Tuesday 2 August 2011
Back to the Past
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph General Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff at the time of the premiership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, says, in the light of the murder of General Abdel Fattah Younes by Islamists in Libya, that “it should be a clear lesson that compromise will lead to Libya’s destruction as a unified nation and produce a situation that no one in the international community envisaged.”
I’m not a member of any community, certainly not one that would have the likes of this Gilbert and Sullivan officer in its ranks, but I envisaged alright, for all the good it did. I envisaged at the outset of this adventure, writing several articles. I take these words from Cassandra’s Lament, a piece I published in early March;
Consider what Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy have done, look at the possible outcomes. The Colonel’s offensive may be halted, frozen exactly where it is, leaving him in control of Tripoli and the west with the rebels holding on to Benghazi and the east. This may be a permanent state, with Libya hereafter a divided nation, a political fracture caused by tomahawks. I would hazard that the whole region will be destabilised as a result…
But it’s the ignorance of our great world leaders that perplexes me most, their complete incomprehension when it comes to the Arab world, the tribal nature of the Arab world, the tribal nature of places like Libya. The Colonel for all his lunacy at least gave the place unity, a sense of national identity. David Cameron says he does not want a failed pariah state on Europe’s southern flank, “potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for our allies, as well as for the people of Libya.” But…a failed state is exactly what Libya is almost certain to become, one of constant civil war between competing tribes, Somalia on the Med.
Here we are, months later, no nearer to a solution. Cameron’s government has withdrawn the final traces of diplomatic legitimacy from the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, instead recognising the Transitional National Council in Benghazi as the rightful government of Libya, just at the point we have discovered that this body is backed by powerful and shadowy Islamist forces.
What solution does the former Leader of the Queen’s Army offer? Why, that we should start arming the rebels, the bombing not being enough. I now know for certainty why our military forces were handled with such stunning incompetence during the Iraq fiasco, why our army suffered one of the worst humiliations in its long and noble history. It had a man like Dannatt as its operational chief, a man who probably is not up even to polishing door handles.
So, as I predicted, NATO intervention in Libya has just led to a protracted war of attrition. It did not require any great skill or foresight on my part, just a little common sense, mixed with an understanding of history and politics, an understanding that our benighted leaders – and generals – so obviously lack.
I’ve been following the recent series in the Times on the so-called Arab Spring and the signs are all bad. Into the vacuum caused by the collapse of the old order the Islamists have been moving in slow but relentless degrees, from Tunisia to Egypt. Ancient Christian communities are under attack, threatened now even in Syria, where so many took refuge from the sectarian hell of Iraq. The rights enjoyed by women in the secular societies of the old regimes are threatened by the advance of reactionary obscurantism. It is not a happy picture.
The Arabs want freedom, yes, we all want freedom, that most precious commodity, the birthright of humanity, the birthright of the Facebook and Twitter generation. But I’m going to say this and say it without equivocation: the Arabs can die for freedom but they are not mature enough to live for freedom; they have no understanding of what freedom is, no tradition of freedom. Their idea of freedom is simply to replace one tyranny with another, the tyranny of a nepotistic minority with an intolerant majority, secular law with Sharia law.
That’s the idea of democracy one individual I debated with had, that it means the minority have to obey the majority. No, no, no and again no. That’s the antithesis of true democracy, which depends on respect for minorities, which depends on equality under the law, human law not God's law. Look always beneath the surface. The unrest across the Arab world is not the spring time of peoples; it's not 1989; it's not even 1848. At a deeper level it’s a kind of cultural counter-revolution, a march not into the future but back to the past.