Book Review: Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximilian Forte
By Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill
When did today begin? A question many poets and philosophers have asked. For many, who had relied the soft resistances of the mind – the resistance of text, of music, of democratic spaces – for us, today started on the 20th of October, 2011.
Great writing engenders great writing, and Dan Glazebrook has been inspired to write one of the finest reviews of recent times – his review of Professor Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa. This fine review gives a concise and accurate overview of Professor Forte’s great work. I ask that everyone read it – and then read the book itself. Dan’s work already done absolves me of the usual duties of the reviewer. I will take the liberty to say less on what are the central issues analysed in the book, and say more on certain details.
2011 was the year that language was finally murdered, and its remains disappeared. Of course, it had been under attack for some time. But, even during the Invasion of Iraq, a lie was still a lie, i.e. the principle of verification still existed. Donald Rumsfeld mused on the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. Such musings are predicated on the belief that there is some relationship between true statements and physical reality. This belief led to considerable effort on the part of the US occupation forces to verify the statement that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. There was even considerable anxiety in the Bush administration when the facts falsified the statement, i.e. when no WMD was found in Iraq. But all changed, changed utterly, when Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton took the reigns of power. From that point on, total war was waged on the link between language and reality.
Professor Forte examines, in great detail, the grossly obscene lies that Obama and his cohorts heaped on the Libyan state, and on the majority of the Libyan people, who were simply dismissed as “Gaddafi loyalists.” But, being a “Gaddafi loyalist” was not the worst of all worlds. The worst of all worlds was saved for the one third of Libya’s population who happen to have dark skin, along with the over two million migrant workers in Libya from countries like Nigeria and Chad. The brand that Obama, the Little Son of Africa, gave to these people was “Gaddafi mercenary.” And open hunting season was declared on all who now bore that brand on their black skin. The lynch mobs’ noose trotted merrily behind NATO’s bombing runs.
Tawergha was a city of some 40,000 black people. They were the descendents of slaves who had won their freedom over the centuries. They were not weak or cowardly people. When the Brigades for the Purging of Black Skins—the grand title the Misrata militias gave themselves—laid siege to their city, they did not kneel down and beg for mercy. Far from it, they defended their city as true Libyan patriots. The Brigades for the Purging of Black Skins would have stayed camped in the desert until hell froze over if it hadn’t been for their allies in the skies—Obama’s bombers. For three days and three nights, NATO pounded the defences of the city until they finally broke. The gates were open and the Brigades for the Purging of Black Skins were free to do their work. Yes, Obama brought freedom to Tawergha—the freedom of the racist lynch mob, the ethnic cleanser, the torturer and the murderer. As Professor Forte points out, here was the Responsibility to Protect—but to protect whom? Today Tawergha is home only to hungry dogs and crows. It’s population scattered into the desert, or into refugee camps, or buried in shallow graves. The desert wind whistles through the shell holes in its burned out and looted (what were) homes.
Some black people tried to escape the racist Holocaust by taking to the seas in search of sanctuary in “civilised” Europe. Professor Forte writes: “In terms of the failure to protect civilians, in a manner that is actually an international criminal offence, numerous reports revealed how NATO ships ignored the distress calls of refugee boats in the Mediterranean that were fleeing Libya. In May 2011, 61 African refugees died on a single vessel, despite making contact with vessels belonging to NATO member states. In a repeat of the situation, dozens died in early August 2011 on another vessel. In fact, on NATO’s watch, at least 1500 refugees fleeing Libya died at sea during the war.” As Professor Forte writes, if the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was applied to Libya, it was only on the basis that black people are not human.
Obama and his crew were kept very busy making up atrocities to lay at the feet of the “Gaddafi forces”—otherwise known as the legally constituted defence forces of the Libyan state. They were kept busy, as the rebels were not at all embarrassed by their racist outrages. Far from it. They videoed their lynching of black people in the market squares of Benghazi and Misrata, and put the videos up on You Tube for a laugh. Some of the better Western newspapers were also allowing reports of rape, torture and murder, on the part of the rebels, to slip in among the column yards of condemnation of Al Gaddafi and all who believed that Libya was an independent country. Keeping ahead of very real rapes is best done by fabricating rapes of such imaginative excess that the very concept of reality becomes redundant. Al Gaddafi was now handing out Viagra to his “Gaddafi loyalists” to rape the heavily bearded Jihadi peaceful protestors. Years old Libyan porn movies became evidence of Misrata virgins being gang raped by “Gaddafi mercenaries.” And we all know how big the penises of black men are. To add to the farce, the clownish International Criminal Court (ICC) piped in to issue an arrest warrant for Muammar al-Gaddafi, on the basis of the porn movies – which, as Professor Forte points out, have yet to be seen by the ICC (though it has never issued an apology to the Al Gaddafi family for its outrageous slander.)
