Maryam F. Mohammed
On August 14th, Libya experienced its worst fighting in a year in the capital city of Tripoli. Clashes between two armed factions led to dozens killed and over 100 injured, only three years after the ceasefire considered to be “historic” by the United Nations. Sporadic violence has plagued the African nation for years with no end in sight.
Libya has had little peace since a N.A.T.O.-backed coup overtook the government. At the time, the government was led by Muammar al-Gaddafi, whose pan-Arab, pan-Africanist, pro-Palestinian, anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid, and communist-sympathizing views were opposed by many Western nations. In 2011, N.A.T.O. toppled the Libyan leader in the name of establishing democracy and protecting civilians – and plunged the nation into a civil war that has endured until now.
Today, Libya is divided into warring factions supported by both Western and Eastern nations. Hundreds of civilians require humanitarian aid and are fleeing the country. Yet instead of helping, the U.N.-funded Libyan Coast Guard refuses them passage across the border.
Though support to civilians may not be readily forthcoming, the United Nations certainly has a political presence in Libya. Of the two current rival administrations, the National Unity group is backed by the U.N. while the other is led by commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar. As of now, Haftar controls the majority of Libya geographically, with National Unity restricted to the western corner of the country.
The West’s Lack of Accountability
The international community feigns concern about the recent unrest in Libya. However, its lack of action has shown that there is no sympathy for the Libyan people – nor is there accountability for those whom contributed to their plight. Western news sources leave out many details regarding the two groups responsible for the August 14th violence, failing to mention that both violent groups are factions of the U.N.-backed National Unity administration.
Intervention without responsibility seems to be the modus operandi for Western nations, particularly when it comes to the Middle East and North African region. The U.N. Security Council’s doctrine of “responsibility to protect” could be used as an easy justification for intervention and political imperialism – if only those interventions were successful. Instead, the world is left with “disasters” such as the Arab Spring.
Yet time and time again, Western nations refuse to admit their contributions to the human cost of their actions, let alone take responsibility. When failing to establish a single democracy during the Arab Spring uprisings, the media attempts to allege that the intervention was initiated solely to protect the Arab people – and that the attempt was successful. This claim is laughable at best, considering the perpetual war tormenting many citizens in the region.
When the results of their interventions are placed under scrutiny, Western media tends to turn the conversation to Muammar al-Ghaddafi’s flaws. Ghaddafi was not a perfect leader; he maintained power for too long, his crackdown on protesters was unprincipled, and violence due to tribalism was an issue in the country. However, no media can completely conceal both sides of the story. In 2011, at the height of anti-Ghaddafi fear-mongering, a B.B.C. article stated that Libya “made great strides socially and economically” under Ghaddafi’s rule. It continues,
“Women in Libya are free to work and to dress as they like, subject to family constraints. Life expectancy is in the seventies. And per capita income – while not as high as could be expected given Libya’s oil wealth and relatively small population of 6.5m – is estimated at $12,000 (£9,000), according to the World Bank… Illiteracy has been almost wiped out, as has homelessness – a chronic problem in the pre-Gaddafi era, where corrugated iron shacks dotted many urban centres around the country.”
Ghaddafi was not solely the villain that Western media makes him out to be. To believe otherwise would be also allowing Western nations to shift blame for the consequences of their actions and avoid taking responsibility for the havoc their political imperialism has wreaked on countries like Libya.
What We Can Do
Pressuring the nations that are responsible to take accountability for their past foreign policy actions, and interventions seems like the first step to righting the wrongs against the populations affected. On the other hand, words mean very little when action can be taken. Instead, the international community must focus on what matters most – the human cost. Activist groups, N.G.O.s, and any person or community of influence must pressure nations to send humanitarian aid to affected regions and accept and support refugees in their own countries.
For years, many European nations have resisted accommodating refugees from the East, citing a lack of infrastructure, jobs, or space. However, the recent war in Ukraine has those very same nations welcoming refugees into their borders. This differing treatment highlights the real reason behind many Western nations’ refusal to accept Arab and African refugees – clear cut xenophobia.
The international community must bring to light this hypocrisy between different refugee populations. Utilizing the documents created by Western powers, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, we must call out and shame the countries that are discriminating against vulnerable populations on the basis of nationality, religion, and race. Countries that have already borne the majority of refugees must also begin to criticize the inaction of other nations. Unless more states are forced to share the responsibility of supporting all displaced populations, very little will change for the people of Libya and beyond.
Maryam F. Mohammed is a correspondent intern at the Organization for World Peace. She is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa, studying International Relations and Arabic language. She is focusing on human rights (particularly refugee rights) and statistical analysis.