The Libyan revolution and the impact on the American – arguably far – left (Part One)

I should perhaps edit the title of this article to read, “The Libyan revolution and the impact on the left in the Global North,” — particularly the far left of Western Europe and the United States. While the vast majority of progressives in these regions are wary of NATO and its history, they do recognize the organization’s intervention in Libya as a humanitarian one. Yet, I have been encountering an increasingly prevalent level of push back regarding the intervention, and in some extreme cases, a downright delegitimization of the Libyan peoples’ struggles.

Before I delve into my thoughts regarding the possible impact that this attitude will have on the left and its future relationship with a new Libya, both abstractly speaking and on a practical, domestic policy based level, I think the downfalls and dynamics of this specialized narrative merit serious mention. Several commentators (see Juan Cole’s “Top Ten Myths about the Libya War“) do a much better job at explaining some inadequacies of arguments raised by folks who are against the intervention – so I will leave that task to rest. However, I did want to point out that there is a stark contrast between the populace that holds this view in the US/Europe and that in MENA. In MENA, the narrative belongs to those who are defending the current status quo – and the leaders in charge of ushering and maintaining it (or were in charge, ie Gaddafi). In the US/Europe, it is narrated by those who are against western imperialism. In this case, the narrative inadvertently works to serve the purpose of the likes of Gaddafi, Assad, Saleh, etc. who –  whilst holding their states’ developmental capacity and general civic freedoms hostage – maintain that the sole possible explanation for the rebellion of their people is due to infiltration from the West.

This misguided narrative, most importantly, shows a severe lack of historical knowledge on the Libyan liberation movement. To claim that this is a “NATO war,” that “massacred an armed and civilian population”is irresponsible, unjustified, and groundless. It ignores the decades that the Libyan people – nay the people of North Africa as a whole – had to suffer at the hands of this merciless, insane dictator. It ignores how much of the country’s potential was wasted in favor of personal greed and power. It ignores the whips on an uncle’s back, and the bruises on the inside of a woman’s thighs. It ignores this. Further, it is an affront – indeed a dire insult – to the Libyan people, discrediting them of their desires, hopes, and suffering.

There is no doubt that each country will want to stake its claim in a new, post-war, post-Gaddafi Libya: the country is resource rich and has a very real potential to end the relative economic dry spell plaguing the region. At the end of the day however, this is the Libyans’ revolution – those who were on the front lines had nothing to lose but their dignity. What possible indication do we have that they will be lead around like cowards by NATO? How dare we?

In Part Two, I will be discussing the more internal impacts that these attitudes can have in the Global North, paying particular attention to the United States. I initially planned on having it in one entry – but the topic will be shifting a bit and it made no sense to have it all lumped into one.

Note: this entry is temporally bound. Clearly, the situation may change in Libya – and then we may have real reasons to fear. But as it stands, the Libyans cried, fought, and died for their liberation. We must not only respect that, but deeply honor and admire it.

One response to “The Libyan revolution and the impact on the American – arguably far – left (Part One)

  1. Good post — I particularly like how you cite Juan Cole’s excellent piece. However, I think one of the main valid concerns about the NATO intervention in Libya — that it creates unrealized expectations of future foreign military support among protesting populations — is unaddressed here. The post-Gulf War 1991 uprising in Iraq is a good, and fairly well known, example of this dynamic. While I don’t believe that it is very plausible that protesters in Syria have any expectation of help from NATO, it is possible that similar expectations could potentially escalate future conflicts into civil wars. That doesn’t discredit the decision to intervene, but it is a concern.

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