Thursday, 3 March 2011

No Representation in Lieu of the People?

Despite my relative lack of interest in national and international politics these days I do find myself pondering the current troubles in Libya.

As a leading National Front activist in the late 1980s I was an avid admirer of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (or "Qathafi" as my erstwhile comrades and I liked to spell it at the time, lending us a sense of affected superiority). Where there was a suggestion that his regime was anything short of perfect, for instance his arming of terrorists, I simply ignored the evidence.  In that way I was able to able to maintain a rose-tinted picture of revolutionary perfection throughout.  So ghettoised and unpopular was the NF at the time that it considered Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini to be desirable sources of political respectability!

Those who find comfort in the traditional view of extreme nationalism in the UK as being motivated only by race hate and driven by a political worldview which sits conveniently to the right of the most hardline Conservatives on the "political spectrum" would be confused by this infatuation with a Libyan revolutionary who includes the word "Socialist" in the title of his "State Of The Masses".

But in fact Gaddafi and his Green Book was one of the many ideological affectations embraced by the very eccentric version of the NF of which I was a member circa 1987-1989, and of all those in the party I was probably at the time his most devoted enthusiast.

So I occasionally have to remind myself that my view of the world has altered radically since those bad old days if I am to take an objective view of the events of the last few weeks over in the "Splaj".

The essence of Gaddafi's ideology is that he believes power to lie with the masses and not with centralised government, and that those who speak for those masses do so as delegates rather than as representatives. No Representation in Lieu of the People is a slogan than reoccurs throughout his seminal work.

I have to admit that I retain a great deal of sympathy for this as an ideal. Nonetheless it would seem to be the case that the practice has deviated from the principle rather a lot, and much though Gaddafi would have us (and himself) believe that he is a mere symbol of the Green Revolution and that he wields no executive power of his own, the actuality is almost certainly entirely different. The replacement of most of his conventional army with an "armed people" may avoid giving off an appearance of a military dictatorship but one suspects that, as on Animal Farm, some of the guardians of the Revolution are in fact more equal that others.

All the same it is quite alarming to listen to the news in the UK and to realise just how little the commentators at the BBC and Sky actually understand, or affect to understand, about Libya.

We are told that the army has gone over to the protestors, with the implication that this must inevitably spell doom for the Gaddafi regime. But rarely is there any hint of an understanding of what little importance the men in uniform actually have in a country in which everybody is armed and where power comes through committees of civilians.

We are told that nobody is supporting the government, and yet it would appear not only to be holding the capital but also launching counter-attacks against cities that have fallen into the hands of anti-government forces, albeit today's attempt to retake Brega transpired to be something of a damp squib.

We are told that the strength of the rebels in Benghazi makes a final and decisive incursion into Tripoli an inevitability, rather ignoring the inconvenient fact that the two cities are several hundred miles apart with a desert in-between and that the rebels have no transport.

We are told that the Libyan government has launched air strikes against its own people, a truly despicable thing to do if it is true. The Libyan government insists it is not true, as of course it would, but the Russians who have been monitoring the situation by satellite are saying the same thing.

The real difficulty that arises when trying to understand what is going on in Libya is that nobody seems to be telling us the truth. Gaddafi, absurdly, has tried to suggest that Al-Qaeda is behind the uprising when a cursory glance at the demonstrators will tell any observer that these protests are not the product of an upsurge of Islamism. Quite the opposite in fact - the hand of the United States and its Western allies suggests itself, which would explain the rather peculiar demand that Gaddafi should stand down after having been partially successful in resisting uprisings of a kind that brought down the leadership in both Tunisia and Egypt. It is the cry of an outside party that has seriously botched its attempt to overthrow a sovereign state and wants to destroy the evidence as quickly as it can.

One considers, but not for too long, whether David Cameron and his government would resign and hand over power to the students should they ever decide to replace fire extinguishers with guns, and single-issue protest with revolutionary intent. We all know that in such an event the response of our government - like that of the Libyan government or indeed any other government when faced with the same situation - would be to suppress the uprising ultimately by using any means necessary.

Of course, whatever lies behind the upheaval the people fighting on the streets of Libya against the regime are not Americans and they are not Israelis. The sincere aspirations of the Libyan protestors would appear to be freedom and democracy and if, perhaps a little arrogantly, we are to assume that our version of democracy is entirely good and that Gaddafi's is entirely bad, we should see this as a positive. But a US-sponsored revolution would, given the choice, replace the current regime with something that was more US- and Israel-friendly, which in turn would provide massive political ammunition to the Islamists who wait in the wings.

Whichever way one looks at it, it is not pretty. As I see it there are three possible outcomes for the immediate future:

1. A bloodbath as pro-government forces use their superior firepower and strategic advantage to reassert control.

2. A "two nation" solution, at least in the short term, with the government remaining in control of a smaller Libya governed from Tripoli and the rebels governing themselves independently from Benghazi, possibly under the protection of the UN, the US and/or the Arab League, or

3. Military intervention by the US and its allies to finish the job they began without (incredibly) any proper knowledge of how Libya operates, resulting in illegal regime change openly imposed by invading powers a la Iraq.

Whichever it is to be, I truly hope that it can be done with quickly and with as little innocent blood shed as is humanly possible.


Anonymous said...

It appears the "rebellion" has gone tits up and Obama, Cameron and Hague are now having to consider imposing a "no fly zone" in the hope of shoring up the rebels and reversing their fortunes on the ground. Seems the Libyans are right after all when they say this is all about oil.

Anonymous said...

The UN should be taking the lead on this, we should leave well alone.

We always seem to assume that it's our 'duty' to police the world and over-commit ourselves in the process.
We can't keep doing this at the best of times, never mind when we've got so many problems at home right now.