[Marxism] Libyans: Passive Tools?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 30 13:29:30 MDT 2011


by Robin Yassin-Kassab

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.

Many anti-Libyan commentators have felt free to make sweeping 
predictions about Libya and the Libyans without actually 
possessing any knowledge of the people or the country. Where now 
are those voices who a few weeks ago predicted so confidently the 
division of Libya into east and west? Or who informed us that the 
uprising against the tyrant was in fact a tribal civil war? Or 
that Tripoli would never fall because Qaddafi had so much popular 
support there? How do these people explain the almost immediate 
surrender of Qaddafi’s security forces as soon as the 
revolutionaries arrived in the capital, or the fact that 
revolutionaries rose within the capital to greet their brothers 
arriving from beyond, or the mass celebrations in almost every 
neighbourhood as soon as it became safe to express real emotions?

Beyond racism, exaggerated conspiratorial overgeneralisations are 
a symptom of perceived impotence. Some believe that the CIA (or 
whoever) is behind not only the revolutions in Libya (why the CIA 
would have plotted to get rid of Qaddafi I don’t know; Qaddafi was 
not only selling oil to Western companies, he was torturing 
rendered Islamists on America’s behalf and controlling 
cross-Mediterranean migration for the EU’s sake) and Syria, but 
even in Tunisia and Egypt. Such theorists believe, whether they 
admit it or not, that change through political action is an 
impossibility, that mass mobilisations, and the courage to take on 
armed goons with empty hands and bare chests, cannot be real. The 
logical correlation of this belief is that the sole purpose of the 
left is to whine about the state of the world, but never to 
actually change anything. At the start of the 20th Century the 
left could have been criticised for underestimating the difficulty 
of establishing a fairer society; at the start of the 21st 
Century, sections of the left, particularly the Western left, must 
be criticised for the opposite.

Libyans will certainly do business with the West, just as Qaddafi 
did before. Libya needs to sell oil to make its economy work and 
to build the infrastructure that Qaddafi failed to build. (If 
Libyans require advanced medical treatment, they go to Tunisia – a 
much poorer country). Libyans will no doubt prefer to do business 
with the Western countries that gave them support than with such 
powers as Russia, which gave succour to their oppressors. If 
Libyans are in the driving seat, making their own decisions, this 
is fine. Yet certainly the danger exists that in their gratitude 
and amid the current chaos Libyan officials will make too many 
concessions to Western power. Britain, France and others will be 
working hard behind the scenes to ensure such an outcome, and the 
Libyans should be very wary.

Many of the first signs out of post-Qaddafi Libya are good. 
Although the Transitional Council has failed to make a strong 
statement against racist attacks on African migrant workers (by 
people who accuse every single foreigner of being a mercenary), 
and although Mustafa Abdul-Jalil has unwisely called for continued 
NATO action (until Qaddafi is captured and his remaining forces 
neutralised), Transitional Council officials have made clear that 
Libyan citizens (such as Megrahi) will not be handed over to the 
West. More significantly, protests have erupted in Misrata against 
the Transitional Council’s appointment of an ex-Qaddafi official 
to a security position in Tripoli. Much of the Council is made up 
of old regime personalities. The challenge now will be to deepen 
the revolution while keeping the people as unified as possible.

Like Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is in the early stages of its 
revolution. One thing is certain: the people are by no means 
passive, and are not in the mood to exchange one tyranny with another.

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