It may seem like I only discuss Libya when something bad happens. In that regard, I can only plead my subsistence on what I get to read on a daily basis. A country struggling to exert control after a somewhat dodgy introduction to democracy does not much news make. And with Syria taking most of the interventionist attention nowadays…
I would go so far as to say that no news is good news, at least insofar that a country getting things right did not need any commentary to be written on it (arguable in the case of Libya I know).
Until the other day of course. The killing of ambassadors and other consulate staff by an armed group within a very angry mob of people is a fairly awful sign of the current state of Libya and its government. Such a story paints its own picture of the status of the country. The government cannot guarantee the safety of foreign plenipotentiaries, something I would consider a key aspect of a nation’s legitimacy. The introduction of democracy has not helped to stem religiously motivated violence, or a hatred –from some – of the United States of America, despite the gigantic role the US played in the creation of the “new” Libya.
This was a horrific incident. I joked yesterday that “perhaps a no-fly zone would help”. I know, not exactly a classy remark, but I have a serious point behind the sarcasm: the kind of intervention that the west led in Libya, with very little recourse to the questions of “what happens after?” and “who are these people we are helping?” have led to this point and the spilling of American blood. Even if the shooters weren’t “rebels” that took part in the Civil War, perhaps al-Qaeda or some related group, their presence in the country has been facilitated by that conflict and the role America played in it.
The questions I would want to ask the Libyan authorities (for lack of a better word) are:
- What are you going to do to about those who were involved in these killings in terms of law and order?
- What procedures were in place to govern such protests before the attacks? How will these be changed?
- Who was giving the orders to the Libyan commander in charge of the evacuation? What was the chain of command here?
- Are you going to take a position on whether embassy security or those sent to aid them should be allowed to open fire on Libyan citizens who are threatening their lives?
- How is the integration/disarming of all of those militias going? How well are you keeping track of the weapons in your country?
- Are you in control of your country?
And to the Americans I would ask:
- Why were Marines not stationed in the consulate, considering its location in the geo-political world?
- What are you going to do about the Libyans who did this? Leave it to the Libyan government?
- What are those 50 Marines going to be doing exactly?
- Is US interventionism going to remember that, more than likely, some of the same people you were clearing a path for with your no-fly zone were part of a mob that attacked a US consulate this week? Still want to help out the Syrian “rebels”?
- What happens the next time someone mocks Islam and an angry mob appears outside an embassy in Libya? Or other places?
As to who is responsible for this act, well the people who shot and mortared are. First and foremost, primarily, front and centre.
That being said, I’m a firm believer in what some call the “Pottery Barn rule” when it comes to humanitarian intervention and military action. You break it, you bought it. You intervened, helped insure one side would win, then you bear some responsibility for everything that transpires afterward. So Obama and the American military take their share of the blame, in my eyes, for what happened the other day. They helped to propel Libya along this course where the recognised government has very limited control over parts of its territory and were satisfied with doing little else in the aftermath.
And while I wouldn’t dream of deflecting too much of the blame from those who did the shooting, the American practice of placing the ideal of “free speech” on a pedestal from which it cannot be touched, altered or reduced in any way has created a society where very bigoted people can create very bigoted media with the express purpose of inciting hatred of the Islamic religion and provoking the exact kind of response that occurred over the last few days. Hunt down the shooters, the murderers who so wantonly killed the innocent staff members of that consulate. But do not pretend that in doing so you have eliminated the entirety of the problem. In a country where “incitement of hatred” laws are looked down upon as an assault on basic freedoms, the provocation from some will come again and again. And elements of the Islamic religion will continue to lose control of their senses as a result. Because of some awful film, or non-film or the next one or the one after that.
I don’t say that restricting offensive images of the Prophet is the answer. I do say that I would never want someone on the other side of the world to die for my right to offend a religion in the pursuit of bigoted hate. That is an ugly perversion of what free speech and its defence is supposed to be about.
Is it fair that we have to walk on eggshells when it comes to Islam? It seems strange to the west, where religious satire and criticism are almost common place when it come to Christianity. The Muslim world is behind us on that score. That’s just where they are. But pointing out the inequality in that doesn’t make those four people any less dead, victims of an act of violence that occurred during one such religious reaction. Maybe that attack was just taking advantage of the situation. Even if this is so, the attack found that opportunity in a chaos that did not have to be created.
Libya, get your house in order. Control the militias, protect the embassies, find who is responsible if you can. Become a government.
America, think about what your actions might cause down the line, the dangerous power of freedom of expression and what your enshrined defence of hate speech can lead to.
Both, learn from it.
There is no “told you so” sentiment here, I assure you. I don’t want anybody to die so a point can be proven about the dangers of unwise intervention. What I want, is for the lessons and mistakes to be remembered, processed and filed away the next time the opportunity to intervene comes up.
I want Libya to succeed. That can’t happen when such incidents as occurred this week take place. If it takes investment, peacekeepers, hand-holding, I’ll support it. As long as it is done with intelligence, with foresight and with commitment to see it through.
I insist on finishing with a greater degree of positivity than usual when it comes to Libya. Some citizens of Benghazi were unhappy enough about what happened to organise their own demonstration. These are the people who can build a better future for the country.
I would only advise them to stop apologising for something they didn’t do, and start making sure it doesn’t happen again.