And here we see the deep psychology of the Obama administration. It is never enough to murder an enemy. His name must also be murdered. Not a trace of him can be allowed to survive – not even his bones. Obama already had form when it came to assassination and disappearing of bodies. Osama Bin Laden, we are told, was gunned down in his home, and his body dumped in the sea—Chicago style. Gangsters like to keep their victims in fridges—at least in the movies—and Obama seems to be a great lover of gangster movies. If he had been a man of the theatre, he would know of a play by Sophocles, a play in which a Greek marks out the dividing line between civilised people and those who have not achieved the status of civilisation. Civilised people allow their enemies to bury their dead. Antigone knew this.
As if to confirm that the Obama administration has turned its back on civilisation, has regressed to the ancient chaos, Hilary Clinton’s hideous cackle “We Came, We Saw, He Died,” sent the United States of America back to the year 46 BC—the year when the most noble of heroes, Vercingetorix, was ritually slaughtered before a baying Roman mob, for the crime of defending his homeland. He too was denied a grave. Perhaps Clinton’s knowledge of the Classics did not extend to knowing that Julius Caesar was the first man to be indicted for war crimes—for the bestial nature of his Conquest of Gall.
Professor Forte peers mercilessly into the minds of the Benghazi rebels, as the Benghazi rebels peered without mercy into the collective mind of the West. They knew us well—all too well. They knew that the fear of the black African penises touching the white skins of our women would be enough to make us throw all reason and logic to the wind, and put the killing frenzy in our blood. They knew we would not stand idly by while black men did to fair skins “what we all know black men always want to do”. But did the racism end there? Why did the West—both Left and Right—so readily believe that Al Gaddafi was giving orders to rape, and that professional Arab soldiers were following those orders without question? If David Cameron had been accused of ordering his troops to rape Afghan women, would we have believed it? Shoot them or blow them to bits—yes of course—but rape them, no. So, why did sophisticated Left wing commentators immediately believe that the Libyan government had given orders to the Libyan defence forces to rape Libyan women? Why? Because that’s what Arabs do! Isn’t it? Arabs are “filthy rapists”—and they love boys too. Al Gaddafi giving Viagra to the Libyan Army to rape? Sure, why wouldn’t he—he’s an Arab. Needless to say, Professor Forte does not express himself in these terms—these are not the terms of an anthropologist.
We tend to think of anthropologists studying the sexual mores of primitive peoples, or trying to find evidence for the origins of our pathologies in their more simple ways. We forget that we Westerners too are “a people.” That we too are subject to the currents of history—and that we are capable of falling backwards into chaos. Slouching Towards Sirte evokes the Yeats poem, The Second Coming. As in the poem, it is not The Word that is coming, but the murder of the word—the time before language. The time before the separation of truth and falsity. A time of terrible anxiety, when the rough beast does not know its own name, or the name of any other thing. This is the time when even the Left, those who claim some moral authority, fall into the all-consuming confusion. We have grown to expect little better of the Right, but when the Left fall too—or become even more venomous—what hope is there? I quote Professor Forte at some length here:
“The majority of the North American and European left—reconditioned, accommodating, and fearful—played a supporting role by making substantial room for the dominant US narrative and its military policies. Even here self-described anti-imperialists and Marxists conceded ground to the State Department which would then be used to amass support for intervention: Gaddafi, in their view, was a dictator, even a collaborator of the West, he should not be defended, and he had to go. They thus agreed to make an issue out of Gaddafi, not empire. The left joined the choir, and the State Department pointed to the choir in justifying the idea that ‘the international community’ was speaking with one voice against Gaddafi.
