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Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Moral bankruptcy in Libya war
Foreign intervention in Libya is fuelled by ulterior motives, not goodwill.
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2011 15:54
The US lacks any moral authority to pretend to be on the side of these democratic uprisings [AFP]

In Gabriel García Márquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) one of the outlandish (literally) antics of the General of the Universe is the selling of the Caribbean Sea to Americans who have kept the demented monster in power. 

"Your excellency, the regime was not being sustained by hope or conformity or even by terror, but by the pure inertia of an ancient and irreparable disillusion, go out into the street and look truth in the face, your excellency, we're on the final curve, either the marines land or we take the sea, there is no other way, your excellency, there was no other way."

The General ends up selling the Caribbean to Americans:

"They took away the Caribbean in April, Ambassador Ewing's nautical engineers carried it off in numbered pieces to plant it far from the hurricanes in the blood-red dawns of Arizona, they took it away with everything it had inside general sir." 

Like his fictive prototype in The Autumn of the Patriarch, 'General' Gaddafi will sell the Mediterranean to Americans and their European allies, only if he could, in order to stay in power. His trouble is they are no longer buying it from him.   

Magic realism is ahead of history. We are catching up with it.

The world community the real world community, not the diplomatic charade code-named the UNSC is thrown into a psychosomatic stupor and forced into a moral dilemma to choose between letting a psychotic tyrant maim and murder a nation (usually called "his own", as if he owned Libyans) or else stand still and witness the hypocritical abuse of that fact by US and its European allies in order to consolidate a military foothold into the dramatic unfolding of democratic uprisings in North Africa and beyond. 

This evident dilemma, however, is a trick question, a false choice, and the answer to it, as to all others, is "none of the above". Visionary artists like Márquez have redrawn the moral map of our universe so that we do not have to make these banal choices. 

Finding a military foothold

By luring the US into leading yet another war against a sovereign nation-state, Gaddafi has given the US and its allies a military foothold in the unfolding and open-ended democratic uprisings in the region and thus turned Libya into the crucible of a new meltdown of state power and national sovereignty.

In this act, and thanks to the revolutions that now sweep through two continents, we are back not to la vita nuda of Georgio Agamben but in fact to a renewed asabiyyah of Ibn Khaldun. 

We are not helpless facing these tribal and postmodern acts of violence exacerbating each other; we are retrieving a collective consciousness of commitment and identity that can and will judge these atrocities Gaddafi's and those who sold and now destroy his arms  and we will do so with historical agency, political prowess, and above all moral rectitude. 

Seeing through the thicket of these events is no easy task but we must. Leading Arab intellectuals are scrambling to strike a balance between support for the Libyan uprisings without appearing to endorse or condone the US-led invasion of Libya. 

It is a difficult spot to occupy if you insist on implicating yourself onto that corner. Just shy of two years ago, if Obama as much as mentioned the name of Neda Aqa Soltan, the young woman who was cold-bloodedly murdered by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the heydays of the Green Movement, many on the Left were quick to use the reference as an indication that the movement was in fact the handiwork of the CIA and financed by the Saudis. 

Now the same folks find themselves in the rather embarrassing situation that Obama and his military might coupled with the military might of the entire EU, and now in fact extended to include NATO, are bombing Gaddafi's army in support of the democratic uprising in Libya. 

The same folks were in a similarly embarrassing situation even earlier when the Egyptian army became instrumental in the success of the Egyptian revolution. 

The money that the CIA had evidently allocated for regime change in the Islamic Republic was peanuts compared to the US investment in the Egyptian army to implicate and train it for its imperial projects in the region. 

But do either of these two cases, the instrumental role of the Egyptian army in the Egyptian revolution or the military support of the US and its European allies for the rebellious uprising against Gaddafi's tyranny detract an iota of legitimacy from the veracity and grassroots authenticity of the Egyptian revolution or Libyan uprising? Of course not, not a scratch. 

The glorious Egyptian revolution remains exemplary for the whole world to behold, and the world has unconditional support for the Libyan uprising against domestic tyranny and foreign domination alike, no matter how the US and EU imperial adventurism may want to abuse it. 

The only embarrassment that remains is for what passes for "the Left" to figure out the limits of its own moral and political imagination. 

To be fair, the Left is not the only block of thinkers and activists caught in the sectarian stupor for or against the US-led invasion of Libya. 

A group of mostly American scholars and think tank employees have just written an open letter to Obama urging him to "recognise, arm, and support the National Coalition Government in Libya".  

No such letter was written by any one of these folks asking the US president to "recognise, arm, and support" Hamas for example, or Hezbollah, resisting the brutalities of Israel in the region. 

Meanwhile, al-Qardawi's dismissal of the Bahrain democratic uprising as merely sectarian is yet another clear indication that moral and political bankruptcy is not limited to leftist or right wing sectarianism and has an equally prominent role in ageing, stale Islamism as well.

For a man of God like al-Qardawi to be so ungodly limited in his moral imagination must be a sign of the divine vengeance on a trapped faith that has lost trust in reality and confidence in the world. 

Awakening a moral imagination

Beyond these banalities, stubborn remnants of old clichés, we need clear-headed moral rectitude to figure out what is happening in our midst and right in front of our own eyes. 

Assimilating these extraordinary events backward to sectarianism of one sort or another will be a sure way to delusional confusions, of undoing in words what is happening in deeds. 

If the dandy French guru, Bernard-Henri Lévy, is so in a rush to make sure the post-Gaddafi shape of Libya is Zionist-friendly that he rushes in public half naked and has somehow convinced his ego-maniacal banality that his juvenile dress code is really "cool", it is really his issue with his therapist and has no bearing on Libya and beyond. 

The groovy "philosopher" (poor philosophy) knows only too well that the ultimate loser in these democratic uprisings is the settler colony of Israel, and it is just matter of time that the young generation of Israelis will want to join this block party and tear down those apartheid walls. 

Meanwhile, the only way Zionists know how to handle such a (for them) "crisis" is to make a deal with corrupt politicians, for the democratic will of people frightens "the only democracy in the Middle East" out of its wits.

For all we know, Bernard-Henri Lévy has struck a deal with Moustapha Abdeljalil, a former justice minister turned rebel leader, to assume an Israeli-friendly Libya when Gaddafi finally exists. 

But that possibility can not mar our reading of the Libyan uprising. They do their things (imperial designs and colonial settlements) and we do ours (we, the people). 

Propaganda officers like Bernard-Henri Lévy or Muslim clerics like sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi (who at least has the decency of buttoning up his shirt when he shows up in public) are known and predictable factors. 

Our categorical denunciation of violence whether perpetrated by Gaddafi, Sarkozy or Obama is a moral position and not a political proposition. 

The unwavering solidarity with the democratic will of a people who have put their lives on the line from Tehran to Libya and beyond never oscillates because of any political consideration or because American Neo-cons or French Zionists are trying their best to kidnap it. 

In a famous articulation of a "categorical imperative" in his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785), Immanuel Kant proposes that we must act in such a way as if the maxim of our action were to become by our will a universal law. 

This is a moral maxim, not a political dictum a mandate by which a moral imagination can form a society of citizens and citizenship, and not the political proposition by which a polity might be formed or in its absence deformed. 

States are not moral proposition, they are political machineries and as such they still function very much the same way that Max Weber defined them early in the twentieth century, as a political machinery that claims a monopoly of "legitimate" violence.

Weber always considered that "legitimacy" parenthetically that a polity might grant or withdraw it from a state apparatus. 

Investing a state a tyranny like Libya or a democracy like the United States with legitimacy is a political contract predicated on a moral choice; shooting your own citizens or invading another sovereign nation-sate is a political atrocity that ipso facto suspends that moral pact. 

We as citizens, as "the people", must never presume to have the political prowess to order a military strike or to drop a bomb, for that would be at the heavy price of forfeiting our moral agency to invest or withdraw legitimacy from the state apparatus. 

