Libya. A story forgotten. In Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa writes: “Night girl, night girl/your book is full now/You have drawn all the pictures/You have seen many weepers.”
Unfortunately, it seems like it is still not time for dawn in Libya. The country was destroyed by a war prosecuted by NATO, and the wreckage is now more visible than ever. I went through the photos Magnum’s photographer Michael Christopher Brown took during the Libyan civil war in 2011. The paradoxes and ironies of these photos are so bitter and obvious, as I am reading news from Libya now, four years later.
Gaddafi’s death (the killing of Gaddafi) didn’t bring freedom. And it didn’t bring peace. NATO’s intervention in Libya was not, as many have praised it, a humanitarian success. It wasn’t, as it was hailed, a ‘model intervention’. It was a boomerang that came back to beat up the people of Libya.
Libya’s civil war continued, and the number of victimis (tens of thousands of civilians) continues to grow to this day. This so praised intervention was a model of failure (as most of the interventions are). We now know that Gaddafi did not initiate Libya’s violence by targeting peaceful protesters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that in all four Libyan cities initially consumed by civil conflict in mid-February 2011—Benghazi, Al Bayda, Tripoli, and Misurata—violence was actually initiated by the protesters.
That is not to say that Gaddafi didn’t have his sins and his share of wrongdoings. But NATO’s main goal in Libya was not protecting civilians, it was not ‘justice, finally’. Its primary aim was to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans. And that is what happened.
Libya is now a true victim of the Arab Cold War, where the regional entities are utilizing Libya as a battleground for their own particular policy, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on one side, or Turkey and Qatar, on the other. And now – the western governments remain silent. The American Embassy is no longer in Libya, it is in Malta. Not our business anymore.
The two competing governments in Libya are mainly fighting about oil, of course. The people of Libya are left to wander in the dark abyss, forgotten and ignored by their government(s) and by the international community.
It’s a state of total chaos. Radical Islamist groups, which were suppressed under Gaddafi, emerged as the fiercest rebels during the war. And it is not just Libya. Mali, which previously had been the region’s exceptional example of peace (and democracy) went through many changes. After Gaddafi’s defeat, his ethnic Tuareg soldiers of Malian descent fled home and launched a rebellion in their country’s north, prompting the Malian army to overthrow the president. In 2012, the northern half of Mali had become ‘the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,’ according to the chairman ofthe U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa.
And now we have ISIL. The whole MENA region changed drastically. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt… You name it. As Riverbend wrote: “When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?” These questions, asked by the ‘regular’ people, the biggest victims of all the conflicts that ever took place on this great Earth, are met with silence.
The silence, once again, drowns the screams. And peace? Peace is a dream buried by the indifference.
//all photos © Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum Photos, Libyan Civil War 2011//
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For more on Libya, I recommend reading Alan J. Kuperman’s Lessons From Libya: How Not to Intervene.