TRNN Replay – Hamid Dabashi: Neo-liberalism a greater threat to Libya than tribalism or extreme Islam
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Libya, Libyan rebels apparently have taken over most of Tripoli, although resistance to the rebels seems to have been stronger than early media reports seem to indicate. Gaddafi’s whereabouts seem to be unknown, although resistance continues at his compound. Now joining us to talk about the significance of the events in Tripoli is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. He’s also the author of the book Brown Skin, White Masks. Thank you for joining us again, Hamid.
PROF. HAMID DABASHI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Thanks. My pleasure.
JAY: Hamid, so what do you think of what’s been happening over the last few hours, 24, 30 hours?
DABASHI: Well, first of all, is a cause for celebration. Libyan revolution seems to have succeeded. A dictator that has over four decades strangled his own people and abused their resources seems to have fallen, and the revolution, Libyan revolution, is successful. All other considerations aside, this is a cause for celebration. That’s the good news. Obviously, the bad news, that this is the first of the events in the Arab Spring that has happened so violently and with direct military intervention of both United States and NATO, that raises concern, because, obviously, they have political, economic (oil in particular) interests in the region. So all of those who supported the cause of the Libyan revolution and endorse it and are happy at this moment have reasons also to be very cautious, because the NATO in particular has a military foothold in the unfolding drama of Arab Spring. But one must remain optimistic.
JAY: If you think that the taking of Tripoli represents a reflection of the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people–as well, of course, many, many other interests–that’s one thing. But the other point that many people are making, particularly people outside Libya: that this whole thing happens under the rubric of essentially an illegal action by NATO, that the UN resolution itself was dubious to begin with. But certainly what happened since then, the early days of the potential attack on Benghazi, has gone way beyond that resolution, quickly turned into regime change. And the more significant thing here in terms of the world is this precedent that Libya has set. What do you think? How do you balance these two issues?
DABASHI: These are perfectly legitimate concerns, and I concur with all of them, beginning with UN resolution 1973. That gave the United States and NATO a military foothold, has been the cause of concern for everybody interested in the cause of democracy and supported the Libyan revolution. But we have to remember, Paul, the sequence of events. The democratic uprising began before the UN resolution. NATO, US, and UN resolution, they are riding on the democratic uprising of Libya. And so we have to keep in mind that the initial site of this democratic uprising is perfectly legitimate. And the fact that United States, NATO are abusing the situation to create a military foothold for themselves should not detract from the fundamental fact of the Libyan revolutionary uprising.
JAY: When you say “not detract”, what does that mean? I mean, people outside either have to oppose or support the NATO intervention, don’t they?
DABASHI: Well, it is perfectly–in a very simple compound sentence, you support the democratic uprising and you oppose the NATO intervention, as I did, you remember, months ago.
JAY: So let’s talk about what’s happening more now [incompr.] lots of reports the oil companies are already starting to jockey for position here. Eni, the Italian oil company, apparently has its representatives already on the ground today, seeing how they can get oil shipments going to Italy, which I think is the biggest major source of where Libyan oil goes. We know from some of the WikiLeaks reports there was a lot of conflict about Eni’s connection to Gazprom with Russia. Now, the Russians originally didn’t support the overthrow of Gaddafi or the NATO intervention. Later they seemed to. After Medvedev’s talk with Obama, Russia seemed to do a 180 and all of a sudden said Gaddafi should get out. What do you make of what’s happening next?
DABASHI: First of all, the latest news from Al Jazeera’s site is that the Russians are not very happy with the developments–Russian oil companies–because they think the NATO will use their newly found power to exclude them from their lucrative business in Libya. Italians are very happy, and any other European company obviously. They are going to take advantage of the NATO presence to strike lucrative deals with Libya. But the fact is that Libya has oil. Oil is the national resource of Libya, and Libya needs to sell its oil. There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is NATO European countries use the shield of NATO in order to–under the guise of democratization, helping Libya to democratize, quote-unquote, strike business deals, particularly in oil, that is against the national interest of Libyans. What is important for the world to now watch is that a transition into democracy, representative democracy (and Libya is perfectly capable of transition to representative democracy) for that future government, which is not the Transitional National Council, to decide what is in the best interests of Libyan people in general. For that we have to look for labor unions, we have to look for women’s organizations, we have to look for all sorts of grassroots civil society organizations that would express the democratic aspirations and safeguard the national resources and decide to who they are going to sell their oil and how they are going to distribute their income.
JAY: There’s already talk in Washington about the need for, quote-unquote, boots on the ground. Richard Haass, one of the more–one of the leading foreign-policy wonks in Washington, had an article in The Financial Times today titled “Boots on the Ground”. They say to avoid civil war and chaos in Libya, there’s going to have to be some kind of international force. They’re very concerned about losing control of all this. And how real do you think this is that they actually at this point might try some kind of boots-on-the-ground intervention?
DABASHI: First of all, I’m not sure, Paul, that there has not been so-called boots on the ground to begin with–European boots, American boots, all sorts of covert operations that have brought these events that we are witnessing today. But even if that is denied or nonexistent and we will have, in future, boots on the ground, those boots on the ground are not to safeguard the democratic aspirations of Libyans; they are there to safeguard the business interests of Americans and Europeans in the ground [incompr.] of fearing tribalism, fearing Islamism. I, as an observer of events in the region, am far more scared of neoliberalism than I am scared of tribalism or Islamism, this ghastly Orientalist attributions to Libyan society. Libyan people are perfectly capable of democracy. They have to be allowed for a peaceful transition to their democracy. They are very nationalistic people, as anybody else, as they have every right to be. For 40 years they have tolerated this tyranny, which was supported by United States, supported by EU. And now they have succeeded in their revolution. And if the NATO has given a helping hand, it has simply compensated for masses of arms that they have sold to that dictator. They have to get out and allow Libyans to–for a peaceful transition to democracy, safeguarding their natural resources, for them to decide what sort of business deals they want to have, with what company. Companies–Europeans, Russians, American–they have to bid, and a democratic representation of Libya to decide to whom they are going to have a business deal, not to make deals with oil companies when the boots are on the ground.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.
DABASHI: Thank you. Anytime.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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