The terrified man is hung upside down as a mob chant abuse at him, many filming his torture on mobile phone cameras. After some time, a man steps forward and begins to hack off the prisoner’s head, the mob cheering as his blood spurts to the ground. It is the latest of many videos to come out of war-torn Libya showing people brutally killed, homes destroyed and refugees expelled. Misery and death seem ubiquitous.
But the air forces of the coalition of western countries – France and Britain at their head, with an allegedly reluctant USA following up – were nowhere to be seen in their mission to protect civilians.
Why not? Simply because the people carrying out the lynch mob executions and torture are our allies, the so-called Libyan freedom fighters based in Benghazi to whom President Sarkozy and Premier Cameron have pledged apparently unending support. On so many levels, our intervention, originally sold as a very limited no-fly zone, has become a full-on support to a coup d’etat against the secular Gaddafi regime by a coalition of regionalists, tribal leaders and religious zealots. Within these groups, there is now also an increasingly racist streak, with Arab supremacists targeting Libyans descended from the black African slaves of previous centuries, as well as black African migrant workers.
Because of their slave history, just as blacks in America were denied rights for decades by the white majority, black Libyans have traditionally occupied the place of an underclass in Libya. Gaddafi’s regime, violent though it has often been, did much to alleviate their position and oppose the traditional marginalising of blacks. Now, with the east of the country “liberated”, this seems to be changing. Under the ruse that Gaddaffi has flown in black African mercenaries from the sub-Sahara, black people throughout Libya are being indiscriminately targeted in their droves to be beaten, robbed and murdered by the rebels.
Britain’s support for the rebel National Transitional Council has deepened continuously since the UN resolution permitting action to protect civilians was approved, both financially and militarily. Whilst the Gaddafi regime appears to have exaggerated some of the strikes by the West, it is very much the case that western intervention has gone far beyond its original claimed intent and the remit granted by the UN.
Yet throughout all this, the NTC appears to be far from the champion of democracy it is made out to be – it contains many former political leaders from the Gaddafi regime, as well as many military men – seven former regime generals were paraded before the cameras today as the latest defectors. Islamic fundamentalists from the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition are also prominently involved – and as posted earlier, it was demonstrations they called to commemorate the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mahommed that sparked off the revolt against Gaddaffi’s secular regime.
Ever since the Chavez Initiative back in April, the Gaddaffi regime has repeatedly offered to accept an internationally monitored ceasefire, an offer repeated last weekend during the visit of President Zuma of South Africa. Although this would, presumably, be the best means of ensuring the protection of civilians which is meant to be the purpose of western intervention, the rebel council has repeatedly refused to even consider a ceasefire and rejects out of hand the idea of peace negotiations with Gaddaffi. And this refusal is repeatedly accepted, indulged and even rewarded by the West, which has announced ever more powerful weapons and, in spite of our alleged age of austerity, financial support to the Benghazi junta. Attack helicopters are in the process of being deployed, and al-Jazeera has run footage of what appears to be European ground troops liaising with Libyan rebels – a flagrant breach of the UN resolution.
What is playing out here is an alarming example of rightwing revenge – Cameron and Sarkozy come from conservative traditions that have always detested the Gaddafi regime, recalling its sympathising back in the 1970s and 1980s with the Soviet bloc. That is why they have intervened so unquestioningly in support of his opponents while ignoring the brutality of the Bahrain regime (still enjoying the welcome of David Cameron when its Crown Prince visited the UK the week before last). Undoubtedly, they are also salivating at the prospect of the ill-gotten gains to be made by western corporations if the large state sector was to be privatised post-Gaddafi – in France’s case making up for missing out in the huge public assets sell-off to American, British and even Israeli companies in post-Saddam Iraq.
As before, in the warped name of warped democracy, Britain is bunking down with some distinctly odd bedfellows. And the people who suffer are those driven from their homes and lynched by “free Libya” rebel mobs, for no reason other than because they are black. Where is the West’s intervention to protect them? Or are they just the wrong sort, or wrong colour, of civilians in this very uncivil war?