’s fastest growing indigenous private gold companies.”

It would appear that Comrade Chengu is one of those people who are in the vanguard of the BRICS revolution. In an article titled Mugabe Re-election Heralds ‘New’ Economic Model For Africa, Dana Sanchez quotes my fellow Goldman-Sachs alumnus:

Chengu cites a recent U.N. Africa Progress Report that Africa loses $63 billion dollars each year through foreign multinational corporations’ illegal tax evasion and exploitative practices. This figure surpasses all the money coming into the continent through Western aid and investment, Chengu says.

“It is for this reason that Zimbabwe’s new indigenization model emphasizes local ownership and foreign partnership with emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China,” the editorial says, omitting South Africa from the list.

Unless China is truly communist as some of our anti-imperialist comrades allege, I doubt that it will be treating Zimbabwe any differently from other nations in Africa, namely as a place to extract minerals and agricultural commodities in exchange for the export of manufactured goods. In a July 31, 2015 article from the Zimbabwe Independent, we learn that China has directed Zimbabwe to pay up the $1.5 billion dollars it owes or else it would no longer do business there. I guess profits trump ideology.

While undoubtedly Zimbabwean entrepreneurs such as comrade Chengu will benefit from business deals with China, there are signs that the working class will function much more as impediments to the dowry that will surely await all of Zimbabwe once the economic marriage with China is consummated. Atlantic Monthly reports on the files in the ointment:

So far, the Zimbabweans who are most feeling China’s influence in their country are the workers. As Chinese firms take over business and Chinese managers come to run everything from billion-dollar mining companies to the downtown restaurants in capital Harare, Zimbabwean workers and labor unions are complaining of mistreatment and exploitation. Earlier this month, construction workers went on strike over low pay — $4 per day — and what they said were regular beatings by their managers Chinese managers with the Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company. The case is just one of many that has labor groups — one of the few segments of Zimbabwean politics that enjoys latitude from the ruling party — up in arms.

Reports of beatings by Chinese managers are so common that even a cook at Harare’s popular China Garden restaurant complained of them, telling the Zimbabwe Mail & Guardian, “Working for these men from the East is hell on earth.”

“Workers continue to endure various forms of physical torture at the hands of these Chinese employers right under the noses of the authorities,” a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers’ Union told the same newspaper. “One of the most disturbing developments is that most of the Chinese employers openly boast that they have government protection and so nothing can be done to them. This clearly indicates that the issue has more serious political connotations than we can imagine.”

With this as background, it is not too hard to understand why Chengu would describe Libya as a virtual paradise. In case the reader has a skeptical streak, he reminds us that even the NY Times was wowed by the grass roots democracy:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. The New York Times, that has traditionally been highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi’s democratic experiment, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.”

The brazenness of comrade Chengu’s defense of Colonel Gaddafi left me quite breathless. Does he think that CounterPunch readers will not take the trouble to look up the article that this seemingly positive sentence is extracted from? It is true that most people would not take out a subscription to the NY Times, the only way its archives can be searched, but yours truly is an exception to the rule mainly because he is addicted to the Sunday crossword puzzles and to Melissa Clarke’s recipes.

You’ll note that Chengu’s article lops off the beginning of the sentence in which this Libyan version of a New England town meeting takes place. Let me fill it in for you: “In Libya, the theory goes…” So how does the theory match up to the practice? Not so good:

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”

Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

Oh well. Who could believe such lies from the bourgeois media? That is unless you want to quote it out of context to twist the truth into a pretzel.

Turning now to Robert Fisk, the Independent newspaper’s resident amen corner pundit who shares such duties with fellow Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn, we read an article that is all aflutter over the Russian intervention in Syria titled “Everyone wrote off the Syrian army. Take another look now”. It rather has the aura of a sports writer impressed with the turn of fortune of perpetual losers like the NY Mets or the Chicago Cubs.

The less said about this idiotic article, the better. But this sticks out like a sore thumb: “The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan.”

Perhaps Mr. Fisk does not read his own newspaper–how unfortunate:

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.39.24 AM

To wind up this sorry survey, let us turn to Noam Chomsky who evokes the words “How the mighty have fallen” given his analysis of Russian intervention, while not as bad as Fisk’s comes close.

In the Youtube clip below, you can find Chomsky’s reply to a question about Russian intervention at 58 minutes. It is mixture of confusion and bad politics.

To start with, Chomsky rejects the label “imperialist” to describe Russian bombing. One supposes that this is his concession to the virtually hegemonic view on the left that it is only the USA and its European allies that deserve such a label. As a diehard Marxist, I hew toward the Leninist perspective in which the term imperialism can be applied to states that are below the USA on the totem pole such as Czarist Russia and Japan—two countries that went to war over control over strategic resources in a manner anticipating 1914.

Chomsky has a habit of thought that is prevalent on the left, no doubt a result of his prestige. When the subject of Russian intervention comes up, his tendency is not so much to evaluate the merits of the case being made for or against the Kremlin but to put its enemies on the defense by claiming that they are only doing the same thing as us. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. For example, he says that the USA has no right to criticize the annexation of Crimea since we annexed Guantanamo more than a century ago. If you follow his logic consistently, peace might be achieved if Russia’s imperial outreach was respected. This, of course, is the same realpolitik found in Stephen F. Cohen and Walt/Mearsheimer. With all due respect to Chomsky, I think the obligation of the left is to put the heat on the USA for refusing to let its claws loose of Guantanamo and the Kremlin for annexing Crimea. That was the general outlook of revolutionary socialism in the post-WWI period and one worth reinvigorating.

He also tells the audience that his analysis of Syria is very much influenced by Patrick Cockburn even as he believes that no good can come out of military intervention. Perhaps Chomsky has not been apprised of the fact that Cockburn is quite all right with Russian bombing. That contradiction is one for Chomsky to resolve, not me.

Finally, he believes that peace can come to Syria as long as we accept that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the negotiations. One has the sinking feeling that Chomsky agrees with many liberals that a Yemen type solution is worth supporting, namely Assadism without Assad. That is virtually excluded by the dictatorship whose followers raised the slogan, “Either Assad or the country burns”.

Like so many, Chomsky seems to believe that such a peace was in hand after a Finnish diplomat recently reported that a Russian diplomat was agreeable to a Yemen solution but it was aborted by the USA that demanded Assad’s removal as a precondition. Not withstanding the dubious merits of a Yemen type solution, there was never such a deal in the offing as I point out here: http://louisproyect.org/2015/09/19/baathist-truthers/

March 16, 2015

Dan Glazebrook slimes Hamid Dabashi

Filed under: journalism,Libya,mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:22 pm

Hamid Dabashi

Dan Glazebrook

In his Middle East Eye review of Hamid Dabashi’s essay “Can non-Europeans Think?” that appeared on the Al Jazeera website, “anti-imperialist” hack-of-all trades Dan Glazebrook takes the Columbia University professor to task for being connected to the “vested interests” and “ideological priorities of the time” through work that serves to “keep the formal structure of power that privileges [him] intact”. These are words that Dabashi wrote somewhere against the European-dominated academy but that Glazebrook now intends to use against him. Although he tells his readers that they originated in some new book by Dabashi, he does not take the fucking trouble to identify it in his article. That’s some class-A journalism. (We can assume it is “Brown Skin, White Masks”.)

So why does Dabashi, an Iranian by birth and someone often pilloried by the Zionist lobby as an anti-Semite, get slimed as serving imperialism’s interests?

Glazebrook starts off by telling us that Dabashi is guilty of the same kind of sin Marx committed when he wrote for the pro-slavery and big business oriented NY Herald or when Alexander Cockburn wrote for the Wall Street Journal:

Dabashi is featured regularly on CNN and Al-Jazeera, who originally published the vast majority of the articles that make up this book. What is it about what Dabashi is saying that makes his work so attractive to the British imperial relics of the Qatari royal family or the US entertainment conglomerate Time Warner who own his two major publishers?

Anybody who reads this might wonder if we have run into the age-old pot…kettle…black syndrome since the provenance of Middle East Eye is subject to the same sort of “anti-imperialist” finger-pointing (be careful or else you will get poked in your own eye.) Just have a look at an article that appeared in the National titled “Al Jazeera executive helped to launch controversial UK website”. That’s right, conspiracy fans and X-Files devotees. It was an Al Jazeera boss who launched the website that Glazebook’s drivel appeared on:

A senior executive with Qatar’s TV network Al Jazeera was closely involved with setting up the London news website Middle East Eye, some of whose staff have links to organisations sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jonathan Powell, an Al Jazeera employee since 2009, spent several months in the UK working on Middle East Eye, which promised “independently produced news, analysis and opinion” at its launch in April. MEE claims to have “no political master, movement or country”.

Mr Powell is understood to have spent up to six months in London between September last year and February 13 as a launch consultant for Middle East Eye.

The news organisation was created as a company in early December last year, registered to an address in North London.

Its website was registered by Adlin Adnan, a Middle East Eye employee, to a different address in Central London at the end of that month.

Mr Powell has since returned to Doha, assigned to special projects for Al Jazeera’s chairman’s office.

But Dabashi’s real sin is that he has no use for Glazebrook’s idol, the late Muammar Qaddafi:

For a start, whilst he is scathing about the Islamophobia of the Western media, and the warmongering of the US, his most passionate invective is reserved for leaders of third world countries targeted for destruction by imperialism. Thus, in an article written on the eve of the NATO bombardment of Libya, Gaddafi was depicted as the “bastard son of [European colonial] militarism, charlatanism and barefaced barbarity”, a “dying beast”, and – of course! – a “mad colonel”.

In my book, anybody who keeps a scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice photos is pretty off-the-wall but what do I know?

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In a 2007 interview with al-Jazeera, Qaddafi practically drooled over Rice: “I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. … I love her very much. I admire her and I’m proud of her because she’s a black woman of African origin.” I guess there’s some kernel of anti-imperialism buried deep within this bullshit that I will allow Glazebrook to reveal. But for me, it speaks for itself.

Showing his commitment to the “axis of resistance”, Glazebrook denounces Dabashi for showing disloyalty to the new nearly Communist International:

Elsewhere, Dabashi talks of the “murderous ruling regime in Syria” and the “ghastly opportunism of Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Third world leaderships are constantly equated with their imperial attackers – all the better to discourage any kind of solidarity or defence against such attacks. The BRICS countries – Russia and China in particular – are constantly disparaged throughout Dabashi’s writings, for example, and almost always referred to in the same breath as US imperialism.

Yeah, the nerve of Dabashi to refer to the murderous ruling regime in Syria. Everybody knows that those barrel bombs dropped on open-air markets and tenement buildings are just as necessary to destroy the terrorist threat as the bombs dropped over Gaza. Plus how can anybody in their right mind disparage Russia and China? Doesn’t Dabashi realize that Russia is acting in the interests of radicals everywhere by putting Pussy Riot in prison for acting against public decency? Not to speak of China that is ruled by Communists—no matter that its parliament includes 83 billionaires. These are obviously pro-communist billionaires unlike the filthy pro-capitalist billionaires in the USA.

The rest of the article is basically a rewrite of all the garbage that has been written on behalf of Qaddafi and al-Assad for the past four years. It never fails to amaze me how little new information is provided as a stable of horse’s asses basically plagiarize each other. Is there evidence that a low IQ and “anti-imperialist” journalism are organically linked? I am coming around to the conclusion that is probably the case.

 

December 31, 2013

The “anti-imperialist” backhanded support for the war against “Al Qaeda”

Filed under: Iraq,Islam,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

Today a Debkafiles item titled “US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq” turned up on Facebook. As you might know, Debkafiles is an Israeli intelligence website committed to the “war on terror” so you can assume that they are pleased with Obama’s turn against a common enemy. They report:

With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report.

Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down – the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.

Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches – ISIS and the Nusra Front – have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of he fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

“Al Qaeda”, as the scare quotes around it in the title of this article would indicate, is—to borrow a word from semiotics—a floating signifier for any Sunni tribal-based guerrilla now the target of American drones around the world: Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Iraq, Somalia and probably Syria before long as this March 15, 2013 Los Angeles Times article indicates:

The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.

There’s nothing in the Debkafiles article that gives you the faintest idea of the background to the escalating violence in this mostly Sunni province. For that, you need to take a look at the article that appeared in the December 29th N.Y. Times. It turns out that the sectarian Shiite government is largely responsible:

A raid by Iraqi security forces on the home of a prominent Sunni member of Parliament on Saturday morning in Anbar Province set off a two-hour gun battle that left the lawmaker’s brother and five guards dead, along with a soldier, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

Hours later, angry protests erupted over what Sunnis viewed as another crackdown by the Shiite-led government that alienates them from the political process by equating all expressions of Sunni grievance as terrorism.

The lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, was taken into custody on terrorism charges after the raid at his home in Ramadi, in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, which has been the scene of antigovernment protests for more than a year. Mr. Alwani has been an important supporter of the demonstrators.

The gunfight erupted when Mr. Alwani; his brother, Ali al-Alwani; and the guards opened fire on soldiers as they entered the home, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. In addition to those killed, about 10 others in the house were injured in the return fire, including the lawmaker’s wife and a 12-year-old boy.

The raid inflamed Sunni anger toward the government and is likely to increase sectarian tensions further in a country that is teetering on the edge of a new civil war.

At a gathering of demonstrators in Falluja in Anbar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi, one of the protest leaders, said: “The war has begun. I call on young people to carry their weapons and prepare. We will no longer allow any army presence in Falluja.” Armed demonstrators later carried Ali al-Alwani’s coffin through the streets of Ramadi.

Just a reminder. The Anbar province was key to the American counter-insurgency effort in Iraq. General Petraeus calculated that tribal Sunni leaders could be convinced (and bribed) to resist anti-regime jihadists in the “surge”, also called “The Awakening”. Gabriel Ledeen, the Marine captain whose father is the notorious imperialist plotter Michael Ledeen, explained how the surge worked to Huffington Post readers:

The Anbar Awakening was not a spontaneous uprising against the horrible brutality of the insurgents. Rather, it occurred and succeeded due to the conditions created by U.S. forces who steadily built the foundation for Anbar’s stability. Through dynamic security operations, complex relationships with tribal leaders, and consistent moral authority, we successfully separated the population from the insurgency, demonstrated our potential for victory, and earned the support of Iraqis yearning for peace. It was only after we established these conditions that the Sunni sheiks could urge their tribes to awaken and stand together with U.S. forces against the AQI terrorists.

Ironically, it is the same scorched earth policy directed against Sunnis—a minority in Iraq and a majority in Syria—by these respective regimes that have in fact fostered the growth of jihadism. Maliki in Iraq and al-Assad in Syria will not be satisfied until every sign of Sunni resistance is crushed.

The jihadists, who were often foreign fighters, were once viewed more favorably about 10 years ago when their guns were aimed at American allies rather than foes (of course, Bashar al-Assad was never really a candidate for “regime change”). This 11/9/2004 Washington Post article describes some typical Fallujah fighters, who are basically the same sorts of people aligned with the al-Nusra Front, a group demonized by the “anti-imperialist” left:

Dressed alike, the men were as different as their accents, a new generation of the jihad diaspora, arriving in Fallujah from all over the Arab world: five Saudis, three Tunisians, a Yemeni. Only three were Iraqis.

“I had a vision yesterday that tomorrow I would finally be granted the martyrdom,” said the latest arrival, a thin man in his early twenties. He had come from his home in Saudi Arabia just a week ago.

“This is not fair,” replied the Yemeni, making a joke. “I have been here for months now.”

“Don’t worry, Abu Hafsa,” said one of the Tunisians, heavyset and talkative. “It is either victory or martyrdom, and both are great honors.”

Today these are the sorts of people who Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar, and Patrick Cockburn regard as a threat to civilized Western values–those “foreign fighters”, jihadists, Salafists, Wahhabists, etc. who thank god Obama and Putin have finally decided to make common cause against.

The tendency to label all such fighters as “al Qaeda” can be found in the case of Benghazi as well. Three days ago the N.Y. Times published an exhaustive investigative reporting piece that reveals that the killing of an American diplomat was explained by local grievances and not by al-Qaeda plotting. In other words, the same discontent that is wracking Iraq and Syria is also at work in Libya, a nation that supposedly is the crowning glory of U.S. foreign policy. The Times reports:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Naturally the Republican Party denounced this article as Democratic Party propaganda designed to further Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign bid. What’s surprising is the eagerness of Moon of Alabama, a fountainhead of Baathist propaganda, to embrace the Republican Party talking points:

A big story at the NYT whitewashes the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. It is missing a whole lot of points: the diplomatic outpost was the cover for a CIA operation

    the CIA bought weapons there to ship them to Turkey and to their proxies in Syria

    the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer

    “AlQaeda” groups had an interest to acquire those weapons for their own groups in Syria

    some AQ-affiliates (the brother of AQ leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt) started an international protest over some anti-Muslim video as an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya

Without some deeper digging into the above points, missing in the NYT, the whole Benghazi story is just a fairy tale.

