Last Updated: Wed Aug 31, 2011 08:54 am (KSA) 05:54 am (GMT)

Linda Heard: Libya: Why we should reserve our judgment

Linda S. Heard

Dear Uri Avnery, While I concur with the main thrust of your column (published yesterday in this newspaper) in that it is the Libyans that should get most of the credit for overthrowing a tyrant, I cannot share your benign thoughts on NATO’s intervention, your assertion that the alliance’s motives don’t count or your disparaging comments about journalists in the thick of the action.

“I am ready to support even the devil, if that is necessary to put an end to this kind of atrocities,” you write, while emphasizing your “abhorrence of bloody dictators, of genocidal mass-murderers, of leaders who wage war on their own people”. However, legend tells us that those who enter into a pact with Satan soon discover that Beelzebub sticks around until he makes off with their souls.

This is exactly what formerly exiled Iraqi opposition figures such as Ahmad Chalabi and Ayad Allawi did when they actively lobbied the US and Britain to wage war on Saddam’s regime. When they so willingly sold their souls they couldn’t have known that the invasion would have such devastating consequences in terms of human life and Iraq sovereignty.
Likewise, the so-called Northern Alliance in Afghanistan joined hands with a Western coalition to get rid of the Taleban only to find some 11 years on that not only do Afghans have the Taleban to contend with, US-led NATO forces are still entrenched on their soil.

That said, NATO’s intervention in Libya, rubberstamped by the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League, may be an entirely different creature. You are right when you suggest Qaddafi’s toppling couldn’t have been achieved without help and, until now, the Libyan revolutionaries have every reason to be grateful to countries like France, Britain and the US which rallied NATO to protect dissident civilians from Qaddafi’s fire-breathing.

If this was, indeed, solely a humanitarian intervention — as it’s been billed — then we can safely assume that the West has turned a page since the days of Bush and his neoconservative band’s “New American Century” will to power. But, it’s important that we reserve our judgment until the day after.

In the event Col. Qaddafi is captured — when hopefully, his diehards will relinquish their weapons and contribute toward a new free and democratic Libya — NATO should pack up and go pronto. The danger for Libyan independence is that NATO member states may attempt to exact some type of quid-pro-quo from the post-Qaddafi leadership such as cheap oil and gas — or worse, permanent military bases. If NATO countries prove me wrong then I’m ready to take to the streets wrapped in the Atlantic Alliance’s flag. Right now, the signs don’t bode well on that score.

Firstly, now that the UN — and more importantly, the Arab League — has blessed the National Transitional Council (NTC) as a responsible caretaker government, there is no excuse for the NTC’s acting prime minister having to plead for the unfreezing of Libya’s assets abroad or being forced to account to foreign governments for the use those funds are put to.

Secondly, neither the US nor the UK has the moral — and doubtfully the legal — right to demand the extradition of the so-called Lockerbie Bomber Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi who has already had his day in court and who served his prison sentence in Scotland before being released on compassionate grounds. OK, so the man didn’t die from prostate cancer within the projected three months, which some in the US Congress interpreted as deceit or defiance, he’s now been tracked to his home where, hooked up to an oxygen bottle, he’s in a near-death coma.

Now some of those who were ghoulishly praying for his demise are upset because he may cheat the arm of the law. Similarly, some UK politicians have prioritized grabbing the Libyan suspected of shooting and killing Yvonne Fletcher a British policewoman in 1984 which is ironic when they’re advising the Libyan people to forgive the past and move on.
I’m comforted by the response of the NTC’s justice minister who confirmed within recent days that his government “will not give any Libyan citizen to the West” and “Al-Megrahi has already been judged once and will not be judged again.” Other council high-ups have fudged this issue. I think this will be a test of the NTC’s independence from their Western collaborators.

I still recall the day when Afghan President Hamid Karzai was first appointed when he expressed his intention of talking with moderate Taleban which elicited a threatening retort from the Bush administration forcing the Afghan leader into a U-turn. I hope the NTC doesn’t bow to such pressure.

Personally, I won’t lose any sleep over the fate of either Al-Megrahi or the suspect in Yvonne Fletcher’s murder, but I do feel that their future should be decided by the Libyans themselves — and the same goes for Muammar Qaddafi. His crimes were perpetrated in Libya and should be judged by Libyans rather than the International Criminal Court (ICC) which hasn’t indicted a single Western leader in its history — and which is strangely lauded by Washington that doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction over Americans!

I have so much respect for you, Uri, especially for your courageous and unbiased writing on the Palestinians’ plight, but I must take issue with you on your statement “Journalists did not acquit themselves with glory. On TV they looked ridiculous with their conspicuous helmets when they were surrounded by bareheaded fighters.”

On the contrary, I’ve been amazed at the bravery of war reporters. Many are young women who have been traveling into conflict zones in pick-ups packed with armed fighters while others were held hostage by Qaddafi gunmen for five days in the Rixos Hotel half-expecting to be executed. I’ve watched them taking cover behind walls and hardly flinching amid the hails of bullets and tank shells. Why shouldn’t they wear helmets and vests when unlike the rebels they’re not fighting for freedom, they’re just doing their jobs? Without these intrepid journalists, cameramen and editors, neither you nor I could be an armchair commentator on Libya or anywhere elsewhere conflict rages.

As for your dismissal of potentially feuding Libyan tribes, I feel this is premature. More to the point is whether secularists and Islamists will come together when their common enemy is off the scene. Whatever the case, from here on in, the Libyans should be left alone to solve their problems and carve their own destiny in any which way they so choose.

(The writer is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. This article first appeared in Arab News on Aug. 30, 2011)

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