The liberation of Libya from Gaddafi illustrates how Western interests define the labels of freedom fighter or terrorist amongst allies and enemies.
Today, the brave and deeply Islamic people of Libya, who have brought down the tyrant and one-time western ally Muammar Gaddafi, are rightly lauded as heroes. NATO exploited the fact that no neighbouring Muslim state was willing to send an army to help the people – switching from its position backing the Gaddafi regime as an ally in the ‘War on Terror’ to backing his opponents. But even that cannot detract from the bravery of those who rose up against his rule, defended themselves against his onslaught, and then proceeded to sweep him from power.
Even western media outlets like the BBC, CNN and Sky News celebrate these fighters as heroes – despite their ‘takbirs’ [cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ meaning ‘God is the Greatest’], though they are usually portrayed as having a patriotic motivation as opposed to an Islamic one.
But the position of these prominent media outlets, like those of their governments, is rank hypocrisy. This hypocrisy is not limited to the fact that the Gaddafi family were friends turned enemies; nor because they were silent when Blair hugged him close [literally, not metaphorically] and Brown sent him Christmas cards; nor simply because they deal happily with some of the same criminals who remained by Gaddafi until the eleventh hour. Any one of these are reason enough on their own.
But the hypocrisy that in question relates to how resistance in Libya has been portrayed as compared to resistance in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan; how some fighters are portrayed as “terrorists” or “insurgents” and others referred to as “resistance” or, in the case of Libya, “rebels”. The labelled used by media organisations are the product of much editorial discussion, and reflect the political interests they represent.
The media has celebrated these Muslim Libyan fighters in a way we have not seen for a long time, although initially there were many questions as to the political identity of the ‘rebels’ . British citizens of Libyan origin have been interviewed and [rightly] lauded for their bravery and sacrifice – leaving the comfort of their lives in the UK to fight for what they believed in.
Yet only a few years ago, people from the UK who went to help resistance to oppression in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq or Afghanistan were labelled as ‘terrorists’, arrested or kidnapped, in some cases tortured and then imprisoned. Some of these people ended up in Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that they had not even travelled specifically in order to fight – rather they were either living in or visiting those locations, and saw first-hand the injustice and violence meted out on the locals, and so became involved. Others, who even considered going, might have been prosecuted for acts preparatory to terrorism. Anyone offering moral supporting to such resistance might even have been accused of ‘glorifying terrorism’.
Recently, the BBC revealed that around 4000 people who, based on their conscience and convictions, travelled to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. For the most part they had no direct relationship to the conflict. They simply wanted to support those who wished to overthrow a fascist tyrant. The media also chooses to ignore British citizens joining the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force that commits atrocities abroad.
Today, the idea that someone could do the same, based on Islamic convictions is an anathema to the western media. Indeed, they will even single Muslims out for prosecution under anti-terrorism laws, though once upon a time the mujahideen fighting against the Soviet Union were lauded as heroes.
All of this merely proves something well known – the politics of ‘terrorism’ is that of hypocrisy. One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist, depending on their interests. It’s not saying something new, just flagging the obvious based on current events.
Today, the politics of ‘terrorism’, laws relating to ‘terrorism’ and media coverage on ‘terrorism’ is all based exclusively on the political agenda
and interests of the country concerned: whether the country is Britain, the United States and France or from China, Russia and other – who copy the west in using the language of terrorism to criticise their enemies.
By the same logic, the people of Libya, and those who wish well for them, should be under no illusions that NATO’s backing, and continuing involvement is anything to do with high principle, or helping the people. It is about interests. If, at a later date, NATO believes that those interests are not being served by backing the Libyan people, they will turn on them as quickly as they turned on Gaddafi.
Given that former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston once said “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow” it might be worth the people of Libya taking some quick lessons in British history before they find themselves victims of yet another hypocritical deception.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org