Well, who knows where Moon of Alabama learned about “an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya”. Mint Press? Ray McGovern? Seymour Hersh? Until those “anti-imperialists” begin backing up their claims with citations, I’ll stick with the newspaper of record that actually sent its reporters to Benghazi to interview the principals, including the man who likely orchestrated the attack.

The willingness of the “anti-imperialist” left to back a war on “al Qaeda” has been one of the more startling developments in recent years. Their websites and print publications were primed to support Putin’s crackdown in Chechnya and the Syrian Baathists carrying out essentially the same strategy because they saw the world broken down into two spheres: the imperialist and the anti-imperialist. If your unit of analysis is the nation-state rather than the social class, this is logically the way to proceed. For moldy old Marxist figs like me, I prefer to analyze social classes.

Not long ago I wrote a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone” for Critical Muslim, a magazine co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar, the author of 34 books on Islam, imperialism, and related topics. I read his “Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture” about 10 years ago and recommend it strongly. I don’t think that they would mind me concluding this article with an excerpt from my review since it gets to the heart of categorizing every form of armed resistance mounted by oppressed Sunnis as a jihadist dagger aimed at the heart of civilization:

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

 The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

September 7, 2013

With the Libyan Rebel

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

The video above is in two parts. The first part is footage made by The Libyan Rebel just about two years ago when the revolutionaries were advancing on Tripoli. The second part is an interview I conducted with him over Skype on the current state of Libya, addressing questions of whether it is a “failed state”, a symbol of the Arab Winter, etc.

When the revolution broke out in Libya, the left had two choices. It could back Qaddafi, who Fidel Castro had dubbed “the lion of the desert”—a sobriquet made obsolete when the dictator had begun keeping a scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice snapshots or it could back the revolution. For the pro-Qaddafi camp, there were many experts to rely on, Maximilian Forte one of the most prominent. When Forte explained imperialism’s assault on Libya as a response to Qaddafi’s resistance to AFRICOM, a bid to increase Western military assets on the ground, my first reaction was to check the story. No matter how many times I pointed out that Qaddafi looked forward to working together with AFRICOM “in ways that help us achieve those common objectives for peace and stability”, it never registered on the Qaddafi fan club. Faith is difficult to shake.

After Qaddafi got the boot, I came into contact with a young Libyan identifying himself as The Libyan Rebel who had shown up on the North Star website that tended to feature articles backing the revolution. The rebel wrote comments every so often that grounded the debate in a lived experience:

Binh’s portrayal of the Syrian revolution reflects a deep understanding of the situation leading him to not be swayed to either extreme. He’s simply stating the reality as it is and it is indeed complicated. In Syria, there is an element of everything. There is, has always been and there always will be an “imperialist” interest in the region. There is a sectarian aspect to the strife. There is also an extremist aspect. There are world powers seeking their interests. There are also regional powers competing for a foothold in the future Syria. Most importantly, there is a people’s revolution. A revolution against one of the most murderous and barbaric regimes the region has ever known. Keyboard activists on both extremes have no idea what oppression and tyranny means for the people whom they claim they understand and believe to be serving. They live in free lands while seeing the events only through the narrow slit of their ideologies. Their goals and intentions may be noble, but they lack the maturity to understand the true complexity and dynamicity of the struggle.

With a refreshingly honest assessment of his nation’s complexities, I looked forward to conducting  an interview with him. There is one thing in our recorded conversation over Skype that sticks with me that I want to dwell upon a bit as a preface. The rebel told me that his cousin was one of the students hung for peacefully protesting Qaddafi and that he had to flee Libya in order to avoid the same fate.

When you check the NY Times archives for articles dealing with Qaddafi’s repression of the student movement in the 1970s, nothing turns up. This was at a time when the dictator’s reputation was at an all-time high with the left. Most of the publicity around Qaddafi dwelt on his “anti-imperialism”, mostly verbal in nature or when not verbal manifested itself in support for Carlos the Jackal’s spectacular but misguided adventures.

Today when the bourgeois press has total freedom to operate in Libya, every “excess” is viewed under a microscope to the glee of people like Maximilian Forte who obviously longs for the days when the country was as peaceful as a graveyard. It is too bad that Libyans prefer the loud and boisterous freedoms of a new society trying to find itself.

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