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Hamid Dabashi: People should give unconditional support to the Libyan people’s revolution, but oppose any foreign intervention

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On Friday in Benghazi, Libya, thousands of people demonstrated, calling for two things. One, a no-fly zone over Libya, saying that Gaddafi and his troops and airplanes are about to punish or pummel Benghazi. Number two, they also called for no foreign troops on Libyan soil. They said they’re opposed to any kind of invasion. But they are calling for a no-fly zone and even some targeted strikes against specific targets of Gaddafi’s military installations. Now joining us from New York to talk about the implications of what a no-fly zone might mean is Hamid Dabashi. He’s a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. He’s host of the show The Week in Green. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.

HAMID DABASHI, UNIV. PROFESSOR AND RADIO HOST: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.

JAY: What do you make of this? The people in Benghazi are watching Gaddafi using his air force, and also, of course, tanks, artillery, apparently even shooting from the sea. And they’re vastly outgunned. If he attacks Benghazi, it could be quite the bloodbath. And there are calls not only from Libyans, but the French have now recognized the national council as the legitimate government of Libya, saying Gaddafi is no longer legitimate, which I suppose creates some kind of legal framework–some would say pretext–for intervention. So what do you make of all this?

DABASHI: Well, it is a very difficult situation, particularly for Libyans who are trying to follow what the Tunisians did and what the Egyptians did and restore the democratic will and come from under the rule of this dictator that has ruled over them with the support of United States and European Union now into four decades. But the fact of the matter is that under the current international law, establishing a no-flight zone is an act of war, and an act of war that will in effect declare war on a sovereign nation-state. And we don’t have a body, United Nation or NATO, in–to do so that has any sort of legitimacy and has any precedent. If massacring of innocent civilians is the criterion, didn’t Israelis did exactly the same in 2008, 2009? Did the so-called international community establish no-flight zone over Israel or Gaza? Didn’t United States did precisely the same in Iraq in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion? Did the international community establish no-flight zone over the American airbases? So I’m all for stopping the bloodshed, but the question is that the international community, the real international community, the globe, not United States and Europe, lacks any legitimate body, any legitimate organization that represents democratically the will of the international community to go and establish no-flight zone. So what we have here is United States, the same country, the same government–and UK, the same government and the same state that has been providing arms to Libyan government, to Muammar al-Gaddafi, now turning around and saying, no, we’re going to support another body that, by the way, is not a democratic representation. Libya is coming out of a dictatorship after four decades. There hasn’t been any parliament. There hasn’t been any legitimate election. So “international body” is a bogus term. And this interim council that now claims to represent Libya is equally illegitimate. So we are now facing the real crust of the issue, the international situation that we don’t have anybody that you can trust, including NATO, including United Nations, that can act with any certain degree of legitimacy.

JAY: So the argument that’s being made is that the Security Council, under Article 7 of the United Nations–which is a little ambiguous, because Article 7 of the United Nations really talks about keeping the peace between states. It has been elasticized to include humanitarian intervention, and now it’s kind of come down to whatever the Security Council says is legal is legal, just by virtue of the Security Council saying it–at least that’s what’s being suggested. So the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, looks like NATO, EU, and many countries are saying, if the UN Security Council says it’s okay, then it’s okay. What do you make of that?

DABASHI: I really don’t think so. The United Nations Security Council is the same body that–it is not democratic and has been used and abused by United States for all its imperialist intervention around the globe. And right now we are in a situation that in fact the atrocities of the Iraq War are coming. And as you recall, the illegal and immoral act of war that George W. Bush launched against a sovereign nation-state, on the pretense, false pretense, of weapons of mass destruction, at least are under international scrutiny. And if we are going to use precisely the same UN body, which is undemocratic, in order to abuse the legitimate sympathy of the global community for Libyans, it’s going to whitewash all those criminal acts that the United States has done historically.

JAY: But what do you say to the people of Benghazi who in their tens of thousands are facing a–perhaps–onslaught from Gaddafi’s army and say that, you know, this is all very well, these issues of international law and everything else, but we’re about to get trashed?

DABASHI: Well, the fact of the matter is that we ordinary people are not–Paul, you and I are not in a position to decide anything. We are only in a position to judge. When we had an opportunity to say our saying, we were against the war. But right now we are emerging from a situation that for decades United States and its allies have in fact militarily interfered on behalf of Gaddafi, and more recently, American and European academics have been paid lucratively to portray Muammar al-Gaddafi as God’s gift to democracy. And now, suddenly, when Libyans are up against this dictator, then we are put in a position to make a moral decision for or against war. But the fact of the matter is President Obama and his European allies will go to war whether we like it or we don’t like it. So we should not even assume that we have a position to make any judgment whatsoever. If United States interferes, intervenes, it intervenes for its self-interest, for its military imperialist reasons, not because of humanitarian reasons. If it were for humanitarian reasons, why did United States and its allies arm Muammar al-Gaddafi to his teeth to begin with?

JAY: Well, the people of Benghazi’s answer to that is we don’t care what their intent is; we’re saying we don’t want one foot of them on our soil; but if they take out the planes, we can then, you know, overthrow this dictatorial regime.

DABASHI: Obviously, people–first of all, we don’t have–the question is, if–you have to sort out the question of sovereignty. Libya is a sovereign nation-state. There has not been a democratic election in Libya for the demonstrators to represent themselves in–through a legalized–a legal body. That’s number one. Number two, obviously, with the careful language that comes from Benghazi and your own reporter have been indicating, they are concerned. They don’t want to be slaughtered. Nor do they want foreign intervention and military occupation of their homeland. This is the dilemma that the Libyans are facing. And if there were any legitimate, neutral body that could guarantee this, whether it is the Islamic–the organization of Islamic states or Arab states or Gulf Cooperation state, if such a control could have been established, this might have been the case. But the fact of the matter is that all of these international bodies have been used and abused systematically in recent history, as late as 2003, as late as 2006, in order to further American regional military interests in the area. And for the first time, something is happening in North Africa over which United States does not have control, and this intervention is one more attempt in order to bring things under its control.

JAY: So, as you say, the big powers don’t very much listen to ordinary people. But what do you think ordinary people should be demanding of the big powers in the Libyan situation now?

DABASHI: I think people from Egypt, from Tunisia, in the region, people who are engaged from Iran–we have–even today, have demonstrations in Azerbaijan, absolute, unconditional solidarity with the Libyan people. But no military intervention. Diplomatic maneuvering is something the–for example, what the French did, and diplomatically stop recognizing the state of Libya, freezing of their assets, stopping of selling him arms–they will run out of bullets. I mean, you cannot have the hypocrisy of both selling them bullets and then saying we are–we care for the Libyan population.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Thanks, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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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.