By Clive Bradley
I feel moved to comment on Seamas Milne's piece about Libya in the Guardian today (26 October).
What he nowhere acknowledges is that the Libyan revolution has now succeeded and Gaddafi has been overthrown. It beggars belief that anyone could attempt any kind of balance sheet without including this fact.
But underlying the whole argument - and this is something I've seen a lot of - is a confusion of separate points. If you want to support/defend/not oppose NATO intervention purely in humanitarian terms - saving lives - there is some force to the point that 50,000 lives seem to have been lost anyway. But neither we - nor the Seamas Milnes of the world - do see the world simply in those humanitarian terms. It's also about sides in a revolution.
The fundamental reason there have been so many deaths in Sirte - and elsewhere - is that a brutal dictator hung on to power. Assessing the humanitarian consequences of a revolutionary movement finally defeating him simply is not - except on terms too woolly for most woolly liberals - the same thing as assessing those consequences if the dictator enters a city with the expressed intention of massacring his opponents.
This is not to say - obviously - that the 'rebels' are all sweetness and light or that there is not much to criticise - though the balance of criticism is important. Milne and others seem more than willing to accept the worse possible interpretation of what has been done by the revolutionary movement - and NATO - but in all seriousness question whether Gaddafi really would have massacred people. (And suggest that elsewhere Gaddafi's forces weren't so bad. So what do you think happened in Misrata? Why do you think it took so long for Tripoli to throw him off?)
Milne is also, like many others, all rosy optimism about An Nahda's election victory in Tunisia. Well, we'll see. Personally I think it's likely they will prove to be pretty moderate in Islamist terms, and will be anxious to show the West how dependable they are. One consequence of that, though, will be their economic policies, which will be neo-liberal.
But look at this revealing comment, by Milne's buddy Jonathan Steele the other day: "While several smaller secular parties tried to manipulate Islamophobia - a relatively easy card to play given the official state-controlled media's demonisation of the Islamists over several decades - their efforts have failed. Voters had their first chance to listen to An-Nahda's candidates and they were not put off by what they heard."
I don't have a problem with using 'Islamophobia' as a shorthand way of describing racism towards people who are Muslims. But in Tunisia - where the vast majority are Muslims - what is "Islamophobia" except actual hostility to the religion? How can a secular party be Islamophobic in a mainly-Muslim country, in the sense in which that term is generally used in Britain?