“Other supposed anti-imperialists and ‘leftists’ (including some Marxists, anarchists, and social democrats) even backed the military intervention to ‘save Benghazi’. In both approaches, the US and other NATO political and military leaderships would benefit from what was at the very least half-praise from supposed ideological opponents at home. These approaches were derided by Latin American socialists, Pan Africanists and African nationalists alike, who were the only real bastions of anti-imperialism in this entire story.
“The ‘neither-nor’ a la carte attitude—neither supporting Gaddafi nor supporting NATO (with some exceptions to the latter)—with prompt denunciations of ‘Stalinism,’ paid scarce attention to who stood up against US and NATO intervention in Libya: it was not Benghazi, which played an active role in legitimating and boosting the makeover of the US reputation among Arabs.
“Turning a blind eye to Sirte, and a racist blind eye to the plight of black Libyans and other black Africans at the hands of the insurgents, the European and North American left did nothing to oppose imperialism. They have suffered an irreparable loss of international credibility while cementing a North-South dividing line among socialists. It seems that the left of the global North bought into the dominant US self-image of being a ‘force for dignity,’ fearful that its status would be imperilled by seeming to support ‘dictators’ and being aligned with ‘Stalinists.’ (They were quick to adopt the cherished epithets of the very same ‘neocons’ that they claimed to loathe.) Instead, they effectively opted for the imperialism and for the global dictatorship of the US, with far more blood on its hands than any number of such ‘dictators’ combined.
“In denouncing Gaddafi, just as the US was gearing up to depose him, they legitimated the position that Gaddafi’s leadership was somehow the root or the pivot of the intervention, thereby inevitably even if indirectly, supporting regime change. They spoke as if all political systems must be identical to ours to be deemed democratic. They treated us to jejune formulas, with fatuous warnings to ‘Gaddafi supporters’: ‘the enemy of your enemy is not your friend’. Somehow, they failed to heed their own warning as they embraced the ‘valiant revolutionaries’ of Benghazi, paying heed to neither their racist outrages nor the presence of Islamic reactionaries”.
So, for those of us who thought to resist with texts and music and democratic spaces, a new today began on the day Muammar al-Gadaffi, and over one hundred other Prisoners of War, where ritually butchered on the outskirts of Sirte. They had fought bravely, very bravely. At the end, 300 men, under the command of Mutassim al-Gaddafi, had held off thousands of rebels, Qatari regulars, and NATO special forces – and the constant bombardment of NATO drones and stealth bombers.
The civilians of Sirte too had suffered indescribable horrors—and still would not surrender. Many slept in the streets, as they had no way of knowing where shells fired by untrained and hash smoking rebels might fall. Where was the protection of civilians for them? Finally, Al Gaddafi was injured, captured, tortured and murdered. TV News rooms across the West held studio celebrations. Politicians welcomed the murder of a POW. Here too, the truth was murdered. The Western media, remembering Saddam Hussein, were not content until they had a story about Al Gaddafi cowering in a sewerage pipe. They crowed and crowed and crowed. Al Gaddafi—the Great Man—cowering in a sewerage pipe. And when Human Rights Watch investigated, and found that Al Gaddafi had not been cowering in any pipe, but had been fighting in a trench, as a true Libyan soldier and patriot—well, that didn’t matter. It was never mentioned. Because the truth never mattered in Libya. Or if it did, it was only in so far as it could be ritually butchered on camera. The ancient beast of chaos found its rebirth at Sirte.
The West, a decrepit parasite society, no longer capable of great art or philosophy, it recycles the glories of the past as meaningless commodities. As it collapses under the weight of its own senile greed and rank stupidity, it clings on with its few remaining broken teeth, cutting and torturing living flesh. It consumes its own young and feebly sucks the youthful blood of Africa. Muammar al-Gaddafi drove it mad, by threatening to cut off the supply of African blood.
