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Hamid Dabashi: If US intervenes in Libya, will be act of imperialism; Gaddafi defies democratic will of his people

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The debate around the world about what to do about the situation in Libya intensifies. The US seems to have backed off from its proposal to have a no-fly zone over Libya, and it looks partly as a result of German opposition to that. The International Criminal Court apparently is taking up Muammar Gaddafi’s case rather quickly. And the issue of whether there should be some form of foreign intervention to help anti-Gaddafi rebels or not is a matter of great debate, as well as there has been a proposal by President Hugo Chavez from Venezuela proposing a mediation commission. Now to talk about all of these events and the unfolding drama is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. He’s also the author of the book The Green Movement and the USA. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.


JAY: So your main preoccupation, I guess, until recently, has been the Iranian rebellion and the Iranian situation. And to some extent the Iranian movement, democracy movement, has had to deal with some similar questions about whether to accept or whether to–or accused of having foreign intervention, foreign support. So in that context, how do you assess what’s happening in Libya?

DABASHI: My concern about Iran, Paul, as you know, has always been in the context of the geopolitics of the region. And I’m following the events in North Africa very closely, not only because of their significance in and of themselves, but because of the consequences for the democratic movement in Iran. And right now, as you just said in your introduction, the key issue that we as opponents of military intervention are posed with is whether or not US and its European allies or regional allies should militarily interfere. But as you well know, United States and United Kingdom have already militarily interfered on the side of Muammar al-Gaddafi by having armed him to his teeth. That is, the bullets with which al-Gaddafi is now killing his own citizens have come from United States and UK with full governmental approval. So that’s the first thing to put in the context. And the second thing we hear is that Libya is now a rogue state. If we were to go by the criterion of rogue state, there is no rogue state on planet Earth which is more rogue state than United States. And if ICC, International Criminal Court, is now pursuing the possibility of bringing Muammar al-Gaddafi to court as a war criminal, I mean, I applaud that. That’s a fantastic thing. And maybe we could use it as a precedent to take other war criminals also to the Court, including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and so forth. So a little bit of context is absolutely necessary. The next issue is, so far as ordinary people are concerned, we are never listened to. Only at the 11th hour we are posed with the question, the moral dilemma: should United States interefere, or should it not interfere? I’m very sorry. The foot is in the other shoe. That is, when we had our say back in February 15, 2003, masses of millions and millions of human beings pooled into the streets around the globe opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq. Did anybody ask, pay any attention to our request? But right now, at the 11th hour, when President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron and etc. have already made up decision, because Libya is a oil-rich country and they want to go and control it, they pose the global community, the peace activists, with the question: should we go or should we not go? So if we say, yes, go and save Libyans, then we’re implicated in this military intervention; and if we say no, don’t go, then we are becoming complicit in the mass murder of the Libyans. But I am sorry. This is the wrong question. The foot is actually–is in the other shoe; namely, now we, ordinary people, are in a position to turn to American administration and say, if you intervene, you are in fact engaging in military intervention and expanding American imperialism, and if you don’t know, you are morally complicit with what is happening. That is, turning of the question suddenly around with ordinary people who have nothing to do with these military interventions is really morally corrupt.

JAY: Right. And what’s happening now is the refugee crisis on the border of Libya and Tunisia’s being used as a rationale for intervention. We may have–there’s a quote just in the last hour or two. President Obama says we may have to intervene further because of the refugee crisis.

DABASHI: There has been a refugee crisis. Again, Paul, as you well know, two million Iraqis are refugees in Jordan because of the US-led invasion. Four million Iraqis are made homeless, a million of them children. That is, I’m all for taking Gaddafi to task and sending some sort of a group to kidnap him and take him to the Court, but we have to finally, by virtue of the rise of the democratic will of these people around the globe, come to the conclusion of this massive hypocrisy that is happening around the globe, pointing finger at Gaddafi as if he has been doing all of these things by himself. Of course there is a humanitarian crisis in Libya. But who is responsible for that? In this globalized world, there is no single individual that is singularly responsible for what he is doing. We have to take all of these people, at the same time, to task. And United States and its European and regional allies have no moral authority to become the arbiter of truth at this 11th hour.

