Free Markets, Free People
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A week or so ago I wrote a post about ruthlessness and how that usually wins in contests like we see in Libya. Of course, the fact that the opposition is amateurish in the field and remains unorganized hasn’t exactly helped their situation. But Gadhafi has been and continues to be ruthless in his pursuit of maintaining his power.
Meanwhile, given the deteriorating situation for the opposition, the time for a “no-fly zone” appears to have passed. When it might have had some effect was early on in this battle. As the battle has matured, the advantage seems to be going to the Gadhafi forces. Not only are they more brutal, they’re better organized (relatively speaking) and performing better in the fight (again, relatively speaking). At some point, one has to expect Gadhafi’s forces to take control of key areas that will signal, for all intents and purposes, that the revolution has pretty much failed (that’s not to say the civil war won’t go on for some time, but at a much lower key than now).
But back to the opposition and an article in the NYT today. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a discussion of why the opposition formed and what is happening to it according to the NYT.
Nearly 70 percent of Libya’s population is under the age of 34, virtually identical to Egypt’s, and a refrain at the front or faraway in the mountain town of Bayda is that a country blessed with the largest oil reserves in Africa should have better schools, hospitals, roads and housing across a land dominated by Soviet-era monotony.
“People here didn’t revolt because they were hungry, because they wanted power or for religious reasons or something,” said Abdel-Rahman al-Dihami, a young man from Benghazi who had spent days at the front. “They revolted because they deserve better.”
So the argument can be made it was started by the youth and the aim is secular – they have the luxury of oil but they’ve not enjoyed the benefits of that vital commodity within their country as they think they should. Got it.
But, do you remember this quote from the older post? It’s a quote from David Warren:
As we should surely have observed by now, whether or not the Islamists command Arab "hearts and minds," they are not only the best organized force, but the most ruthless. They are also in possession of the simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated "vision."
Religion, speaking here of Islam, is ubiquitous in the Middle East. It just is. And those who live there, whatever their other desires, sift everything almost unconsciously through the filter of Islam. That’s why it isn’t difficult for religious leaders or radical religious leaders to quickly gain a foothold they ruthlessly expand in any situation like this. And that’s precisely what the NYT discovers:
The revolt remains amorphous, but already, religion has emerged as an axis around which to focus opposition to Colonel Qaddafi’s government, especially across a terrain where little unites it otherwise. The sermon at the front on Friday framed the revolt as a crusade against an infidel leader. “This guy is not a Muslim,” said Jawdeh al-Fakri, the prayer leader. “He has no faith.” [emphasis mine]
Other’s continue to fight against that trying to keep it (or change it into) a secular fight:
Dr. Langhi, the surgeon, said he scolded rebels who called themselves mujahedeen — a religious term for pious fighters. “This isn’t our situation,” he pleaded. “This is a revolution.”
But, it seems it is turning into their situation. Again back to the Warren quote – what is ingrained in the opposition fighters no matter what their ostensible reason for fighting may be? Their religion. And what has the “simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated “vision.”?” Their religion. When viewed against the complicated process of democratic governance, religion as a one stop shop for both their spiritual needs and their political needs makes the former much more difficult to sell than the latter. Religion, whether it is a fundamentalist brand, or a more moderate strain, is going to emerge as a huge force in all of the struggles in that part of the world.
Something else to note from the NYT article that is interesting:
Sitting on ammunition boxes, four young men from Benghazi debated the war, as they watched occasional volleys of antiaircraft guns fired at nothing. They promised victory but echoed the anger heard often these days at the United States and the West for failing to impose a no-flight zone, swelling a sense of abandonment.
Obviously their feelings for the US and the West aren’t particularly good these days. One has to wonder if they ever were, but clearly, now that they’re starting to get rolled back they are complaining about the West’s dithering and lack of response.
I’ve said it before, I don’t support the US imposing a no-fly zone. That’s not to say I’m necessarily averse to a NFZ if Europe wants to take that bull by the horns. But I see this as Europe’s fight, not ours.
That said, any good will we in the West had prior to today with the Libyan rebels seems to have dissipated and may, in fact, be in the negative column now. The outcome could be the beginning of an even bigger problem for the West:
None of the four men here wanted to stay in Libya. Mr. Mughrabi and a friend planned to go to America, another to Italy. The last said Afghanistan. Each described the litany of woes of their parents — 40 years of work and they were consigned to hovels.
Why Afghanistan? Well not to fight on the side of the US, you can be sure. As for the other two, disaffected and disenchanted immigrants provide a fertile hunting ground for Islamists. Should the two get to where they want to go is there a possibility that they, at some future date, become radicalized? Of course there is.
Again, who has the “simplest, most plausible and easily communicated “vision”?”