The Libyan Equation

The one adjective it is impossible to use to describe the Libyan uprising is “non-violent”.



This is a revolt led by warriors who were defended by the air forces of the most powerful military alliance in history.



The Arab Spring was never bloodless. The suicide of humiliated street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi was the linchpin for the Tunisian uprising.



But the rising in Libya was not just a confrontation with the power of a tyrannical regime; it was a fight and the rebels – defended by Nato – broke its power. This is an event which will be studied by tyrants and dissidents with acute interest.



Democratic activists who have suffered under Robert Mugabe for years will wonder whether they should have staged a fully-fledged revolution which would have given the West the choice of standing by and watching Rwandan-style massacres or rushing to their aid and toppling the dictator.



Mugabe and even milder autocrats will look at Gaddafi’s burning compound and see little incentive to grasp any olive branches extended by western diplomats. If a onetime terrorist kingpin scraps his WMD and opens up his country’s natural resources to international development, is this how he is rewarded?



They will see reason to clamp down on both pro-democracy supporters in any emerging middle-class and on street-level rebels.



Meanwhile, neoconservatives who were mocked for trying to bomb Iraq towards freedom may grasp a new model for regime change. The response to Libya fused targeted military action with traditional diplomatic tools, except that this time western countries recognised the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government before the uprising was complete.



There is less talk of velvet revolutions and soft power, these days; violence is once again recognised as a central part of the political equation – at home and abroad.



In Ireland, youths who grew up in the heyday of the peace process are being lured into paramilitarism, thousands of people are lobbying online for the return of the state executions of murderers in Britain, Jihadists continue to plot mayhem, the philosopher kings of the far left are flirting with talk of “terror” and lone gunmen in England, the United States and Norway are using killing as the most decadent form of self-expression.



Apostles and advocates for nonviolence, if there are any left, need to show that the actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King were courageous and strategic engagements with political systems that resulted in sustainable and revolutionary change. If alternatives to a military-led foreign policy and iron-fisted domestic politics are to have any credibility in an era of constant crisis we need clear demonstrations that peace works.



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