JAY: Now, people who watch The Real News probably saw a story we did a few days ago from Benghazi, which essentially was the people of Benghazi on the streets saying no foreign intervention, US stay out. Our reporter, Jihan, was doing interviews the last couple of days, and people were telling her very clearly that they understood that Gaddafi has actually been an ally of the West up until now. They don’t see him as an anti-imperialist; they see him as someone who’s been essentially in the Western camp for quite a few years, and they talk very openly and clearly about his business dealings with Western companies. That being said, there apparently was a proposal from at least a segment of the leadership of the rebellion that the United Nations–not the United States, the United Nations should organize some kind of air strike to incapacitate Gaddafi’s ability to strike from the air against the rebel-held towns. What do you make of that?

DABASHI: Well, first of all, Libya is in a state of revolutionary uprising, and they speak with multiple voices, and to me they’re all legitimate voices. And if somebody says, no, no military intervention, that means what it means. And if somebody says, maybe UN can interfere–intervene, obviously they are trusting UN more than UN deserves. UN, as you know, is not a democratic institution, and it’s heavily influenced by these corrupt superpowers. But what I trust and what I–sort of my attempt to keep my eyes on the ball, is the will of the Libyan people. Libyan people will be triumphant. We have no control over US-led invasion or UK establishing fly zone. None of that. They will–and when they do it, they do it for their own self-interests, not because of the safeguarding of the Libyan people. As a result, we need to keep our eyes on the democratic will of the Libyans and see how things unfold. And if they speak with multiple voices, it’s perfectly natural for them to happen. And if they turn to the United Nation, if United Nation were to actually catch up with the rest of the world and reform itself in a way that represents the will of the global community, of course, then it will have more legitimacy than actually–than what it is now, which is a political arm of United States and Europe to do what they want to do.

JAY: President Hugo Chavez apparently proposed, I think it was on Thursday, to have what he called a mediation or a peace commission made up of people from the Middle East, from Europe, from Latin America. I think he included Africa. The idea is to have a negotiation between the rebels and President Gaddafi. Actually, he calls himself–he said, “I’m not the president,” so I’m not sure what he is, but, anyway, Gaddafi and the people of Libya. What do you make of that proposal?

DABASHI: First of all, Paul, you recall, you and I owe each other a conversation about Chavez. I get nervous: every time there is a dictator about to fall, Chavez, we see him arm-to-arm with him. Obviously, in these circumstances, because Venezuela is not a superpower after conquering the world, his word has more legitimacy than anybody else. However, what was lacking in Chavez’s speech: any recognition of the revolutionary uprising of Libyan people. Everything we hear is about Gaddafi my friend, and Gaddafi, I’m not going to betray him, and so forth. This is not a personal relationship between two heads of state. We’re talking about democratic will of a revolutionary uprising that he, as a revolutionary, if he indeed was a revolutionary, should have recognized; but he did not.

JAY: That being said, some kind of mediation commission that perhaps avoids a bloodbath and, as one commentator said, maybe gives Gaddafi a dignified way to get out, maybe that’s not so bad.

DABASHI: No, of course it’s not bad. And I’m all for all dictators having a dignified way out, as Ben Ali did and Mubarak did. And maybe the people in Iran, ruling in Iran, will find a dignified way. I’m not–I don’t believe in vindictive historiography. But if, again, for him to have legitimacy, for Chavez to have legitimacy to negotiate for a dignified way out for his friend, as he said, Gaddafi, he should recognize that something drastic and historic is happening in Libya and the rest of North Africa in order to create legitimacy for himself.

JAY: Now, one heard the same thing about the Iranian uprising that you hear now. There’s sort of a body of opinion that says this is all Western-inspired, it’s another one of these, you know, colored revolution type of things: get rid of a leader who’s got differences with the West so that you can get a pro-Western leader in power.

DABASHI: Absolute baloney. Crap. There is absolutely no legitimacy to this. First of all, to start with Islamic Republic, Islamic Republic collaborated with United States in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Islamic Republic collaborated with United States in occupation of southern Iraq. There is nothing that United States wants in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea region that Islamic Republic would not happily provide. In so many words, the leaders of the Islamic Republic have said that their interest in Hezbollah and their interest in Hamas has nothing to do with Lebanon and with Palestine, has to do with the regional geopolitical interests of the Islamic Republic. That’s number one. And so far as Gaddafi is concerned, Gaddafi was, you know, good and dandy with everything that the West wanted to do. Why would anybody want to, so far as the Western powers are concerned, to dismantle Gaddafi? Our sentiment has to be with the democratic will of the people.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Thanks, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us. And don’t forget the donate buttons here, because if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.

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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.