We, the people, were never consulted when millions of dollars of arms were sold to Gaddafi by the US or the UK; as we, the people, were never consulted when the UNSC resolution 1973 was ratified. So why must we be put in a position to condone or denounce the US-led invasion of Libya? 

We are not, have never been, in a position to decide. But we are, and we remain, in a position to bear witness, to judge, and to act accordingly and what we are witnessing from one continent to another is first and foremost a moral rebellion, and thus the persistence to call it for what it is, for "dignity".  
 
Vox Populi

Holding our grounds as moral agents, for us, the people Libyans, French, British, or Americans, etc.  the US and its European allies and Gaddafi are the losers in this game, sooner or later. Triumphant will remain the democratic will of the Libyan people that will overcome this debacle. 

The question is how. Gaddafi has bloodied this democratic uprising, and that cannot be allowed to mar and maim the post-Gaddafi choices. 

The Libyan people, which cannot be reduced or limited to those who have taken up arms and must be extended to the civic foregrounding of a democratic future must think of enduring institutions beyond the obscenity of a doctorate in democracy bought and paid for at the London School of Economics for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the man who would be king. 

Cliché and outdated forms of solidarity or opposition no longer make sense. Neither blind solidarity without an eye towards the formation of enduring institutions of democracy, nor the degeneration of opposition to adventurous imperialism into suspicion of democratic uprisings will find a way into the texture and contour of this long awaited revolutionary moment. 

We need to keep our eyes on the ball which is the democratic will of people, vox populi rising to demand and exact enduring institutions of civil liberties and social justice.

The UN is the diplomatic arm of the US and its European allies. The US lacks any moral authority to pretend to be on the side of these democratic uprisings. NATO is abusing Gaddafi's slaughter of his own people to reclaim the Mediterranean Sea and environ as its theatre of operation.   

China and Russia scarcely think of anything but their lucrative business dealings. Against the collusion of all these forces have arisen the moral authority and the democratic will of people from western Africa to eastern Asia. 

What ever the will to dominate and exploit might be, it will lose to the infinitely superior will to defy and reclaim peoples' destiny. Tyrannies might be as conniving as the octogenarians ruling the Islamic Republic or as reckless as Gaddafi's Libya. But they will both fold facing these rises of democratic wills. 

These revolutionary uprisings are realities sui generis, legitimate by what and where they are, and they must not be reduced to losing agential autonomy, and thus finding and losing legitimacy by the hypocritical and opportunistic attempts of military powers to embrace or repress them. 

What Egyptians have achieved in Tahrir Square in particular re-conceives the very notion of "democracy".  

Today observes the prominent Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben about his contemporary Europe:

"We behold the overwhelming preponderance of the government and the economy over anything you could call popular sovereignty an expression by now drained of all meaning. Western democracies are perhaps paying the price for a philosophical heritage that have not bothered to take a close look at in a long time." 

He further adds: 

"To think of government as simple executive power is a mistake and one of the most consequential errors ever made in the history of Western politics." 

Tahrir Square is today the symbolic site of rethinking the entire gamut of a political philosophy that can, happily, overcome the meaningless catastrophe codenamed "the West" as it redefines "government" in terms much closer to popular sovereignty, even before it is re-narrated into enduring institutions of civil liberties. 

The revolutionary uprising across two continents need the cultivation of a new language, the drawing of a new moral map. 

"Language is not just one of man's possession in the world," says German hermeneutician Hans Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method, "but on it depends the fact that man has a world at all. For man the world exists as a world in a way that no other being in the world experiences. But this world is linguistic in nature."

It makes no difference if Gaddafi and his children rule over Libya for one more day or one more century. 

The moral map and the grammatological syntax and morphology of our imagination have already changed. 

The political collapse of his regime, and the hypocrisy of the US-led invasion of Libya, is exposed the minute Libyans rose against his tyranny and said enough is enough or just echoed the voice of Egyptians: al-sha'b yurid isqat al-nizam (tr: the people want the fall of the regime).   

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.  He is the author, most recently, of Iran, the Green Movement, and the US: The Fox and the Paradox (Zed, 2010). 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Al Jazeera
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