‘The UN must take its responsibility seriously. The world is waiting and watching to see what actions will be taken against other outlaws. Gaddafi is one among many,’ writes Wazir Mohamed.
As I write, the war – which originally was supposed to take one week – is now in its second week, with no end in sight. This new war with weapons fired from remote locations and from military aircraft continues on military convoys and command and control locations in Libya. It is the fourth conflict in 20 years that modern warfare with the use of updated technology is being tried in the world. Remote controlled missiles are hitting military and command and control locations in Libya. Most recently, pulverising military technology that creates long term and lasting hazards for human life, human society, and the natural world have been used in Iraq, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now in Libya. Libya is one among several countries of the Arab, Middle East, and African worlds where the citizens are erupting in non-violent and in some cases violent protest against their governments.
Since the popular uprising and eruption which led to the demise of the Ben Ali government in Tunisia in January, the North African and Middle Eastern world has witnessed the toppling of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The North African and Middle Eastern world has also witnessed large and small popular uprisings in other places: In Libya protests that began on 16 January led to open military conflict between the people of many parts of the country and Gaddafi’s forces. In Syria popular uprisings, which began on 4 February, have now expanded. In response the Assad regime is using live ammunition to put down the protests. In the absence of a free press, social media and Al Jazeera reports that more than fifty people have been killed over the past week. In Jordan protests, which began on 28 January, are spreading.
In Bahrain, the Saudi military was called in to put down protests. It is unclear as to the number of people killed so far in Bahrain, where the minority Sunni kingdom is fighting to maintain its unpopular reign over the majority Shiite population. In Yemen, where protests movements emerged on February 11, the Saleh regime, which is in its last days, has let loose its security forces against the people. This has resulted in the killing of at least 45 people on 18 March, the bloodiest day of the uprising so far. In Algeria, mass protest, which began on 12 February, has been kept outside the international news, while the Free Officers Movement (MAOL) inside and outside of the country seeks to prevent a bloodbath.
In Morocco, protests that began on 20 February forced the monarchy to set in train a constitutional review process, which will culminate in a referendum in June. In Saudi Arabia, protests by the small Shiite population in the oil rich town of Qatif on 10 and 11 March were swiftly crushed by the security forces. In Kuwait, protests which began on 6 February were met with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons on 18 and 20. In Lebanon, protesters took to the streets on 28 February against the sectarian system of government. In Iran, protests are ongoing against the Ahmadinejad administration. In Oman, after three days of protest which lasted from 27 February to 1 March, the government was forced to make some economic concessions but still found it necessary to deploy its security forces to re-establish order.
Popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in this period have arisen against the backdrop of the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq; in the shadow of ethnic uprisings in Bosnia; in the wake of genocide in Rwanda where 800,000 people were killed; following the war and reports of genocide by the Bashir government in the Sudan against the people of Darfur. According to many estimates, an unknown number of people (estimates put the figure above 300,000) have been killed, and more than a million displaced in the Sudan since this war began. These upheavals are also taking place against the backdrop of the on-going intransigence of Laurent Gbagbo, who continues to hold on to power in Côte d'Ivoire, despite his defeat in the recent elections, which is plunging the country into civil war.
These places have several factors in common. They share varying dimensions of Islamic, African, Central/South Asian, and Middle Eastern Cultures. More importantly they share the penchant for patriarchal and pseudo-religious backwardness. These patriarchal and pseudo-religious divisions have been promoted through historical cultural influences, which over time have overtaken the human values of equality, fairness, and the promotion of social justice inherent in the original teachings of Islam and Christianity.
Having walked away from the founding values of Islam and Christianity, the teachings and consciousness of the meaning of religion as a meeting point of minds to search for solutions and find common ground gave way to greed and tyranny. Christianity and Islam as faiths of humans were reframed as justification for the capitalist system in particular in the Islamic world, where usury was prohibited. In these countries the top capitalist has turned mosques into meeting places to make deals and to strengthen greed. Greed defines the destiny of these societies today.
In some of them entrenched pseudo-religious beliefs have led to the suppression of large and small minorities and in the case of Bahrain today, the suppression of the majority Shiite population. Based on the varying dimension of the idea of ‘right to leadership’, each country in this region has inherited designated leaders, leaders who present themselves as though they have god-given rights to lead these societies. The end result is autocratic, patriarchal, pseudo-religious, capitalist and corrupt regimes and ruling comprador elements that have nationalised the political and economic space.
As a consequence all political power and control over the wealth of most of the countries of the Arab world, the Middle East, Central/South Asia, and Africa since the end of colonial rule has resided within the sway of such leaders, their immediate families, their cronies, and the military and security brass. The ruling elites of these countries have entrenched themselves in power through diplomatic, technological, technical, and military support from the former colonial masters, multinational corporations and big oil, and cold war relationships with powerful families and business interests in the developed Western nations and in Russia.
Since 1980 the net of relations between the undemocratic ruling elite of these countries with their counterparts abroad has been widening. New countries are now competing for attention of the powerful in these countries and for the resources of this region. Emerging powers such as China and India have been playing an increasing role in these theatres because of the land mass available for agricultural recolonisation, and because of the riches in oil and mineral resources of this region. We are in the midst of the expansion of the alliance between the autocratic ruling class at home and foreign business interests. This expansion has exacerbated the already fragile economic and political divide and vacuum in these societies.
The upheavals now being witnessed across this region are directly connected to the sharp political and economic division between the small ruling class/group/kingdom at the top of the food chain and the majority of ‘commoners’ at the bottom of the society. In the semi-feudal societies these ruling capitalist elements have held on to monarchical traditions and want to entrench a system of inheritance for their families. Hence after the King of Morocco and the head of state of Syria handed power to their sons, both Mubarak and Gaddafi planned to hand power over to their sons.
The people of Egypt rejected the pseudo-democratic system of Mubarak that was preparing his son for political leadership. The demonstrations of Tahrir have shown that the commoners of these societies include professionals, doctors, lawyers, workers, students, religious people, men, women, youth, the poor, the disabled and the infirm, and all those who have been denied their rights to decide on the kind of law which should govern the society, and under which everyone would be able to organise for equity in the political, social, cultural and economic life of their homeland. In an age baptized by the rise of western style democracies, the West is duty bound to act. They have to act. They cannot remain silent. They have to the listen to the clarion call for democratisation now ringing in the houses of their friends, and in the houses of their enemies. Hence, while working people under the austerity measures in a capitalist depression appears to have had no appetite for this war, they are acting as though it is their duty.
The world is now paying close attention. The spotlight is now on the once powerful countries, especially since the imperial overlords failed to act to prevent the genocide in Rwanda and to deal with the claims of genocide in Darfur. They face the reality of global scrutiny for their continued foot-dragging and failure to reign in the Israelis and bring relief to address the plight of the Palestinians in spite of scores of United Nations resolutions. The once powerful cannot shirk responsibility for their failure to properly address the racial and ethnic structural marginalisation that today accounts for the racial and ethnic conflicts especially in Africa, more especially in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Furthermore, the affluent nations of the world cannot ignore the legacies of their past deeds; for their failure to deal with the troubling issue of reparations, and the economic and political divide between human beings constructed by colonialism and imperialism based on the colour line.
The United Nations, the progressives in the former colonial powers, and the international community have a lot of work to do to correct the imbalance between those with and those without freedom and human rights, and between the majority of people at the bottom and the 10 per cent of the world population that controls 85 per cent of the world’s wealth. Failure to act and failure to construct new world institutions that will democratically address and find solutions to the rising tide of divisions between those at the top and those at the bottom will undoubtedly redound in the expansion and globalization of the protest movement.
The answer to the peoples’ cry for human freedoms and human rights cannot be answered in a piecemeal manner. These cries must be answered through concerted action. They must be answered through deliberative discussion to address the root causes of the distress, the disease blighting the lives of those affected through lack of freedom and human rights.
Piecemeal military campaigns, while important to forestall genocidal acts or the threat of genocidal acts can only deal with symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself. As witnessed in the case of Libya, the disease is the global system that benefits from the way the Gaddafi family has used the wealth of the country to benefit multinational financial institutions and corporations in the West. The disease is the global system that sells military aircraft and military hardware to the Saudis, the Bahraini’s, the Egyptians, the Israelis, the Bashir government in the Sudan. The illness is the military manufacturers and marketing agents that produce and market weapons. The world needs fewer weapons. There must be an international moratorium on the production and marketing of weapons of war. It is time for even-handed action by the United Nations and the international community to restrain governments and groups that use weapons of war against civilians.
It is here where Brazil, India and China will have to show that their goals for the UN and the international community are different from the former imperial powers. The United Nations and the international community must be even-handed; they cannot cherry-pick when they come to decide on the action to be taken against outlaws. As Horace Campbell noted last week, China, Brazil and Russia cannot abstain in the vote in the UN and after the fact denounce he military campaign in Libya. These countries are also using Africa as a political football.
The current military campaign in Libya raises many unanswered questions on the necessity for even-handedness on the part of those with the policing wherewithal in the international community. Judging from the swiftness of the ongoing military campaign in Libya, are we to assume that the world is now entering a new phase in international relations? If so, the UN and the international community have a responsibility to come clean with all the countries and peoples of the world. If military action is going to become the remedy for the intractable problems created through undemocratic political structures, this must be made clear. It should not only be the subject of debate at the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. It should be the subject for debate, ratification, and signature by the parliament and national representative councils of every member nation of the UN. Perhaps the world needs a United Nations where the emerging powers place as much emphasis on diplomacy as they are on developing new export markets.
If the current military actions in Libya represent the beginnings of a new process the world could become a better place. In the same way that the UN and the international community stepped in to ensure that the people of Benghazi were not slaughtered, such action is also required in many other places. The Palestinians have been living in a virtual prison for more than 50 years. Are we to assume that the UN and the international community will now act to rein in the excesses of the Israeli military and other paramilitary forces and bring real relief to the sufferings of the Palestinians? Are we to assume that the UN and the international community will now take a strong position and initiate action against the minority government in Bahrain? Are we to assume that stern action will also be taken soon against the military excesses of the Saleh government in Yemen? Are we to expect immediate action against the outlaw Laurent Bgagbo administration in the Ivory Coast?
Countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Yemen require representative governments. Where is the demand for free elections in Saudi Arabia and in Bahrain? Why should the majority Shiite population in Bahrain be made to suffer because the UN and the international community are afraid of a Shiite controlled government? Everyone should have an equal right to democracy, to human rights, to security, to food, and to shelter. The world is engaged. The world is waiting and watching to see what actions will be taken against other outlaws. Gaddafi is one among many.
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* Wazir Mohamed teaches Sociology at Indiana University East in the USA. He was formerly a co-Leader and political activist of the Working People’s Alliance of Guyana.
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