Ultimately this is the question by which the revolution will be judged. After all is said and done, did it actually result in an improvement in the quality of life for the Libyan people?
And today is a very good day to have that discussion because it is the 16th anniversary of the Abu Salim prison massacre. On June 29, 1996 the murder of 1270 prisoners was carried out by the Ghadafi regime. It was seven years before people found out, as family members continued to bring money and food for the dead prisoners, and the prison continued to accept them. This is the first year they will be able to openly commemorate that tragedy without fear of government repression. So it is a very good day to take on the views of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Workers World Party (WWP) and others, as expressed by Diana Barahona, that thinks “Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover”.
That is the title of a critique she has written of my “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On.” Frankly, it reads less like a good critique of my work and more like an example of exactly what I was talking about. As a matter of fact, I might even say “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On,” for example we have “Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover“ from a comrade who has been writing about Libya for the PSL, because she takes on my paper with the same old, now well-debunked, pro-Ghadafi misinformation peddled by Cynthia McKinney and other supporters of Brother Leader during his reign.
She gets so involved in taking on my paper and me that she never really gets around to addressing the very important question raised in her title, so before we can delve into the minutia of her critique we must spend a little time addressing this question that she raised and then neglected.
I have some Libyan Facebook friends that I’m sure would say that Libya was better off now simply because they feel safe enough or free enough to use their real names on the Internet. I’ve yet to know the fear that something I wrote in a blog might have me disappeared in the middle of the night, or a member of my family, so I’m not sure how to value that in the better off/worst off spectrum of choices but certainly it must be considered.
Hamid sent me this tweet on June 20. I think you can guess how he feels. Libyans are going to the polls July 7 in their first national elections in 60 years. Since May Day, over 2.9 million voters have been registered, as have 3,702 candidates, including 625 women and 349 political entities. The lights are on, the people are getting back to work, the schools are in session, rebuilding is taking place everywhere, thousands injured in the war have been sent abroad for treatment and oil production is back up to 90% of pre-war levels.
A year ago, Libya was pretty much were Syria is today, a ruthless dictator was clinging to power and using massive military force against his own people. Now the gunfire in Libya is down to the occasional outbursts that make the news. So I don’t think that there is any question whether Libya is better off now as compared to a year ago.
Of course the more important question, the one to which she undoubtedly is referring to is: Are the Libyans worst off after what she calls the “NATO takeover” as compared to the golden era of Ghadafi’s Green Jamahirya?
To answer that question, in this context, we first must address a certain difference in frame of reference or point of view (POV) of some groups on the left like PSL and WWP as compared with reality because the very way she frames her answer already indicates that she is living in an alternate universe. So first we must deal with the mythology of what Libya was like under Ghadafi versus the reality and then we must deal with mythology of the “NATO takeover” and the reality of the Libyan revolution.
Mary Lynn Cramer in Counter Currents gives us a good example of the rosy picture pro-Qaddafi leftists painted of Libya before the revolution:
Before the U.S./NATO and “rebels” began their murderous and destructive attacks on the Libyans and their government, people in Libya had the highest gross domestic product at purchasing power parity per capita of all of Africa. The government took care to ensure that everyone in the country shared in the wealth. Libya had the highest Human Development Index of any country on the continent. In Libya, a lower percentage of people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands….Libya ranked 61st, with a lower incarceration rate than Czech republic. It had the lowest infant mortality rate of all of Africa. Libya had the highest life expectancy of all of Africa, less than 5% of the population was undernourished. In response to the rising food prices around the world, the government of Libya abolished all taxes on food.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
– Mark Twain
Contrast that with this view of Ghadafi’s Libya published on the eve of the February 17th uprising in afrol News:
afrol News, 16 February – While the Libyan economy drowns in petrodollars and its “Great leader” Muammar al-Ghaddafi buys support abroad, almost half of its youth are unemployed. The non-oil sector is tiny.Libya is the richest North African country. Counted in GDP per capita, Libya indeed is on an Eastern European level.
But that does not reflect the real economy of the average Libyan, with around half the population falling outside the oil-driven economy. The unemployment rate is at a surprising 30 percent, with youth unemployment estimated at between 40 and 50 percent. This is the highest in North Africa.
Also other development indicators reveal that little of the petrodollars have been invested in the welfare of Libya’s 6.5 million inhabitants. Education levels are lower than in neighbouring Tunisia, which has little oil, and a surprising 20 percent of Libyans remain illiterate.
Also, decent housing is unavailable to most of the disadvantaged half of the population. A generally high price level in Libya puts even more strains on these households.
But the key of popular discontent is the lack of work opportunities, which strongly contrasts the Libyan image of a rich nation constantly propagated by the regime and its Soviet-style media.
One Libyan, responding to those like Cynthia McKinney, who were repeating Ghadafi’s lies and telling the world how wonderful Ghadafi’s Libya was, had this to say:
Have you been to Tripoli and seen the districts of Hadba Shergeeya, AbuSleem, Hay Alislami, Soug al Jomaa to name only a handful? Is it acceptable that in 2001, in a country with vast oil riches, and after 42 years of trying, that this country still has raw sewage pouring onto streets where children play, that some parts of the capital do not have phone lines or water pipeline? Is this credible leadership?5- You mention that in Libya there are ‘excellent institutions of learning’. This is nothing short of laughable. Did you know that some libraries in the main uni have no books? Did you know that in other libraries where they have sections for books, you are forbidden to enter these sections? Did you know that corruption in academic institutions is rife, where most lecturers take bribes to allow students to progress, largely because their wages are pathetic, and sometimes delay in receiving these wages sees them without pay for months. Did you know when the ‘brother leaders’ daughter was studying Law in the main uni they banned all males from the law school for the duration of her uni years? So if you were her age, male and wanted to go to law school at tripoli’s main uni….you couldn’t. Tough luck. The ‘brother leader’ says you cant, so you cant.
6- Please tell me I misread your statement that Libya has good ‘medical facilities’? Are you not aware that most Libyans who require specialist care travel to foreign countries to receive this care? some countries FAR poorer than ours, i.e. Tunisia. Such is the market for ‘medical-tourism’ to Tunis that there are Libyan-only medical centres. Perhaps you don’t know that you cant even get simple things such as the Flu jab in Libya. Its in such low quantities that it runs out within weeks. Perhaps you don’t know that when one of my friends passed away with a heart attack the hospital where he was taken (well known) took 15 minutes to find an ECG that worked, and later kept replacing the defibrillator, because they were malfunctioning. Is this not a farce?
7- You talk of our sense of belonging to Africa. Do you not know how much money Qaddafi pumps into Africa? Have you not heard of the war with Chad where countless Libyans and Chadians needlessly died? Do you not know of Qaddafi funding of rebel movements around Africa contributing to more bloodshed?
You need to seriously revise your knowledge of the country if you want to be a credible activist for peace, or a worthwhile defender of Qaddafi. You are doing him more harm than good by demonstrating your lack of grass roots knowledge.
This is just a sampling. There is a lot more information available for a fact-based analysis that show that even on the highly touted economic front, Ghadafi’s Libya wasn’t all it was cracked up to be by those under the spell of the illusions he so skillfully created for them.
So to begin with they are comparing the Libya of today, not with the Libya of say, two years ago, but with the Libya of their imagination. One result of this is that they tend to see Libyan problems of long standing, problems aggravated by the 42-year Ghadafi regime, like racism against black Africans, as new problems to be blamed on the revolution.
The second problem with her title, and this too is typical of the anti-interventionist perspective, is that she sees the Libyan revolution as a produce of NATO intervention. Most of these anti-interventionists woke up to events in Libya when their country got involved and their normally healthy reflex was to oppose their government’s intervention in the affairs of another Third World country. In Libya, it was the struggle between the regime and the people that was center stage, both before and after NATO started flying air support. To many anti-war activists in the U. S. it was “just another Iraq” and the main struggle was between U.S. imperialism and another Third World country. Moreover, in an attitude that I think smacks of western chauvinism, they demanded that the Libyan activists view things from this western “anti-imperialist” perspective.
When they refused, when they persisted in demanding that someone, even NATO, stop Ghadafi’s slaughter of the Libyan people, these anti-interventionists decided that no true Libyan revolutionaries would ever allow such a thing and then they proclaimed the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and the whole leadership of the Libyan revolution to be tools of NATO. By implication, the great masses of Libyan people that fought for the revolution, militarily or otherwise, were dupes who didn’t know a good thing when they had one.
When it started to become clear that the people would have their victory, these anti-interventionists started to fume and they started to turn into counter-revolutionaries at least with regards to the Libyan revolution. A blogger, who has named himself Lenin, give us a typical anti-interventionist view of what the post-Qaddafi Libya would look like. He published this on August 21, 2011 as Tripoli was being liberated:
The rebel army is commanded by someone who is most likely a CIA agent. As far as I know, it has around 1,000 trained soldiers, within a total force of about 30-40,000 people (and within a population of 6.5m people). It is directed on the ground by intelligence and special forces. It isn’t well armed, and it will probably now be either rapidly disarmed, or integrated into the post-Qadhafi state. There may be a small number of jihadis among them, but these will either adapt, integrate, or be hunted down and killed on the basis of the new Libya’s remit of fighting ‘Al Qaeda’. (Recall, preventing an ‘Al Qaeda’ takeover was one of the major justifications for intervention when the think-tanks started thinking tanks). There is as yet no political force through which the masses could act independently of the new government, were they even of a mind to do so. The rebels will be disarmed, and the initiative will rest with pro-US politicians and other ruling class spokespeople.
This hardly paints a true picture of Libya today. Even today those who looked upon the Libyan revolution from the POV of NATO intervention cannot see this incredible accomplishment of the Libyan masses; instead, they still strive to boost the alternate universe of “NATO” takeover and paradise lost.
That’s not so easy to do now with no NATO planes over Tripoli and no NATO “boots on the ground,” none we can see, in any case. Certainly not like Iraq and Afghanistan, boots by the hundreds of thousands, bases everywhere, no hiding them, and still they couldn’t control the situation. So the anti-interventionists speak of “invisible boots” and they require no proof. They speak of CIA control and amplify every claim of special forces involvement no matter the source. As if by magic, the CIA are controlling the destiny of Libya with a few score of secret agents more surely than they could Iraq or Afghanistan with special forces up the ass, not to mention ten of thousands of combat troops.
What the anti-interventionists can’t allow is the thought that a genuine revolution is taking place in Libya, the most far reaching and complete of all of those collectively called the Arab Spring. At a time when they should be studying developments in Libya the way Karl Marx studied the Paris Commune, they are turning up their noses and averting their eyes, looking down at Libya now only when they can point out some dirt.
They show by their actions that their concern is not for the people of Libya because Ghadafi is gone and there’s no getting him back, so rather than looking to the future of Libya and asking the people how they can help build it, all they can do is embellish the past and lament about mistakes made.
So with that as an introduction, let us now look at highlights of Diana Barahona’s response to Clay Claiborne’s “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On.” Diana Barahona begins her paper by assuring the reader I’m an intellectual lightweight:
Claiborne, who has no academic credentials making him a Middle East expert, has published 95 opinion pieces supporting the overthrow of the Libyan government.
My writing wouldn’t matter, she assures you, except I am now supporting revolution in Syria. Then she leads with her strongest argument:
First to address is his assessment of the human cost of the war. He throws around the figure of 30,000 dead without citing reliable sources. This figure is problematic since it comes from the new government…
She doesn’t like the new government so she doesn’t trust its numbers. That much is clear.
I have three problems with this: One, who else in Libya is in a position to make a creditable count of the dead nationwide? Two, Diana doesn’t supply any alternate numbers, let alone sources for them. And three, none of my arguments depend on the number of Libyans killed overthrowing Ghadafi. The Human Rights Watch finding that only 72 civilians were killed by NATO bombs is significant only because some anti-interventionists like to talk about carpet bombing and NATO bloodbaths.
She then goes on to talk about,
civilians who allegedly died at the hands of the Ghadafi government.
Why does she give Gaddafi such benefits? Why “allegedly” went it comes to the ones killed by Qaddafi? One might as well say the whole 30,000 is “allegedly.”
She goes further than that. While millions of Libyans were demanding “regime change” she saw the Qaddafi regime as the legitimate government of Libya and a good thing.
I consider government soldiers and police doing their job in repelling a foreign-backed overthrow to be victims as well.
So she was, and is, opposed to the revolution. She should take no offense at being called counter-revolutionary because there it is.
Of course the American revolution of 1776 was also “foreign-backed,” so was the Vietnamese revolution “foreign-backed” and for that matter, most revolutions.
She then goes on to trot out the usual litany of pro-Qaddafi stories (no “allegedly” here!), her sources are to be believed.
We do know for a fact that NATO bombing deliberately targeted the families of government officials, which is a war crime, and that the opposition militias also murdered many civilians (approximately 300 in Sirte alone), either because they were seen as pro-government or because they were black-skinned foreign workers.
There is a problem with racism in Libya. That is why I wrote the piece by that name for the Libyan thuwar and I am very happy to see it posted on various Libyan websites and discussed among them. But the way I feel about those on the left that have only discovered Arab racism after Qaddafi, harbor many illusions about the racist Qaddafi and his relationship with black Africa, and now see in revolutionary Libya racism even where it ain’t, is best summed up by a tweet:
— Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) September 15, 2011
I think it is the role of revolutionaries anywhere in the world to support revolutions everywhere in the world, not to stand on the sidelines carping.
That means supporting the people’ struggles to recreate themselves in whatever way you can. It means pointing out flaws in a constructive manner so that they can be corrected and the revolution moved forward. It does not mean using any problems to stoke a desire to return to the past.
And for a Marxist, it means both teaching and learning from the revolutionaries. I have learned so much from my Libyan brothers and sisters and it makes proud that some have called me an honorary Libyan. And I was very happy to see my “Qaddafi lies live on after him” republished on the Libya Tweet Forum a week after I posted it to the Daily Kos.
Anyway, she goes on for a while, laying out her alternate reality for Libya. I don’t know where she gets her facts and sometimes I wonder what she is thinking, as in,
Additionally, Special Forces were infiltrated into Libya, among them thousands of easily concealed Qatari commandos.
Easily concealed? From who? Libyans? Other Arabs? Unless, of course, they are all in on the conspiracy and only westerners needed to be fooled.
The fact that anti-Ghadafi militias murdered many civilians, including the killing, torture and forced expulsion of up to 250,000 of African workers living in the country with their families, is not mentioned by Claiborne…
Then she goes on to disparage the up coming elections in Libya as meaningless:
He also makes a big deal about people registering to vote, as if being allowed to choose only among candidates acceptable to the global capitalist elites meant anything.
Of course she doesn’t bother to explain just how the “the global capitalist elites” were able to filter the over 3,700 candidates running for 200 positions. But then, it’s not her revolution, she can afford to be flip about it.
Finally, near the end, she gets to my favorite part of her whole paper. In recalling an ANSWER Coalition forum on Libya June 18, 2011, at which I took the picture below, she made a valuable admission.
When Cynthia McKinney came to Los Angeles after witnessing the destruction of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, it fell to a group of us to form a cordon outside to prevent Libyans from entering the event and disrupting it.
I want to thank Diana Barahona for that honest description because after I wrote No Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya Forum I was subjected to all manner of abuse by people from ANSWER and PSL. For example, Ian Thompson published an open letter in which he said:
But, political line aside, the article is full of patent distortions, mischaracterizations and shoddy analysis from start to finish. It’s headline and main assertion that there were “no Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya forum” featuring Cynthia McKinney is a flat-out lie.
The only folks prevented from entering the forum were the few who came specifically to protest and disrupt the event. It wasn’t because they were Libyan. Several Libyans and Arab Americans participated in the event and discussion. Some pro-war, most anti-war.
So now, I can consider that matter settled. Like I said, to me, that was the best thing in her whole critique.