As protests against the Mohammed-bashing film now spread to Yemen -- where the Peace Laureate is drone-bombing the hell out of the populace on a regular basis -- Simon Tisdall has more on the bitter blowback of the Laureate's much-lauded regime change in Libya. First, Tisdall notes that despite the effusion of shock and horror emanating from Washington over the attack on its diplomats, the American government had in fact anticipated the possibility of such an incident:
The assassination in Benghazi of the American ambassador to Libya is an appalling act – and one foreseen by his employers. On 27 August, the state department warned US citizens against all but essential travel to Libya, painting a picture of a country beset by increasing instability and fraught with danger.
"The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem… Political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country," the state department said.
This is in marked contrast to the vague and gauzy notion of a plucky young democracy that was the general image of the new Libya advanced by our political and media classes. As always, those on the inside -- such as the late ambassador -- were given the real picture, while the rabble are palmed off with soundbites and fairy tales.
Tisdall goes on:
Any number of other Libyan armed groups might have had a hand in the killings. But in truth, responsibility may also be traced back, directly or indirectly, to those in London, Paris, Brussels and Washington who launched last year's Nato intervention in Libya with insouciant disregard for the consequences. It was clear then, or should have been, that toppling Muammar Gaddafi was the easy bit. Preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy, would be much harder.
Yet this is exactly what Stevens's death may presage. Once again, the western powers have started a fire they cannot extinguish. A year after David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy jointly travelled to Libya to lay claim to a liberator's bogus laurels, the Libyan revolution they fanned and fuelled is in danger of degenerating into a chaotic, violent free-for-all.
Do not be misled by the fig leaf of this summer's national assembly polls. Post-Gaddafi Libya lacks viable national political leadership, a constitution, functioning institutions, and most importantly, security. Nationwide parliamentary elections are still a year away. The east-west divide is as problematic as ever. Political factions fight over the bones of the former regime, symbolised by the forthcoming trials of Gaddafi's son, Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.
Effective central control, meanwhile, is largely absent. And into this vacuum have stepped armed groups – whether politically, religiously or financially inspired matters little – all claiming sectional suzerainty over the multitude of fractured fiefdoms that was, until Nato barged in, a unified state.
Research published in June by the Small Arms Survey suggested that the emergence and influence of armed groups challenging national government and army was accelerating rapidly. The survey identified four distinct types including experienced revolutionary brigades accounting for up to 85% of all weapons not controlled by the state and myriad militias – loosely defined as armed gangs, criminal networks and religious extremists bent on exploiting post-revolution weakness.
…In Misrata, for example, in addition to about 30,000 small arms, revolutionary brigades "control more than 820 tanks, dozens of heavy artillery pieces, and more than 2,300 vehicles equipped with machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons." Misrata, scene of some of the worst fighting last year, has become a state within a state.
And as always, one finds the hand of America's great ally, Saudi Arabia, stirring the rancid stew of sectarian strife:
In its weakened condition, politically and economically, Libya appears especially vulnerable to extremist ideology and foreign influence. In an echo of Taliban depredations, the Salafists who besieged the Benghazi consulate have also been involved in a wave of attacks on historic Sufi mosques and libraries and attempts to intimidate female university students who eschew the hijab.
In this they are reportedly encouraged by a Saudi-based scholar, Sheik Mohamed Al-Madkhalee, who issued a fatwa praising the desecration of Sufi graves and urging Libyan Salafists to do more to clear the country of the taint of Sufi worship.
No group in the world has done more to spread violent, retrograde extremism than the Saudi royals (whose regime is far more repressive than that of the Persian devils in Tehran or the Hitler du jour in Damascus) -- yet at every turn they are courted, coddled, and lavished with billions of dollars in military hardware from the ostensible defenders of freedom in Washington.
The Saudis have had plenty of help in fomenting fundamentalism, of course. Empowering extremists has long been a favorite tactic of our freedom-loving Western elites. These wise leaders have spent spent 50 years destroying every vestige of secular civic space in the Middle East, every vestige of secular opposition to their favoured dictators, puppets and feudal lords in the region.
In most countries, such as Iran and Palestine, they actively, assiduously promoted extremist fundamentalist groups and parties, to ensure that no secular forces would emerge to challenge their clients and cronies. It was in Iran that this strategy first bit them firmly in the ass: the obscurant fundamentalists whom the CIA had used to help overthrow the secular democratic government in 1953 and install the Shah, a Washington toady, in time grew into a powerful opposition force in its own right. For decades, Western intelligence helped the Shah brutally repress all secular opposition; thus when the revolution finally came and the Shah was gone, these secular forces were too weak to stand against the fundamentalists, who hijacked the revolt and proclaimed their Islamic Republic.
At the same time, the secular government in Afghanistan -- irredeemably evil, of course, because it was associated with dirty commies -- was overthrown by a gaggle of violent religious extremists armed and bankrolled by the West, the Saudis and the Pakistanis. We all know what the result of that gambit -- we just observed one of its most notorious fruits on September 11.
The same process has played out again and again. In Iraq, a secular government opposed by the West has given way to a sectarian regime riven with religious war. In Egypt, where, again, secular opposition was throttled to help keep Washington's favoured dictators in power, religious extremists thrived, as secular "civic society" became increasingly identified in the public mind with the corruption and brutality of the ruling clique. (I saw a similar process first hand in Russia during the 1990s, when the concept of "democracy" became identified with the mass suffering, brutal poverty, ruin, chaos, corruption and violence inflicted in its name by the new post-Soviet elites.) In Libya, the West's desire to overthrow their unreliable ally Gadafy -- and grab better oil deals than he was willing to give -- has empowered the range of violent, well-armed religious fanatics described by Tisdall.
In Syria, the process is playing out once more, as violent religious extremists -- including al Qaeda -- are being armed and aided by Western elites and their Saudi allies to destroy yet another secular government. If this new regime change campaign is successful, we will be seeing many more incidents like the attack in Libya -- and, yet again, a far more unstable, violent world.
But I noted in a piece written in early 2010, this horrific outcome is a goal not a glitch; it is the necessary grease for the wheels of the Terror War system:
Let me say -- or rather, reiterate -- up front that it is my personal view that the form of vigorous activism known as non-violence is the only way, or the best way, that we can hope to even begin to address the inherent and intractable conflicts of human existence in a genuinely effective profound, sustainable and humane manner. That is the ideal I strive toward.
Of course, I also recognize that being what I am -- a white man of Christian heritage living safely and comfortably under the penumbra of empire -- it is easy for me to espouse this ideal. No drone fired in the distant black sky is going to kill my children tonight as they sleep warmly in their beds. No raiding party of assassins is going to tear down the door of my parents' house tonight and shoot them at the dinner table. No one with a grudge against me -- or simply in need of quick cash -- is going to sell me into the captivity of a worldwide gulag. I'm not going to be caught in the crossfire of marauding mercenaries on my way to work. I'm not going to wake tomorrow in a refugee camp, my home and livelihood abandoned in the wake of a ravaging "counterterrorism" operation. No foreign soldier is going to shoot me, or abuse me, or humiliate me, or simply refuse to let me pass down the street in my own city. I'm not going to be stopped, "profiled," or regarded with suspicion or hatred simply because of my skin color or the cultural or religious etymology of my name.
If I lived under the boot heel of such forces, I don't how I would react, how firmly I could hold to my ideal. I don't know if I would have the strength of mind and will, or the fortitude and wisdom it would take to resist our primal pull to violence -- especially if I grew up in a culture that exalted certain forms of violence as cardinal virtues. (Of course, as an American, I did grow up in such a culture -- and so has almost every other human being in history. To take the non-violent way is to appear -- and yes, often feel -- unnatural, deracinated, alien.)
Nonetheless, despite all these caveats and complexities, the ideal abides. I decry, denounce and mourn for the use of violence. Each act of violence -- however understandable it might be in context -- is a vast, ruinous defeat for our common humanity.
And of course many acts of violence are not "understandable" in any context, save that of our bestial desire to dominate others in one form or another. Here the defeat is even greater, its reverberations deeper, wider, longer-lasting: a degradation and degeneration that further brutalizes both the dispenser and victim of violence -- especially the former, and especially when the dispensing culture comes to countenance an ever-widening array of violent acts as worthy, necessary, laudable, even honorable.
Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called "War on Terror," which I think has been designed -- more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils -- to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis -- POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.
The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate "terrorism" (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end -- as we can plainly see today -- any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are "unserious." They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.
And as we noted here yesterday, there's lots more of this coming our way -- whatever the outcome of the presidential race.
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