As you can see from this post, I don't find Claudia's arguments persuasive.
In fact I think the balance on this list is just about right: Most posts are
about science, and a minority are about issues that progressive science
folks are interested in. As for posting on other lists, that is always an
option, but it is this community that I want to talk to.


Libyans: Passive Tools?

with one comment<>


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
the revolutionaries (sometimes relying on Qaddafi regime propaganda) is
accompanied by silence over the far greater crimes of the quasi-fascist

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 impossibilty, 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 20thCentury 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

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
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.

*(Thanks to PW). And here’s Nafissa Assed’s latest
Nafissa reported from Tripoli for this site in the early days of the
revolution. I’m very pleased that she’ll be returning home soon.*

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is
no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith