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TRNN REPLAY Hamid Dabashi: The US/NATO pushed a militarization of the Libyan struggle which has turned into a civil war

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in New York City. In Libya the stalemate continues. NATO bombs continue to fall on Tripoli. And a UN resolution that said the reason for being in Libya was to protect civilians doesn’t get talked about very much anymore. The issue of regime change, and perhaps even the killing of Gaddafi, all seems to be within the realm of the acceptable. Now joining us to help us understand what’s going on in Libya is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. He’s the author of brown skin, white masks. Thanks for joining us again.

PROF. HAMID DABASHI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Paul. Thanks for having me.

JAY: What’s your take on what’s happening? And where are you now?

DABASHI: Not unconditional support for the rebels. Unconditional support for the Libyan democratic uprising. To this day, this rebel business is a mysterious entity. We don’t know what exactly they are. I’m not questioning the validity of their cause, but as you know, it’s a rebel, it’s not a democratic representation. What remains legitimate, valid, consistent is Libyan people being part of the Arab Spring. And there is something of a civil war that is happening. Now, the military intervention, first of all, as you said, it has not delivered. We are now three months into bombing, relentless bombing. And we have had even a compound that one of Gaddafi’s sons was bombed and casualties reported. But still he’s up and about. We have a fascinating case that in fact the conventional army of Libya has been destroyed, as NATO has made sure, and Gaddafi is now fighting an unconventional, an asymmetrical warfare with the rebels and with NATO. So that can be protracted for a very long time.

JAY: But that means there was enough base of support for Gaddafi, one way or the other, that he’s able to mobilize fighters.

DABASHI: Militarily. We don’t know if it’s actually politically or socially you have–when you have–for example, a few days ago, a number of soccer players, football players, defected to the opposition, and that is a sign that the actual popular base is very, very thin, if anything. But for a country of 6.5 million people and an oil-based economy, you really don’t need that much of a popular base. What you need is a military and security apparatus. And the military and security apparatus, whatever it is, it is so still there that his son comes out and says, you know, part of–we want to have an election, let’s put this on referendum, etc., and Gaddafi comes and gives his rants and, you know, whatever he wants to say, and this can go on. And NATO has not been able to deliver. They talk to the NATO officials and say, well, regime change is not in our agenda. But the fact is that Gaddafi is being targeted. So it’s a mess.

JAY: So let’s just start there. The UN resolution was very clear: defense of civilians. And it was all about an imminent attack on Benghazi. I mean, they’ve clearly gone way past that.

DABASHI: Of course. And even UN itself said that now both NATO and Gaddafi are killing civilians, who have been killed by both bombings. There was a major incident that–NATO blamed it on miscalculations of some machinery, etc. But the fact is that civilians are being killed.

JAY: You can’t bomb a major city like Tripoli and not be killing people.

DABASHI: First of all, the larger picture is that the US has delegated mostly behind the scene, NATO is operating, and this is basically a NATO operation, not only about Libya, but the larger Mediterranean Basin, because, as you know, these uprisings are from Morocco to Egypt, extend into Syria. And NATO, by extension European Union, by extension Russia, they want to reconfigure the geopolitics of the region. And Gaddafi has given them a test tube, a specific case of how to do it. That is where the situation is. The Europeans are going to rush to recognize the rebels. They establish office in Benghazi. International Criminal Court just issued an indictment against Gaddafi, which is a toothless lion, doesn’t do anything. But nevertheless–.

JAY: But also makes it almost impossible to negotiate his exit [crosstalk]

DABASHI: To negotiate anything, ’cause he’s now a criminal, so far as that indictment’s concerned. But the African Union is trying to intervene. There is–you know, there has been repeated meetings in Pretoria [to] try to find a face-saving scenario for Gaddafi to leave, because they also have a lot at stake, not politically, but economically, because, as you know, there is an element of racialization of the so-called mercenaries that are being hired by Gaddafi to wage his war. Where did they come from? Where the resources obviously are the sub-Saharan African labor migration into the oil-based economy of Libya that are higher than given a gun to go and shoot people.

JAY: What do you make of that issue (it’s not getting much reported), the allegations or charges that within this rebel movement there’s a lot of racist elements, and they really have been targeting black migrant workers, not just black mercenaries?

DABASHI: In Libya, you also have the fact of African laborers who are in Libya, part of the labor force. But before this conflict began, this war began, they were part of the labor force, as far as the oil industry is concerned, and other services, and is not just Africans. Remember oil comes from all over, even from Asia. And now the war has started. The same labor migrants have been given a gun and a uniform. The key factor is labor migration is not–they’re not criminals, they are not fighters, but for money they will do anything, obviously. Any worker would.

JAY: And so this–and then this becomes more racialized, because if there are some blacks with guns, all blacks become the enemy.

DABASHI: Exactly. Exactly.

JAY: Okay. Let’s move on to the issue–back to the UN resolution. Is what’s now going on by NATO, is that not a complete violation of the UN resolution? And is this not essentially now against an intervention in a civil war?

DABASHI: As you recall, Paul, even from the very beginning, UN Security Council in 1973 was very vague. What does “no fly zone” exactly mean? They say no fly zone anything except landing of troop [sic]. Now, we just heard that as earlier as–that is, in fact, in June, early June, the French have been dropping. What does dropping mean? Dropping weapons to aid with the rebels. So the actual resolution was not clear enough. They had left it vague enough to do whatever they want to do.

JAY: There’s an interesting interview with Prime Minister Cameron, from UK, just after the resolution’s passed, and he’s asked directly: is this resolution lead to regime change? And he’s so specific. He says: no, this is about defense of Benghazi; no more, no less. I’m paraphrasing him, but clearly we’re so far more than just the defense of Benghazi.

DABASHI: [crosstalk] and also what contradicts that, both Cameron and Sarkozy and President Obama are on the record before UN Resolution 1973 and after that: Gaddafi has to go. So they can’t be a schizophrenic. They can’t [incompr.] public say Gaddafi has to go and that the UN resolution that was caused by the conflict in Libya has nothing to do with regime change is just wrong.

JAY: Has the character of the struggle–. When you talk about the aspirations of the Libyan people–but still, movements have leaderships. The rebels have a leadership. Has the character changed in this way, that sections of the Libyan elite seem to have taken over much of the rebellion? Even people who yesterday were part of Gaddafi’s ruling group are now in the leadership of the rebel group. And this now is all this big sea of oil politics.

DABASHI: It is. It is.

JAY: We did a story earlier with Kevin Hall from McClatchy Newspapers about a WikiLeaks which was all about contention between Gazprom from Russia, Eni from Italy, versus Total from France, and the US worried about Russian encirclement of Europe’s energy supplies by getting into Libya. I mean, this is kind of a hodgepodge of inter-imperialist conflicts now. I’m not sure where the Libyan people’s struggle is in this now.

DABASHI: I think we should–as Libya talked about a number of times, we should keep our eyes on the ball. The Libyan people began this without violence, without rebel, without leadership, the same way that it started in Tunisia, the same way that it started in Egypt, and in fact was in response. It began after Tunisia and after Egypt. So in terms of the DNA of this initial uprising, there is no difference between Libya and what will happen in Tunisia and afterwards. But it is after the French involvement. Remember that Sarkozy’s involvement began before, in fact, the UN resolution and the no fly zone, etc. It became increasingly militarized. So every actor involved, from Gaddafi himself and his family to these so-called rebels, whoever they are, to the French, extended into American, etc., are involved in overmilitarization of this project. This has an immediate impact in militarizing the uprisings that now is the most violent thing that has happened in the region. In fact, the casualties are far exceeding anything that happened in Tunisia, in Egypt, or even in Syria. And it is also, by virtue of its being so prolonged, a test tube for the rest of the military in the region for NATO to be able to control it, not only for these uprisings, but also for economic resources. Oil is a key factor, and labor migration. And all sorts of racialized politics that happens by virtue of labor migration. Most immediate example of it is in Italy, as you know.

JAY: So the struggle, then, has entered a phase where you could say the people’s aspirations or the sort of democratic struggle you talked about is kind of taking a back seat to all these other agendas.

DABASHI: You’re absolutely correct. You’re absolutely correct. Now the oil politics, military politics, and also cherry picking with these so-called rebels, which one they support and which one they don’t support, has taken over. But what remains, in my opinion, what remains subterranean and is still very legitimate is the fact that Libyan uprising is integral to the rest of the region.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

DABASHI: Absolutely.

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

End of Transcript

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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.