By Dan Morrison
Like many a Brit has done over the years, I will appoint myself as spokesperson and saviour for a Middle Eastern country, standing up for them because they can only sit down.
The country in question this time is Libya: the point I have to make is fairly succinct: “Fuck you all.”
With the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report into the Libyan intervention, commentators and politicians have all been afforded the chance to air their views. As Patrick Kingsley pointed out in a long series of tweets, elements of the report didn’t quite add up.
Here though, there is a specific fuck you for Suzanne Moore, whose Guardian article was a 9.barmy on the absolutely-nuts-did-they-actually-write-that-scale for assessing Guardian articles.
The article is titled “So goodbye, David Cameron – Libya is not the only failed state you are responsible for”- I frowned and thought “are you sure about the implication that Libya and Britain are similarly failing?” To be fair, the title may have been written by somebody else, as often happens. Maybe that was not her implication.
Oh wait, the end of the third paragraph reads:
Libya is not the only failed state he is responsible for.
Her argument, one that I sympathise with, is that David Cameron did a bad job of running the UK. As a result, the country is failing to work as it should. Moore cites Cameron’s failure to keep us in the EU and his commitment to shrinking the state, which meant that “the government spends less and less on the things most people need.” Both are fair points. Moving on from there, Moore makes character attacks against both Cameron and Osborne- legitimate, but possibly not as important as things they did or did not do.
But is this in any way comparable to Libya?
* * *
In March 2011, a coalition of countries began enforcing a No-Fly Zone in Libya. David Cameron had been at the forefront of this move, which is why Suzanne Moore rightly points to Cameron’s role and responsibility for Libya’s current situation.
The NATO-led mission was to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and it invoked the Responsibility to Protect doctrine – the resolution gave a legal basis for the coalition to establish a no-fly zone and do all they can to protect civilians.
Civilians were at grave risk from Gaddafi’s goons and mercenaries. Human Rights Watch reported in March 2011 that since the Libyan uprising began they had “documented cases in which government forces opened fire on peaceful protesters and the arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of scores of people.”
In April, the group reported that Grad rockets and mortars had been used against residential neighbourhoods.
Though Gaddafi’s pogroms were a response to the revolution, his brutality wasn’t a sudden realisation. Since Gaddafi came to power in 1969, deposing King Idriss in a coup, he’d established a brutal police state. It was a form of order based on informants and his cult of personality. As Jeremy Bowen wrote in his book The Arab Uprisings, “Gaddafi did away with most conventional institutions of state, claiming that without them the will of the people would be paramount.”
Gaddafi’s elimination of many traditional functions of a government has meant that Libyans have not, in recent memory at least, experienced a normal state. Not before, during or after the revolution and Dave’s intervention.
Of course, as with most dictatorships, there was a fair share of torture and the repression of opposition voices.
Gaddafi was killed in October 2011 by rebels. After a few democratic experiments, in which the General National Congress (GNC) was elected in 2012, and then ousted in August 2014, Libya soon descended into civil war. Rival governments claimed authority, one in the East and one in the West, with various alliances of militias and factions waging war on one another.
Council on Foreign Relations estimates that there are 1700 armed groups in Libya. Some are loyal to Daesh (Islamic State), which adds another dynamic to this multi-polar civil war. Early this year, IS gained control of the coastal city of Sirte, but have since been pushed back, though it still retains a significant presence in the country.
The amount human rights reports on Libya is overwhelming in number and scale of abuses.
Amnesty International’s 2015/16 report contains some startling figures: 2.44 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection; 20,000 civilians injured between May 2014 and May 2015, 600 killed in 2015; 20% of children couldn’t attend school; 435,000 internally displaced people; and that girls as young as twelve were being married, often to Daesh fighters.
A UN report earlier this year highlighted the plight of women, with a series of attacks by armed groups against women activists since 2014, including the assassination of several high profile activists.
Libya has become a state in which “all sides to the conflict in Libya continue to perpetrate grave human rights violations and abuses”, with violations committed with “complete impunity.”
* * *
It is mind-boggling that Moore could see any sort of comparison when it comes to the states of the states in question.
Failed State is a defined term, an absolute with which you judge the performance of a state. Global Policy Forum defines a Failed State as one that can no “longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty.”
Libya, on the other hand, is a country where, as Guma El-Gumaty wrote, “there have been two parallel civil wars in the East and the West of Libya.”
Cameron didn’t do a great job. Other people can argue over his legacy.
I’m fairly sure though that Libyans would rather their homeland was a bit safer- like the state that Cameron has supposedly failed- rather than the failed state that Libya has become.
Libyans might have even preferred Cameron and Osborne as their leaders, over Colonel Gaddafi and his sons, or today’s warring militias.
In implying that there is some sort of equality between Britain and Libya right now, it seems that either :
- Moore’s critical thinking is seriously failing her;
- She saw her deadline approaching and thought “ach, I haven’t got anything yet, I’ll just bang out a few words and hope for the best”; or
- She sees a difference in value between British lives and Libyan lives.
I say the latter because for the Libyan state to have failed, Libyans have experienced 40-odd years of Gaddafi rule devoid of properly functioning institutions, plus a civil war that now leaves them with multiple, warring authorities and 1700 armed groups, in which the nasty and boring Daesh and Ansar al-Sharia are included. It is a state where armed groups act with impunity and war crimes and crimes against humanity are fairly routine.
For the British state to have been failed, many services are stretched, but universal coverage is still available, and your private property is still protected.
The implication from Moore is that British people should have to put up with a lot less.
This is the part of the left that riles me. It seems to take such glee in bashing its own governments that it doesn’t understand the implications of what it is saying. Like John Pilger post-9/11, who wrote a New Statesman article in which he did not utter one word of blame for the perpetrators, rather used all his words to blame the West for provoking the attack.
The perverse logic of this is that Pilger treats Arabs and Muslims as some angry homogenous group, or like a wasp’s nest- don’t prod it or poke it, or they’ll all come out to sting you.
And here again, Moore seems to imply an inequality between Arab and British lives.