Humanitarian Imperialism in Libya: Another Review of Slouching Towards Sirte


Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa
Maximilian Forte
Montreal, Baraka Books, 2012
341 pp, $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978 -1 -926824-52 -9

The post-WW II anti-colonialism is now reversed with a neocolonial thrust to Middle-East and Africa. The case of recent attack on Libya by NATO powers in support of the rebels against the Gaddafi’s regime is the essence of Forte’s critical and scholarly treatment of this contemporary problem.

Several writers – notably, Sartre  (1968), Dedijer ( 1962 and 1968), Markusen (1987 ) Mirkovic ( 2000 ), Lifton (2011 ) – have intimated that modern wars are genocidal. A careful reading of Maximilian Forte’s new book leaves little doubt that the attacks by NATO on Libya in 2011 are a good illustration of this point. When a targeted group or society is of a different culture, race or religion and is not in a position to defend itself adequately, due to a huge difference in military power, the most essential characteristics of genocide are present. Slouching Towards Sirte is a scholarly and well-documented account that gives reader the impression that “humanitarian missions” and the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” are just an ideological facade and smokescreen used to mask the raw imposition of power and punishment on the nations whose leaders dare to oppose the “new world order” of liberal democracy.

Maximilian Forte is Associate Professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, and his speciality is political anthropology. The six chapters of this book deal with what the title implies: In its support of rebel forces against Gaddafi’s government, NATO forces attacked a sovereign country and a member of UN, inflicting a huge devastation, and all this under the pretext of promoting human rights and “the responsibility to protect”. Moreover, we learn from Forte’s book that NATO helped, and in fact made possible, the mass killing of black Africans (Libyans and guest workers from the south). Protection of civilians from Gaddafi’s forces sounds hollow in view of the fact that such statements and media reports were never substantiated. “Foreign military intervention did, however, enable the actual genocidal violence that was routinely sidelined in the mass media and was discussed at the UN only once regime change either had occurred fully, or was close to doing so. That was a horrific violence against black African migrants and black Libyans, singled out solely on the basis of their skin colour, and persecuted as such, which fits the definition of genocide much better than violence against protesters.” (p. 240-241).

Forte’s main thesis is the claim that the attack on Libya was not about human rights, neither entirely about oil, but about the destruction of Gaddafi’s pan-African initiative, with the objective of counteracting western neo-colonialism. This – in addition to Gaddafi’s antagonizing of the Arab world – activated the Pentagon Africa Command (AFROCOM) to plan and launch the campaign against African countries to ensure neo-colonial submission to western powers. This is no doubt an original and realistic claim, which the author supports by the facts and analysis he provides throughout the book. In arguing his point Forte does not omit the clear calculation by the US to eliminate from African soil competitors such as Russia and China. Moreover, Forte shows to what extent the (false) claims of human rights violations by Libya government were based on sheer rumours and wishful thinking that justified the NATO air bombardment.

The almost total destruction of Libya’s new capital city Sirte by the rebel forces and NATO air strikes is simply mind-boggling. To illustrate this, it suffices to quote two sentences from Chapter 1: “While observing the destruction of Sirte throughout the course of NATO’s intervention, and particularly in the period from late August to late October 2011, or when visiting the aftermath of the catastrophic shattering of this small city (varyingly described as containing between 70,000 and 150,000 inhabitants), journalists repeatedly noted just how far from grace Sirte has been taken down. … That the slaughter in Sirte should have barely raised an eyebrow among the kinds of Western audiences and opinion leaders who just a few months before clamoured for “humanitarian intervention,” is thus the more striking.” (p. 41). Additionally, many humanitarian organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, including AWAAZ and the leftist groups in the West, including Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, have acquiesced in raw aggression and even supported it. If we give credence to the facts and evidence presented by the author, we are left with the impression of western powers not evolving and departing from their old racist-colonial attitudes of subjugation and domination, followed by identity-difference and concomitant deference, which are all conducive to genocide. Thus the new reign of terror imposed by the winning side, with the help of the NATO’s air power, is also reminiscent of the worst cases of fascism in twentieth-century Europe. If Forte is right, similar war crimes (against peace and humanity), for which the Nazi leaders were accused and convicted in Nuremberg, were recently perpetrated by the NATO leaders and with impunity.

On the other hand were the cases of strong condemnation of the intervention in Libya by prominent leaders and diplomats from Arica. Among others, the most prominent were Jacob Zuma, the South African President; former South African President Thabo Mbeki; Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Ugandan permanent representative to the UN; and Dr. Chris Landsberg, Head of the Department of Politics at the University of Johannesburg. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also condemned the attack, while Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe maintained friendly relations with Gaddafi.

The sources and data on which this book is based are varied and include published documents, press releases and journalistic accounts, reports of private intelligence firms, reports by human rights organizations, some NATO documents, first-hand reports of some of the foreign supporters of the Libyan government, UN documents and resolutions, and as a key sources, the U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks. The book has extensive references and a short Index. Numerous small photos are also included.

In the Preface, the author explains his understanding of the ethnographic requirement of “being there”, i.e. doing field research. He says that his focus is on the ideological smoke-screen raised across the world by the West. Therefore to him “being there” applies to all of us, because the “there” in question is “composed of our militaries, our ideologies, our fantasies of control, our preferred self-image” (p. 11). As Forte delineates his objective: “This book intends to sketch out this context, while providing a critique of the political culture of late imperialist societies in the West, the kind of morality that is refashioned for mass consumption, and the vision of humanity that is imbedded within NATO and U.S. foreign policy narratives.” (p. 11). Undoubtedly, the author has accomplished this objective successfully and by publishing this book has laid the ground-work for critical anthropology. On the whole, the book is a powerful argument against the humanitarian myth promoted by western powers to mask the imposition of their dominance on other societies. Unfortunately, this fact is ignored by many, who ostrich-like prefer to put their heads in sand.

Damir Mirkovic
Professor Emeritus, Sociology
Brandon University


Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa
Maximilian Forte
Paperback and E-book: 352 pages
Publisher: Baraka Books (November 28, 2012)

7 thoughts on “Humanitarian Imperialism in Libya: Another Review of Slouching Towards Sirte

  1. Pingback: SLOUCHING TOWARDS SIRTE — Baraka Books

  2. Joel Gauthier

    Hi Max,

    Joel *former student* here … long time no speak (or post that is)! I was actually trying to post a reply in your article Surveillance, Dissent and Imperialism, but it doesn’t seem to be an option. But I have a question for you …

    Given that 9/11 was the major catalyst which allowed various governments/security agencies the freedom (or excuse) to implement a more bold approach to surveillance, media control, a major paradigm shift in general public perception towards stronger at home militarism etc etc etc, what are your thoughts regarding the possibility that the catalyst itself was initiated by one or more of those agencies? I’ve never heard you address that directly (part of me feels that this is purposely, and I hope this is not a tedious subject for you haha), but I’m curious about your viewpoint.

    Given the extremely dubious circumstances surrounding the official story, and how much legitimate scrutiny of the event was suppressed, and the subsequent major changes it allowed powers that be to implement strategies for social control, media manipulation, war, institutionalized torture, imperial hegemony (and many many others of which you are far more knowledgeable than I) … and given the millions of lives displaced and destroyed as a direct result because they were in the way of a desired end … it does not seem to me to be such a stretch that the event itself was designed as part of a means to that end.

    Just curious :) Hope all is well!!

    PS: I bought a copy of the most recent volume of The New Imperialism … I was very impressed but some of the articles included in this volume! Great work to all your students that contributed!

    1. Maximilian Forte

      (Sorry Joel, after X number of days go by, the comments section on an article automatically closes down. This was done to finally bring to an end the perennial rerunning (and running in circles) on old topics that were abundantly thrashed out years ago.)

      I think what you are asking me is where I stand on the assertion that 9/11 was an “inside job”. I have many responses. First, if I had seen substantial evidence of that, I would have proclaimed it as loudly as anyone else; however, to date, I have seen little more than speculation combined with some really bad science. Moreover, some of the key assertions have been abundantly and sounded rebutted.

      To say that it was all “Al Qaeda” is hardly less problematic: on the one hand, given the numerous occasions in which the US has at least tacitly collaborated or converged with Al Qaeda, that too can amount to saying 9/11 was an inside job. Bin Laden himself denied all involvement, 5 times, in the two years that passed after 9/11…but then suddenly a single tape emerged, that the *CIA* vouched as authentic (as if the CIA were a neutral source), that inexplicably contained some sort of indirect admission, from what I remember (and actually, we did cover these issues on this site, years ago). The evidence implicating Al Qaeda was always circumstantial at best, and in some cases derived from torture.

      I therefore have no conclusions to offer about “the real culprits” behind 9/11, because I am not yet satisfied or convinced by anything. I am troubled, however, if there were to be any suggestion that it must have been an “inside job” because these “primitive” and “backward” others either lacked the skill and know-how, or are too passive to visit horror back on the source of the oppression of the wider world. My question is: how come there was not a long line of nations and movements from around the world ready to commit a 9/11? I am not being facetious here: I am merely testing the almost mechanical notion of “blowback” utilized by writers such as Chalmers Johnson.

    2. Maximilian Forte

      Hello again Joel,

      The story we did which covered the Bin Laden denials (not that he was ever tried for his alleged role in 9/11, nor even wanted by the FBI), appeared here under the heading of “Why Afghanistan?”–buried away, I admit:

      Also, many thanks for purchasing that volume! I think the next one may be the best yet…crossing my fingers for now.

  3. Joel Gauthier

    Yes I see your logic here (and definitely agree on these pervasive social/cultural evolutionist notions that the blamed parties would be too “primitive” to pull off such a coup in the first place). I personally have many many questions, and virtually no solid answers. What I’m left with regarding it all is theories, assumptions, unsubstantiated evidence and more questions (which is obviously exactly what “they” want!! haha).

    One thing I would say though is that I’m thoroughly unsatisfied with, and which I don’t think has been official rebutted adequately, are explanations on the how and the why the WT 1, 2, and 7 fell in the first place. I’ll admit that I am no architect/engineer/physicist/etc but little of the official explanation of the mechanics of how buildings such as these would fall the way they did due to plane impact and fire (or in the case of WT 7, only fire) seems to stand up to scrutiny, but the evidence which could prove or disprove the official story and/or alternative theories as to why they fell, was removed or otherwise made inaccessible. And I’ll further admit that this is not based on hard fact either, but it does raise (what I deem) legitimate questions in my view. As I said, that is all I have.

    As time passes the event itself is in a way less meaningful … at least in terms of looking at it the way I am, and what it set in motion is much more important.

    In any case thanks for the reply Max! Keep fighting the good fight :)

    I very much look forward to the next volume … you can count on a very interested reader right here


  4. Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill

    The more events play out, including the flight of Ali Zeidan, the so called Libyan PM, to Europe this week, the more Professor Forte is vindicated regarding everything he has said about the catastrophe that has been visited on Libya, and thus on all of Africa.

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