Looking at the recent pictures of the “rebels” rampaging through the Libyan capital, I can only fear how far this is going to go before Western leaders finally see that they have played no insignificant part in yet another regional destabiliation exercise. It is as if they want to see yet more bloodshed and boats making their way across the Mediterranean. There is far too much concentration on the here and now, and little consideration for what may lie around the corner: the dreamers still believe that the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi will result in some fledgling democracy, the culmination of what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring”.
What is being continually overlooked is that democracy is probably the last thing on the minds of many of those leading this so-called “revolution”; when I see the images of motley bands firing semi-automatic weapons into the air and stamping on fallen statues screaming Allahu Akbar, all I can feel is foreboding. I am certain that the western journalists in Libya are having fun accompanying these ragtag bands, as much as they did back in 1972 when they followed the victorious Khmer Rouge into the crowded and cheering streets of Phnom Penh; they may not enjoy the experience when the dust begins to settle and there are no more broken Gaddafi statues to insult with the soles of one’s feet.
There are two groups of Western “democracy” advocates: the idealists and the profiteers. While the former are little more than misguided clowns, the latter only use democracy as a tool to secure more nefarious objectives. Evidence suggests that the protagonists in both of these groups sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum and dislike each other intensely, but there’s nothing like a mixture of bloody-minded idiocy and deep-seated greed to bring even the most unlikely collaborators together.
First, the idealists: it continues to irk me that, even after the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are still people who truly believe that Western ideals such as freedom and democracy can find a home in countries like Libya. The misapprehension that democracy can simply be patched into the societal fabric of these countries has become an article of faith, and for many it has become something of a religion – one whose dogma must continue to be pursued no matter how high the cost. It simply makes no sense. While the body count continues to mount and these countries spiral into madness the so-called experts will keep churning out the same old tired nonsense: after all, a chaotic faux-democracy is always going to be better than any sort of evil dictatorship. The resulting turmoil is of little consequence to those whose solution would probably involve wheeling out some hypocritical guilt-tripper like Bono or Sting to make us reach for our pockets whilst cajoling Western governments into upping their already bloated international aid budgets.
It’s the sort of thing that makes my gut start to tremble.
The curious belief that democracy – and all that it means and represents – can be successfully implemented in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya is of course abject nonsense; it is all very nice in theory and when discussed over a decaf skinny latte in some Islington coffee bar, but one would have more success taking a tiger and feeding it Whiskas in the hope that it will turn into some friendly family pet that allows you to tickle its tummy. Democracy relies on the rule of law, civic responsibility and mutual consent; these are concepts that are completely alien to a country like Libya, where law will probably end up being regulated by tribal warlords or religious zealots, justice is little more than petty revenge and mutual consent goes no further than a successful transaction at the local bazaar.
Democracy is something that has to be cultivated, and to cultivate anything successfully one always needs to ensure that the ground has been prepared properly first. I am no gardener, but I do know that for a plant to grow properly the soil needs to be just right and contain the right balance of nutrients for the roots to take hold; without the right conditions, you’d just end up wasting water. Libya, and many countries like it, simply do not have the right soil for democracy to flourish. There’s no point arguing otherwise: it just doesn’t. Simply put, for the plant to live you need to take it away and put it in a pot.
For over forty years Libya – much like Iraq – was in that pot, which has now been smashed. It is now lying there on the ground, soil scattered, roots exposed. Left this way for too long, it will simply shrivel up and die, no matter now much well-meaning water is poured on it.
The profiteers on the other hand are those who know full well that trying to foist a democratic system on a country like Libya is akin to saddling an intransigent cow, but continue to run with it because it suits their wider agenda. These are people that use democracy as an ideological battering ram but are not overly keen on it themselves, the sort of people who would throw their weight behind military campaigns in oil-rich countries like Libya or Iraq while remaining strangely silent when dealing with countries where there is little or no profit to be made.
In short, the sort of people who would be more than happy backing some corrupt former warlord or tribal leader who is able to guarantee the transport of cheap oil and his “cooperation” in return for a seemingly prestigious political position and limited protection with a top-secret use-by date.
The United States has been quick off the mark to join in with the anti-Gaddafi hecklers, but one has to wonder what position they might adopt if this “Arab Spring” movement makes its way to the streets of Riyadh, Medina and Jeddah; what has so far been the perfect opportunity for Barack Hussein Obama and his minions to push their domestic ills under the carpet may turn into an international public relations disaster. Where would they stand? Would they continue to bleat on about freedom and democracy in the Arab world or would they revert to type and throw their weight behind a Saudi regime that is infinitely more despotic, mediæval and cruel than that of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya?