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Hamid Dabashi: Foreign intervention using crimes of Gaddafi to strengthen their hold on Northern Africa

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. In Libya as we speak, European and American planes are pounding Libyan air defenses. Dozens of people have been killed. And Libyan leader Gaddafi says that there will be a protracted struggle. He says the Libyans will win: our country belongs to us and not to you. Now joining us from New York is Hamid Dabashi. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.

HAMID DABASHI: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.

JAY: So, Hamid, you have been studying the Libyan situation for years, and you’ve written about the Iranian situation. You teach at Columbia. So, first of all, what’s your take on what’s happening as we speak?

DABASHI: Well, there are two takes. One is to take everything on face value that United States and its European allies are in this to protect the civilians and establish a no-fly zone. But we, given the history of United States and its European allies, have every reason to doubt that this indeed is the agenda. What has happened is–and for this difficulty, Muammar al-Gaddafi himself is the principal culprit–a peaceful, by-and-large peaceful revolutionary uprising in North Africa that has come to conclusion, perfect conclusion, peaceful conclusion in Tunisia and in Egypt, has been bloodied. And what we are witnessing today in the aftermath of this military operation by US and its European allies is further bloodying of a peaceful revolutionary uprising. In other words, what Muammar al-Gaddafi has done, the last and lasting contribution of Muammar al-Gaddafi to these revolutionary uprising, is to give United States and European allies a military foothold in the revolutionary uprising in North Africa. I see the events in Libya, the military operation on the eighth anniversary of US-led invasion of Iraq, in tandem with Secretary of State Clinton telling in effect the Egyptians that you had a peaceful revolution because of your military, and your military is our military, and then going to Tunisia to tell the Tunisians that she’s there to help them. In other words, what the US and its European allies are doing are trying to use and abuse the criminal atrocities of Gaddafi to get a foothold, diplomatic and military foothold, in the peaceful revolutionary uprising that we are witnessing in North Africa.

JAY: The rebellion, the people in Benghazi, they were asking for this. And they would say to you, I presume, that our revolutionary movement was about to be demolished, and Gaddafi was about to attack the city of Benghazi, and there was no other choice to defend Benghazi, ’cause they were overwhelmed by Gaddafi’s armaments. What do you say to them? Even though they would agree with you, I would assume, most of them, that the intent or motivation of the Europeans and Americans is their own agenda, they would say, we had no choice but to somehow make use of that.

DABASHI: Listen, Paul, as progressives, we have to come to final [inaudible] of understanding that opposition to the US military operation does not mean you don’t have an absolute and unconditional support and solidarity with Libyans. Libyans began in solidarity with their Tunisian and Egyptian fellow Arabs, a very peaceful demonstration for change in their country. It is–the principal culprit and criminal here is Muammar al-Gaddafi, who bloodied their uprisings and forced them into violence. But we have to have a larger frame of reference when it comes to assessment of United States intentions in the context. As I told you on a previous occasion, United States and European allies had already intervened in the battle between Muammar al-Gaddafi and Libyan people on the side of Gaddafi, by arming Gaddafi to his teeth, both United Kingdom and United States. Also, professors from Harvard University to Princeton to Johns Hopkins, etc., were on the payroll of Muammar al-Gaddafi to whitewash his criminal atrocities and present him as something pleasant and acceptable. These are the contexts. So, suddenly, from the same political culture, from the same military culture, you cannot expect a situation that they are going on with shining armor to defend the civilians. The Libyan television already is reporting civilian casualties. However you discount because they are not reliable, the fact of the matter is that United States and its European allies do not have a reliable record of avoiding civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, or in Iraq. So all my solidarity, unconditional solidarity, and the solidarity of all people who are in support of these revolutionary uprisings must be and is with Libyan people. And the criticism of this military intervention, it doesn’t mean that you’re letting Gaddafi off the hook or you are abandoning your solidarity with the revolutionary uprising in Libya.

JAY: The rebellion in Benghazi would say if there hadn’t been this intervention they would have been slaughtered.

DABASHI: And they are probably correct. And as a result, the international community–the real international community, not the cockamamie in United Nations–must hold United States and European allies responsible. US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen is on the record for having said that a no-flight zone is now effectively in place. If that is the case, then the military operation has to cease. In other words, we have no control over the military agenda of United States and its European allies. No control. We have to hold them responsible for civilian casualties, and we have to hold them responsible for restoring a civic situation in which Libyan people can demonstrate peacefully and achieve their democratic revolutionary ends.

JAY: Isn’t that part of what’s wrong with the UN resolution is that there’s actually no process or mechanism for any accountability? The resolution is clearly not for regime change and only for the protection of civilians, which also means that these European-American forces aren’t supposed to be killing civilians.

DABASHI: No, I completely agree with you that the wording of the UN resolution is very vague and is subject to all sorts of interpretation. And as Secretary Clinton and others have said, they can interpret it any way they want, I mean, short of soldiers on Libyan ground. But what does that mean in 21st century military operations?

JAY: We interviewed an international law professor. He says the resolution actually doesn’t mean no boots on the ground. The wording is “no occupation”. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be boots on the ground with the promise to get out at some point.

DABASHI: Exactly. So what it means for Libyan people is to allow them to go back to ground zero, which was a peaceful demonstration. The more these uprisings become bloody, the harder will be the transition to a peaceful, democratic institution in the aftermath of Muammar al-Gaddafi and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi pack their belonging, go to Caracas, or go and collect their money that they gave to Sarkozy for his campaign. We have to keep in mind, Paul, the larger picture. The larger picture is the uprising of people in North Africa and the Middle East for a transition into a democratic condition. And United States does not–or its European allies–does not have a record of having aided and abetted in any such democratic aspirations. And also, the giveaway is when the US and its European allies insist that we are doing this with our Arab allies. Which Arab allies, exactly? Arab allies from Morocco to Yemen are shaking in their boots, because they are the principal culprits. And when, may we ask, Saudi Arabia is also one of this Arab allies. Saudi Arabia is now cracking down precisely similar democratic aspirations. How could the same Saudi Arabia or any other US allies be a partner [inaudible] to this operation, in terms of helping Libyans restore democracy in their homeland?

JAY: I’ve never seen such an array of allies or people that agree with bringing down Gaddafi. It ranges everywhere from al-Qaeda to Cameron in the UK to Hezbollah to Obama. I mean, the range of people that want Gaddafi to come down, I have to say, personally, as much as I don’t like Gaddafi, it’s almost enough to make you want to defend the guy. But all that being said, what is the issue now? That these forces should cease their attack, and there needs to be some kind of promotion of some kind of negotiated solution? Because it looks like they really do–certainly the Europeans and certainly the French want to turn this into regime change.

DABASHI: They are, but that’s wrong. The only people entitled to regime change are Libyan people. Libyan people have to be allowed the democratic possibility of peaceful demonstration, peaceful reconvening of their constitution. They are perfectly capable of achieving that. What we are witnessing is militarization of US involvement and European allies in the Libyan affairs, which pushes the Libyan revolution towards far more radical, and perhaps even Islamist. This is the scenario that United States and its European allies love to see, business as usual, whereas what we are witnessing in North Africa and the Middle East is in fact an end to that discourse, the beginning of a new discourse towards democratic liberation. They want to have–to restore it back that it’s either us liberating you the way we liberated Iraq and Afghanistan, or it’s the Islamist and radical, any other militant option.

JAY: What do you make of the role of Qatar and Al Jazeera?

DABASHI: Al Jazeera never talks about that. The fact is that Al Jazeera is in the middle of all of this mess, but we never ever hear anything about Qatar or about Doha or about military bases of United States in the Persian Gulf or anything of that sort.

JAY: The emir was–certainly was part of the Arab League and signed on to the military intervention. I personally have found, even though we’ve been running a lot of the Al Jazeera coverage, which in whole has been very good in terms of capturing things during the whole uprising in the Middle East, they’ve been very gung-ho about this intervention.

DABASHI: Well, there are many problems with Al Jazeera, as there are problems with any other news organization–except Real News Network, of course. And the reason for that is that they are in a business, so some sort of a business that they have to sell their news and be in operation. I’m not categorically trusting them or categorically distrusting them. They have also been very sectarian in their coverage of issues in Bahrain, and also in Iran. They have not been as supportive of the Iranian uprising or the Bahraini uprising. They play the sectarian card, which is very, very troubling to me. But nevertheless, when you put them next to BBC and CNN and New York Times and Le Monde and etc., you will have multiple lenses through which to see better.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Thanks, Paul. Anytime.

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.