The Marine Corps hymn brags of the force’s presence from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” But the Marines haven’t been in Tripoli since the early 1800s, when they attacked the Barbary pirates. It doubtful they’ll be going back there any time soon, though those shores of Tripoli are running red today with the blood of hundreds of dead protesters murdered in cold blood by Khadaffi’s hired mercenaries and security forces–at least those who haven’t defected to the opposition or resigned their positions in disgust.
It’s common in the west to look cynically at the fervor for freedom of the peoples of the Middle East. Their yearnings seem so pure, so passionately held. But we know how easily such idealism is turned to cynicism and disgust at the practical compromises made after the walls and dictators fall. Look how hard life is in Russia and eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. We use such excuses at least some of us to look away at the suffering of others. Surely, our political leaders do so for even stronger reasons of preserving the status quo, maintaining U.S. interests in the region. Then of course there is a tendency to view the Middle East as so foreign, so other; it’s just hard to muster empathy for cultures so far from ours physically and emotionally.
But how can we turn away from the selflessness, the pure willingness to look death and the dictator in the face and spit at both. This is an emotion that we ourselves can never know. We have too much in our lives to understand this. We have too much to protect, too much we’re unwilling to lose. But when you read the purity of this statement you know the Libyan opposition must win, and that if they do not it will be our fault as much as Khaddafi’s:
Libyans from other cities — Benghazi and Misrata — were reported to be heading to Tripoli to join the battle against the government forces, said Mansour O. El-Kikhia, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Texas, Austin, who had talked to people inside the country.
“There are dead on the streets, you cannot even pick them up,” he said by e-mail. “The army is just shooting at everybody. That has not deterred the people from continuing.”
Though the outcome of the battle is impossible to determine, some protesters said the bloodshed in Tripoli only redoubled their determination.
“He will never let go of his power,” said one, Abdel Rahman. “This is a dictator, an emperor. He will die before he gives an inch. But we are no longer afraid. We are ready to die after what we have seen.”
There is talk of creating a no-fly zone over Libya which would prevent the regime from mowing down its own citizens by the hundreds as it did today. This would mean that European powers would be called upon to shoot down Libyan planes if they attempted to operate in their own airspace. The idea of such a no-fly zone has not been seen since the days of Saddam Hussein and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But it seems fitting that Saddam and Khaddafi would earn the same treatment and penalty.
We must not allow the dictator to commit mass murder against his own people. We must help the people to achieve what they have set out to do, to rid themselves of tyranny.
Yes, certainly we don’t know what will follow. We don’t know if we will like the leaders who replace him. It’s a volatile neck of the woods, after all. But the Middle East has seen the fall of two noxious dictators who fled with comparatively little bloodshed. Autocrats in Yemen and Bahrain remain under threat. We must not let the remaining entrenched power elites learn the lesson that they can retain their prerogatives through spilling rivers of their fellow countrymen’s blood. It may be that like in Egypt, the Libyans are perfectly able to take care of business and do not need outside help. That would be the best scenario. But in Egypt, the regime didn’t resort to wholesale murder. In Libya it has. The Bible says: “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”
Barack Obama is very good at standing idly by. I hope he doesn’t follow past example in this crisis.
The other nation that benefits indirectly from such mass violence is Israel. Arabs spilling Arab blood is a perfect foil for the Likudist Mideast narrative: the Arabs are a bloodthirsty, violent lot. They only understand violence. Life is cheap for them. We Israelis are the lone western bastion in the region. We uphold the values of western civilization here on the west’s behalf. Therefore, allow us to right to do things as we see fit to retain some semblance of western values and civilization in the face of the Arab onslaught. If we do not maintain our own security through continuing the Occupation, and being strong in the face of the Arab threat, then we Israelis will end up like the Libyan protestors.
It’s not a very convincing argument to anyone who knows the region and its history. But it is an argument that resonates with many Israelis and their advocates in the Diaspora.
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam.
About the author: Richard Silverstein
Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.