As in Iraq, and Yugoslavia before it, only the complete destruction of the native state can yield the chaos that the imperialists take to be their tabula rasa. For all the USA’s efforts to wrench Libya out of Africa, for all of its Anglo-Saxon Protestant jihad to impose “free market values,” it has turned Libya into the very cliché of a failed African state. Now, every little town is ruled by its own warlord. Instead of being the beacon of a new, strong and united Africa, Libya has become the African chaos the NGOs love to present to us on our TV screens when they are looking for money. Where Al Gaddafi’s GreatManMadeRiver had supplied Libya with as much fresh water as the Nile flowing for 200 years, turning the desert into rich green fields, today many Libyans don’t have clean water to drink or enough to eat. Garbage piles up uncollected in even the main cities and disease is rampant. Scores have died from drinking bootleg alcohol, and young men listen to Al Qaeda fatwas, with hash joints hanging from their mouths.
Libya suffered lynching by NGOs. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, they all joined in the lynching. Professor Forte writes:
“On February 23, 2011, mere days into the uprising and well before it had a chance to ascertain, corroborate or confirm any facts on the ground, Amnesty International began launching public accusations against Libya, the African Union, and the UN Security Council for failing to take action. Even more stunning, given what was described in the previous chapter, was Amnesty’s reinforcement of the ‘African mercenary’ myth that justified and provided cover for the lethal targeting of innocent black African migrants and black Libyans:
‘Amnesty International also criticized the response of the African Union to the unfolding crisis, which has seen hundreds killed and persistent reports of mercenaries being brought in from Africa countries by the Libyan leader to violently suppress the protests against him.
‘It is outrageous that the African Union Peace and Security Council has not even met to discuss the emergency taking place in one of its own member states,’ said Salil Shetty.
‘Amnesty International called on the African Union to ensure that its member states, particularly those bordering Libya, are not complicit in human rights abuses in Libya’.
“Amnesty, in making such specific accusations (echoing the Libyan opposition), in calling for an assets freeze and arms embargo and more actions with each passing day, was essentially representing one side of the conflict, namely the insurgents, adopting their representational strategies, and calling for measures that would benefit them. Amnesty thus effectively made itself party to the conflict”.
Indeed it did. The NGO felon-setting of every Libyan with dark skin, and of every black migrant worker, made it almost impossible for the African Union (AU) to carry out its function. By doing so, it could only add credence to the “Gaddafi mercenaries” myth. Jumping on the opportunity, Obama’s crew were very quick to completely sideline the AU, by declaring that the Arab League was the main regional association. This despite the fact, as Professor Forte points out, that Libya had, for many years, shown nothing but contempt for the supine Arab League, and had put its full energy and resources into building the AU—and precisely for the purpose of keeping the White Man from doing what he now planned to do to Libya and all of Africa.
In Libya, the White Man picked up his burden again. And every African knows what that means for them. As in 1873, the Capitalist system has crashed, and only the wealth of Africa can save it. US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) had been slapped down by Al Gaddafi, when it had demanded its headquarters be built on African soil. It was forced to run with its tail between its legs to that other zone of occupation— Germany—to build its HQ. An Africa Command that was not even allowed into Africa? Al Gaddafi certainly knew how to put the USA in its place. But, the Anglo-Saxon is a vengeful creature, and has a very long memory. AFRICOM was presented with the bombing of Libya as its first military operation. And when it had reaped bloody vengeance on its foe, and utterly destroyed his country, it immediately announced a string of new military operations, all over north and central Africa. The New Scramble for Africa was on—with white officers and black foot soldiers.
One would think, from all this, that Professor Forte’s book is one long unrelieved catalogue of horror, but there are some moments of humour—if even of the gallows kind. There is always a monstrous clownishness about the tyrant, and the USA is no exception. Forte takes a wicked delight in recounting the contents of cables sent to Washington from the US embassy in Tripoli, and published by Wikileaks. Not all of the cables are funny in content—many of them show the murderous envy of the USA towards Libya’s growing influence and inspiring achievements in Africa—but many are quite hilarious in their peevish pettiness. I particularly liked the cables, marked secret, about the poor US and European conference delegates who were sent to sleep on foam mattresses in half-built apartment blocks—while the African delegates were feted in Libya’s most luxurious hotels. It seems Al Gaddafi too had a wicked sense of historical humour.
There are also obscene jokes in this book—like the one about the UN Human Rights Council—the council that brought all the NGOs together to sign on the dotted line for the lynching of Libya—and then banned Libya from speaking at the UN. Let me repeat that. The UN Human Rights Council banned the government of Libya from speaking about a crisis in Libya—but listened at length to NGOs, who had no legal status whatsoever at the UN, and, at the time, had no people on the ground in Libya. Indeed, according to themselves, these NGOs had no source of information from Libya at all, apart from the rebels. And yet, their bought word was enough to impose a “no fly zone” on the sovereign state of Libya. This farce was being played out in March 2011—a time when both the US government and NATO were publicly claiming that regime change was not on their agenda. It seems that, by then, the UN Human Rights Council had decided that regime change had already happened, and that US State Department funded NGOs were the nearest thing Libya had to a government. However, the Libyan government had a cunning plan to have its views heard. If Libyans were banned from speaking, then maybe somebody else could speak for them. The Libyan authorities asked former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, Catholic priest and Sandinista Revolutionary, Miguel D’Escoto Brockman to speak on its behalf. He was entitled to do so. Things were looking bad for the UN Human Rights Council when D’Escoto was allocated speaking time on March 31st. Enter the US Cavalry to rout the Indians—in the form of Susan Rice. She let it be known that D’Escoto was in the USA on a tourist visa, and if he tried to speak at the UN it would be considered as work, which would violate his visa terms. Strangely enough, the UN Human Rights Council agreed, and D’Escoto was not allowed to speak. The truth was safely smothered—thanks to the fact that the UN buildings are on US territory. The big boy who owns the ball gets to decide the rules of the game.
However, the grotesque antics of Ban Ki-Moon and his crew have had a disastrous outcome for their beloved Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. Professor Forte notes that R2P has died a death in Libya. Far from being the vindication of R2P that many of its cheer leaders claimed it would be, the Destruction of Libya, by NATO bombardment and NATO backed rebel atrocities, has brought in an era where R2P is simply regarded as a crude and brutal imperialist weapon. Indeed, D’Escoto said as much when, following the visa farce, he said that the UN has become “a lethal weapon of the Empire”. As we have seen in Syria, permanent members of the UN Security Council, such as China and Russia, are now determined to ensure that the founding principle of the United Nations, enshrined in Articles 1 and 2 of the UN Charter, i.e. the principle of the sovereignty of nations, is not subverted and destroyed by an ill-defined and easily manipulated R2P doctrine, which has no legal basis in the UN Charter. Professor Forte quotes from the address of Robert Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, to the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2011:
“The newly-minted principle of the ‘responsibility to protect,’ should not be twisted to provide cover for its premeditated abuse in violating the sacred international principle of the Charter, which is the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of states, because to do so amounts to an act of aggression and causes destabilization of sovereign states. Moreover, to selectively and arbitrarily apply that [R2P] principle, merely serves to undermine the general acceptability of it. Indeed, more than any other states, all the five permanent members of the Security Council bear a huge responsibility in this regard for ensuring that their historical privilege is used more to protect the United Nations Charter than to breach it, as is happening currently in Libya through the blatant, illegal, brutal, callous, NATO’s murderous bombing.”
Muammar al-Gaddafi, like Kwame Nkrumah before him, dreamed of an Africa united and strong, able to protect its own borders and provide a decent living to all its people. To this end, Al Gaddafi had challenged the neo-liberal dogma of private property, by showing Africans that massive state enterprise could achieve far more, and in far less time, than private enterprise ever could. All over the African continent, the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya invested public funds in everything from roads to hospitals to schools to agriculture to hotels to communications. These brilliantly successful state enterprises exposed the neo-liberal dogma for the scam it is, and let it be known to the world that there is a better way to live. For that affront to the Masters of Men, Al Gaddafi was ritually martyred on our TV screens. A brutal warning to all who would dare follow his lead. But, the Masters of Men have been terribly mistaken. Instead of fear, Al Gaddafi’s noble martyrdom has put iron in our souls.
The anti-imperialist movement of the 20th century had Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Today, we have Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa.
Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa
Paperback and E-book: 352 pages
Publisher: Baraka Books (November 28, 2012)
[Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill, the author of this review, kindly agreed to its reproduction here. Donnchadh is an anti-imperialist activist and organizer in Ireland who is also part of a collective effort behind the upcoming Alternative G8 Summit being held in Dublin on June 17 and 18, 2013.]