The events in Libya the past several weeks have been horrendous. In the Middle East, the Arab world watches through the lens of AlJazeera (Qatar based news) which doesn’t hesitate to show in bloody detail the injuries, horrors, and deaths as a result of the increasing violence in Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and other parts of the Middle East. One is forced to grapple with the harsh realities of the continuing revolutions throughout the Middle East while watching life-saving efforts, men, women, and children covered in blood.
Libya seems to be the worst of them all… and from an “on the ground perspective” the intervention of the West is entirely unwanted. The Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa issued a statement declaring that “Arabs did not want a military strike on Libya by Western powers”. The Middle East, in its entirely, is still recovering from the colonial intervention of the West following World War I and World War II. Many of the modern nation states of this region were established at the behest of Western powers. Borders were drawn out in the Sykes-Picot (secret) Agreement (1916) w/out the contribution of indigenous leaders in these areas, where the UK/France, with the support of Imperial Russia, doled out territories to be under Western control and influence. The UK was to control the territory from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan – Palestine, Jordan, parts of southern Iraq. France would be responsible for south-east Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. For Libya, the initial colonial power was not the UK or USA, but Italy. Libya is known as the “Italian North Africa” and was under Italian rule through 1943… between 1943-1951, Libya was under British and French control… Libya officially declared its independence in 1951.
Western intervention in Africa and the Middle East and other parts of the non-Western world has been expressed in common themes of “Western imperialism” for the last two centuries and more. In the past couple of days, history is again being made with the intervention of the West in Libya. Haaretz reports: “Western forces have unleashed their biggest military attack in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, targeting Muammar Gadhafi’s air defenses and armored vehicles near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east of the country.” General sentiment in the Arab world and beyond is that Gadhafi should no longer be in power in Libya. The vast majority of Libyans have raised their arms in protest and called for his resignation, but he, more than Mubarak (Egypt) and bin Ali (Tunisia), has been the most stubborn in his resistance and unwillingness to step down. Gadhafi has employed troops against his own people in attempt to quell the rebellion. His official response of Western intervention has been to call it “aggression” and an act of “terrorism” against the Libyan people. The word on the street among Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and other Arabs with whom I have spoken is that they are openly against Gadhafi and support the efforts of the people of Libya in pursuing their independence and the overturning of his regime. At the same time, there is a STRONG negative reaction to Western intervention and the imposition of western interference.
One official count (Haaretz) reports that 64 people died in the Western air strikes: “After a barrage of attacks by sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles Saturday, an array of U.S. warplanes – including several Air force B-2 stealth bombers – followed in the pre-dawn hours Sunday with a coordinated assault using precision-guided bombs, according to a U.S. military official.”
The Arab revolutions have been inspired and carried out by the people of the Arab world. The mood in Egypt (where I will be headed shortly) and in other parts of the Middle East is one of hopefulness and opportunity. Egypt just this week held its first free election in Egyptian history about whether or not the constitution should be partially or completely rewritten (that is a gross simplification) – but nonetheless, reports show that the people of Egypt are actively engaged in the reshaping of their government. Thus, the empowerment, self-actualization, and accomplishment of the common people of the Arab world is a victory in the process of freedom and liberty. Haaretz wrote the following about the influence of Western imposition in these movements:
“The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Tunisia’s Zine al Abidine bin Ali — as well as mass protests against leaders in Yemen and Bahrain — have restored a dormant Arab pride which was crushed by decades of autocracy and foreign intervention. But many people in the Arab world, while anxious to see the end of Gadhafi’s rule, felt that the resort to Western military action has tarnished Libya’s revolution. Who will accept that foreign countries attack an Arab country? This is something shameful,” said Yemeni rights activist Bashir Othman. Support for military action was also muted by deep-seated suspicions that the West is more concerned with securing access to Arab oil supplies than supporting Arab aspirations.”
There is great concern that the west is imposing military action in response to Libya because of political interests in the resources of Libya; namely its access to oil. The Arab world is suspicious of the West and when one takes a long look at the history of this region, there is little surprise. I have read reports that the west has been caught between a rock in a hard place – if they intervened, they would be criticized for imperialism and intervention; if they remained silent, they would be criticized for lack of support of the Arab people. Personally, I was greatly disappointed to see the news of the Western attack… According to U.S. officials, the purpose of the airstrikes this weekend were to “prevent Gadhafi from inflicting further violence on his own people and to degrade his military’s ability to contest a no-fly zone” (Haaretz). These are noble aspirations; however, the intervention of the West and the U.S. in the region cannot be considered without a more thorough understanding of the past and the devastating impact western presence has had historically in the Middle East.