Joined up thinking for the Irish Left
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Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximilian Forte
In his Ceasefire review, Dan Glazebrook examines Maximilian Forte's withering indictment of liberal humanitarianism and its collusion in imperialist designs on Africa, as seen in NATO's Libya campaign of 2011.
This review is an outstanding piece of writing by Dan Glazebrook, one of the best journalists around today, on a book that I have no doubt will be placed along side Fanon's The Wretched Of The Earth as one of the most penetrating analysis of the process of imperialism. I just give a taste of the review, and provide a link to the full work:
For the governments that lead us into war, of course, it makes perfect sense that we do not stop to look back at the last invasion before impatiently demanding the next one – if we realised, for example, that the 1999 bombing of Serbia (the textbook ‘humanitarian intervention’) actually facilitated the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo that it was supposedly designed to prevent, we might not be so ready to demand the same treatment for every other state that falls short of our illusory ideals.
That is why this book is so important. Thoroughly researched and impeccably referenced, it tells the story of the real aims and real consequences of the war on Libya in its historical perspective.
Its author, Maximilian Forte, is well placed to do so. A professor of social anthropology in Montreal, much of his writing and research in recent years has been dedicated to the new imperialism, and especially its ‘humanitarian’ cover. He was amongst the first to really expose violent racism within the Libyan insurrection, and its role in facilitating NATO’s goals in Africa, and has provided consistently excellent analyses of the media coverage surrounding the conflict.
One of the book’s accomplishments is its comprehensive demolition of the war’s supposed justifications. Forte shows us that there was no ‘mass rape’ committed by ‘Gaddafi forces’ – as alleged by Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Luis Ocampo and others at the time, but later refuted by Amnesty International, the UN and even the US army itself.
Despite hysterical media reports, there was no evidence of aerial bombing of protesters, as even CIA chief Robert Gates admitted. Gaddafi had no massacre planned for Benghazi, as had been loudly proclaimed by the leaders of Britain, France and the USA: the Libyan government forces had not carried out massacres against civilian populations in any of the other towns they recaptured from the rebels, and nor had Gaddafi threatened to do so in Benghazi; in a speech that was almost universally misreported in the Western media, he promised no mercy for those who had taken up arms against the government, whilst offering amnesty for those who ‘threw their weapons away’, and at no point threatening reprisals against civilians.
When the NATO invasion began, French jets actually bombed a small retreating column of Libyan armour on the outskirts of Benghazi, comprising 14 tanks, 20 armoured personnel carriers, and a few trucks and ambulances – nothing like enough to carry out a ‘genocide’ against an entire city, as had been claimed.
Indeed, the whole image of ‘peaceful protesters being massacred’ was turning reality on its head. In fact, Forte notes, rebels “torched police stations, broke into the compounds of security services, attacked government offices and torched vehicles” from the very start, to which the authorities responded with “tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets – very similar to methods frequently used in Western nations against far more peaceful protests that lacked the element of sedition”. Only once the rebels had proceeded to occupy the Benghazi army barracks, loot its weapons, and start using them against government forces did things begin to escalate.
Myth of the Dark Heart
But the most pernicious of the lies that facilitated the Libyan war was the myth of the ‘African mercenary’. Racist pogroms, Forte argues, were characteristic of the Libyan rebellion from its very inception, when 50 sub-Saharan African migrants were burnt alive in Al-Bayda on the second day of the insurgency. An Amnesty International report from September 2011 made it clear that this was no isolated incident: “When al-Bayda, Beghazi, Derna, Misrata and other cities first fell under the control of the NTC in February, anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killing and other violent attacks” against sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans, and “what we are seeing in western Libya is a very similar pattern to what we have seen in Benghazi and Misrata after those cities fell to the rebels” – arbitrary detention, torture and execution of black people.
The ‘African mercenary’ myth was thus created to justify these pogroms, as the Western media near-universally referred to their victims as ‘mercenaries’ – or ‘alleged mercenaries’ in the more circumspect and highbrow outlets – and thus as aggressors and legitimate targets. The myth was completely discredited by both Amnesty International – whose exasperated researcher told a TV interviewer that “We examined this issue in depth and found no evidence: the rebels spread these rumors everywhere [with] terrible consequences for African guest workers” – and by a UN investigation team, who drew similar conclusions – but not until both organisations had already helped perpetuate the lie themselves.
That liberal humanitarians would launch a war of aggression in order to facilitate racist massacres is not as ironic as it might at first seem. Forte writes that “if this was humanitarianism, it could only be so by disqualifying Africans as members of humanity.” But such disqualification has been a systematic practice of liberalism from the days of John Locke, through the US war of independence and into the age of nineteenth century imperialism and beyond.
Indeed, Forte argues that the barely-veiled “racial fear of mean African bogeymen swamping Libya like zombies” implicit in the ‘African mercenary’ story, was uniquely and precisely formulated to tap into a rich historical vein of European fantasies about plagues of black mobs. That the myth gained so much traction despite zero evidence, says Forte, “tells us a great deal about the role of racial prejudice and propaganda in mobilizing public opinion in the West and organizing international relations”.